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Blind Contour Drawing: Drawing by Touch

Author:Carol Rosinski, Contributing Editor

Blind contour drawing is drawing the contour outline of your subject without looking at your paper. To demonstrate this, make your courser follow the edges of this page without looking at your mouse. Pretty easy isn't it? If your mouse had been a pencil, you would have drawn the rectangle on your screen onto your paper.

Three Onions with Shadows - Drawn without looking at the paper.

Three Onions with Shadows - Drawn after warming up with Blind Contour Drawing.

Many artists use blind contour drawing as an exercise to warm up before a drawing session. (See images to the left) Drawing is a very special skill. It is all about seeing and coordinating your hand to draw what you are truly seeing. When you take your pencil in your hand and trace the contour of your subject without looking at your paper you are learning to "feel" the lines of your subject. If your eye sees the line leaning to the right, your hand pulls the pencil to the right. This "feel" of the line is very important. It leaps past logical thinking (which would be saying something to you like "get out a ruler and compass and measure that line exactly") and takes you right into that zone where you are drawing what you are seeing without thinking about it.

If you think about what you are drawing too much, you are likely to let your logical thinking brain tell you what it thinks the subject "should" look like. This is where a good deal of bad drawing comes from. When you draw a bad representation of something, it's because you are drawing what your logical brain "thinks" the subject looks like and not what is truly there. Too see what I mean, draw a tree ... right now make a sketch of a tree ... just a quick sketch. You probably made a straight line with sticks poking out of it at angles and you may have put in some bubbles representing leaves too.

Now, to see what a tree really looks like, take a Dry Erase Maker to a window and trace around the contour of any real tree you see. You will see that, at least, the real tree outline is much more complicated than your sketched tree. For one thing, you probably did not put any limbs coming straight at you in your sketch. Drawing a line coming at you (foreshortening) is one of the hardest things to draw accurately and one of the very best ways to draw that sort of line is to learn to "feel" them with your pencil. If you see it leans a little to the left, your hand pulls your pencil in the same direction and in the same angle.

To draw a subject accurately, you have to draw what is really there. Blind contour drawing makes your logical brain shut up for a while. It can't try to step in and correct what it can't see and it can't see what your hand is drawing. So the outcome of all this blind contour drawing will be that your hand will learn to draw what your eyes are truly seeing by feeling the lines and angles of the subject. In addition, you will be recreating what you see on a different plane than your subject is in.

The results of these drawings will be awful. Your lines will be all over the place. That's ok. You do need your logical brain to draw accurately ... but you just need it a little bit. You need it to glance at your paper and tell you where to start and end your lines ... but that's about all you need it for. Most of the time, when you are really drawing, your eyes should be on your subject and not your paper. Just quick glances at your paper to help place your lines are all you need.

Blind contour drawing forces you to break dependence on your logical brain. When you are drawing, that rational part of you needs to learn be a gentle companion offering sound but infrequent advise ... instead of being a dictator. When you break out of your logical thinking mode and just let your senses of seeing and touch take over, magical things begin to happen. That is the realm of imagination and dreams. That is where art lives.

Happy drawing!

Carol Rosinski
Toad Hollow Studio

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