Contour Drawing (Blind) Week of Nov 30, 2020

Hello my fellow drawers. [Why is a drawer a third of a bureau and also a person with a pencil???]

This week we're going to do some contour drawing, which I have postponed because even though it's incredibly valuable, it's going to be a bit of a challenge over Zoom.

Even so, here we go. As a shortcut, if you have the time take a look at this:

Contour drawing is an art school staple, but when I was a student it was relatively new. As a teaching tool, it was perfected at the Art Students' League in New York during the 20's and 30's. Its originator, if not its inventor, was a teacher at the League who died in 1939. In the absence of Nicolaides (which was this teacher's name) and in the chaos of war, the technique got a little lost. I was a student at the League in 1967-68, where this teaching technique was making a come-back. I had previously studied drawing for several years, but I had never encountered contour drawing.

The idea is this: you need a piece of drawing paper and a 2B pencil or a smooth writing pen. Then you need a subject, such as your "other" hand or a piece of jewelry - just so it's sort of complicated. For tomorrow, try to find a subject to draw - a fork with a carved handle or a ceramic figurine would work.

This is what we'll do tomorrow.

Study the item you've chosen and decide where on that item's surface you want to begin. This should be an edge, for example the tip of the fork or the head on the figurine. Think about where on your paper this drawing will fit, so if you're starting at the head of your subject, you will start at the top of your paper. Put the pencil on the paper at the place where you want to start the drawing and focus your eyes on the subject at the same place.

Do not look at the paper again.

Stare at the subject. Walk your eyes along its contour. As you walk your eyes, let your hand (the one with the pencil in it, of course!) follow the contour that your eyes are following. It's best to do this with edges that you can see, at least at first. When you get more familiar with the technique you can let your eye follow a contour on the subject that isn't delineated by an edge, such as walking over the bridge of the nose.

Here is a face that someone drew using the blind contour method:

Predictably, you can't tell who this is.

Here is the kicker:

The point of this exercise is NOT the final drawing. I'm only showing you a blind contour drawing so you can understand that it can look like anything. It will look like a jumble. It's not even clear where the bits of anatomy are on this face.

Yet, this drawing is the work of someone who has a lot of experience with contour drawing. This is about as good as it gets if the person isn't cheating and looking at the paper.

Of all of the drawing exercises I've ever had assigned to me, this one helped me the most. It helps you see. It helps you understand what your hand needs to do. It's just very, very useful.

See you tomorrow or Wednesday!

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