Blind Contour Drawing Exercises and Examples
Many years ago, I was in a creative rut and needed some help loosening up and trying something new. So I tried blind contour drawing to help me find a new rhythm.
The problem was that as a young adult, I struggled to let go of my need to control the outcome of my drawings. I longed for the days when I could put a pencil on paper and just draw, when my art was organic and intuitive.
I was too focused on the 'aesthetics and meaning', which crippled my ability to create anything, leading to years of art block.
So I downloaded a copy of the Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicholides to break free of my self-imposed shackles.
In his book, one of the most popular exercises for drawing is the blind contour drawing method. This technique trains our minds to honour the chaos of the input of our senses. Nicolaides believes that we see not just with our eyes but with all our senses.
Blind contour drawing is a form of meditation and artistic practice. It forces us to examine the world as it is without the input from our left brain. A pure state of drawing without the logical side telling us what it should be.
So here's why I encourage you to try blind contour drawing:
The goal of blind contour drawing is to really 'see' whatever you are drawing. With this exercise, we try to empathise and merge with whatever we see rather than retreat to our mental image of it. Our brains can simplify what we perceive, making it difficult to draw.
"Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see — to see correctly — and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye. The sort of 'seeing' I mean is an observation that utilises as many of the five senses as can reach through the eye simultaneously. Although you use your eyes, you do not close up the other senses — rather, the reverse, because all the senses have a part in the sort of observation, you are to make." - The Natural Way To Draw.
Helps you slow down
In the modern world, most of us are so used to getting things instantly that it is only natural to expect the same from our artistic growth. This exercise forces us to slow down, take our time and digest what we see leisurely. Oddly enough, slowing down is the fastest way to improve your art.
"This exercise should be done slowly, searchingly, sensitively. Take your time. Do not be too impatient or too quick. There is no point in finishing one contour study. In fact, a contour study is not a thing to be 'finished'. It is having a particular type of experience, which you can continue as long as you have the patience to look." - The Natural Way To Draw.
Pure drawing practice
When you switch off the analytical side of your mind, you can step into a 'pure drawing mode'. When you draw using the blind contour drawing method, you can draw responsively and intuitively rather than getting tangled up with your preconceived notions of how an object should be.
"There is only one right way to learn to draw, and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception." - The Natural Way To Draw.
Want to read The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicholides for free? Get it here.
How to attempt the blind contour drawing exercises
- Sit close to the subject you intend to draw and look at it carefully.
- Focus your eyes on a point along the object’s contour that approximates an edge.
- Imagine that your pencil is touching the object instead of the paper and place your pencil on the paper accordingly.
- Once you are convinced that your pencil is touching your object, start to move your pencil slowly along the paper.
- Your eyes might be tempted to move quickly, but you need to coordinate the pencil with the eye.
- The "contour" will vary as you start drawing. It could be the outline of the object, the edge of a shadow, or the object’s texture. Feel free to switch between subjects as you draw. For example, you could draw the surface on which the object rests.
- Fight the impulse to look at your paper. Avoid breaking the unique line of communication between your eyes and your pencil. Let them work in unison.
Three types of contour drawing:
Blind contour drawing
Staring down at your paper can be a hard habit to break. This means that we spend more time looking at our paper than observing. This exercise trains you to look more often at your subject than at your paper.
A blind contour drawing is when you draw the subject’s contour without looking at your paper. Never, ever! Just keep going and resist the urge to check what your hand has been up to.
Modified Contour drawing
This method allows you to look at your paper when you pick up your pencil. So you can use multiple lines rather than just one.
You can look at the paper 10% of the time but keep observing your subject for the rest of the time. You can look at your paper whenever you start a new line but try to keep drawing intuitively.
Continuous contour drawing
Continuous contour drawing is where you draw with one long line without taking your pencil off the paper. You can experiment with 100% blind or looking down 10% of the time.
So, why not try out some blind contour drawings? They're easy to learn and fun to draw.
For most beginner artists, the success of a drawing lies in whether it looks like the thing they are drawing or not. However, this approach misses a few key elements to a successful drawing. That is whether the drawing captured the subject's energy and emotion, which can be ruined by analytical thinking.
There are no bad drawings, just badly observed experiences that hold us back from the artistic growth we desire.
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Here are a few blind contour drawing exercises to try. They are easy enough for anyone at any skill level.