drawing examples 001

                                          CONTOUR DRAWING



The above drawing is of a student in one of my drawing classes.  I usually start my drawing classes with exercises in contour drawing from life. I find it a most useful exercise in teaching students to SEE.

I first learned of contour drawing from a book, The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides published in 1941.  The book has been reprinted several times, and is a standard.  Classes in life drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute reinforced this information. Later artists such as Betty Edwards and Gerald Brommer also included this technique in their instruction books.   One of the chief drawbacks to learning how to draw is that our left brains have a mental picture of the way something should look, and we resort to that rather than how it really looks.  This is shown often when an adult resorts to the “lollipop” trees she drew as a child, even though she sees the tree plainly with sky holes, asymmetrical shapes, and individual clumps of leaves.  Symbolism has taken over.

A contour drawing is not an outline, but much more than that.  It creates the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface by defining shared edges.  Both senses of sight and touch must be used.  To do this, the student must draw slowly, pretending that his pencil touches the form as he draws, and he never draws while looking at his paper.  I’ve noticed that a lot of beginning students tend to look at their paper more often than at the subject — this defeats the idea of observation, of course.

There are two kinds of contour drawing:  Blind and Modified.  With blind contour, the student draws continuously, around and within the form, never looking at the paper or stopping.  We’ll deal only with Modified, since Blind Contour leads to a lot of distortion.   Here are the rules:

1.  Look at the subject first and try to hold its form in your mind.

2.  Pretend that your pencil is touching the subject at a certain spot.  It makes no difference where you start.

3.  When you are focused on the subject, begin to draw slowly and firmly, synchronizing the movement of  your eye and your hand. Record each bump, change of direction, wrinkle, etc. that you see. Think of your eye as a tiny ant traveling the surface of the form.

4.  Don’t talk to yourself, especially critically.  Just draw.  When you come to edges that meet each other, begin to draw the lines that are within the form.  If you’re drawing your hand, for instance,  begin to draw the wrinkles, fingernails, knuckles, etc. that are inside the outer edges. Try not to think of the form as what it is (a hand), but only a shape.

4.  Never, never draw while looking at your paper.  With modified contour, you can come to a stopping  place, lift your pencil from the paper, find a new place to start, and then focus back on the form and continue to draw.  You do not erase, but simply “restate” (draw other lines over) until the entire form has been drawn.

5.  Spend at least 20 minutes on this exercise.  Betty Edwards starts her students with their  hand as a model, but you can use your feet, shoes, vases, anything that is available as your model.  PRACTICE, PRACTICE.



About pastelanne

I am a professional artist and art teacher, receiving my formal art education at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Arkansas. I taught high school art and humanities, earned a doctorate in secondary education, and with my husband, reared eight children! Even after retirement in 1993, I have continued to teach children, teenagers, and adults as well as studying under well known teachers. My media are pen and ink, watermedia, pastel, and colored pencil. Because of all my experiences and guidance from my teachers and mentors, I have a lot of suggestions, tips, and techniques to share with others. This then is the reason for my blog: to pass on some of this knowledge to other artists and to 'wanna be" artists. I intend to post at least three times a week. The first group will be compositional ideas, the second group will be sketchbook ideas, and the third group will be some tips and techniques in particular media. I sincerely hope you will find some good advice in some of these posts!

Posted on July 28, 2014, in LEARNING TO DRAW and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Audrey Watkins

    I love your tips on drawing. Any chance we can have another pencil class at the Maumelle

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