Beginner Drawing: The Blind Contour Exercise: Employing Observation to Improve Your Drawings

16 Apr 2007

060903_contour1_450x355_1The Blind Contour drawing exercise is a fundamental tool that can help artists of all levels learn to reacquaint themselves with the power of observation.

by Allison Malafronte

060903_contour1_450x355
A student’s Blind Contour
drawing of a hand from the
Pacific University website.

The Blind Contour drawing exercise is a fundamental tool that can help artists of all levels learn to reacquaint themselves with the power of observation. Popularized by Kimon Nicolaïdes in his 1941 book The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts), the Blind Contour method involves carefully observing the outline and shapes of a subject while slowly drawing its contours in a continuous line without looking at the paper. By doing so, artists are forced to draw what they actually see instead of what they think they see.

The method was explored further in Betty Edwards’ popular book Drawing on the Right Side of Side of the Brain (Tarcher, New York, New York), in which the author encourages artists to understand what they are drawing instead of instinctually labeling objects and drawing them accordingly. Edwards helps artists improve their observational skills by instructing them to look at the lines, shapes, and patterns of objects and how they combine to form what we see.

“The reason most people have difficulty drawing realistically is not because of any lack of physical skill or talent but because they have not been trained to really look at what they see.” ---Terry O’Day, the chair of the art department at Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Oregon

Many art instructors teach Nicolaïdes’ and Edwards’ methods as a way of helping students transfer visual information to a two-dimensional surface. “Drawing through observation is a skill that most people are capable of learning,” says Terry O’Day, the chair of the art department at Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Oregon, where the Blind Contour method is taught. “The physical act of drawing consists mostly of developing hand-eye coordination. Anyone who can write legibly has the physical ability to record observations of a subject through drawing.

“The reason most people have difficulty drawing realistically is not because of any lack of physical skill or talent,” O’Day continues, “but because they have not been trained to really look at what they see.” To help her students do this, she instructs them to practice the following Blind Contour exercise:

What You Will Need
-- paper
-- pencil or pen
-- timer

060903_contour2_355x450
A student’s Blind Contour drawing
of feet from the Pacific
University website.

Blind Contour Exercise
1.) Choose a subject to draw—still-life objects or the figure work well for this exercise
2.) Set the timer for 20 minutes
3.) Tape the paper to the drawing surface so that it doesn’t shift as you draw
4.) Arrange yourself so that you can see the object you will be drawing without seeing the paper
5.) Focus your eyes on some part of the object and begin moving your pencil to record what your eyes observe
6.) Do not look down at the paper as your draw. Rather, force yourself to concentrate on how the shapes, lines, and contours of the object relate to one another
7.) Continue observing and recording until the timer rings

“Although this exercise can be difficult at first,” O’Day admits, “with practice and perseverance it will become easier, and you will learn to shift your thinking from an analytical, labeling mode to one that is more intuitive.” 

Allison Malafronte is the associate editor for American Artist.


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Comments

hala wrote
on 13 Sep 2006 5:49 AM
Iamsoglad that you are give me thiis exercise
ana wrote
on 26 Apr 2007 8:03 PM
I did this exercise at school and I remember that all students were trying to look at the paper once in a while. It's really difficult to resist seeing what you're doing even if that is the goal :-)