Moving Past the Blank Page with Blind Contours

by Florence Morris in Beginning to Draw

We’ve all had that moment.  The blank page, so white, so clean.  You finally put a mark down and instantly hate it.  You look around, did anyone see my failure?  What do you do?  How do you start?  From my own experience, nothing has really trained my hand/eye coordination or my ability to really look at and see an object like Blind Contour Drawing.


Blind Contour Drawing

It was introduced in the 1930’s by Kimon Nicolaides in his New York art classes and later, posthumously, in his 1941 book ‘The Natural Way to Draw as ‘Contour Drawing’.  Many instructors have used it over the decades.  Betty Edwards teaches it in her book ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ and calls it ‘Pure Contour Drawing’.
I like to call it ‘Blind Contour’ for two reasons.  First, simply because when it was first taught to me, that is what my instructor called it.  Second, because I feel it describes the process best. That is how you are drawing, blindly without looking at your paper.

Getting Started 

1.  Sit close to the object or model you will be drawing, making sure to have a clear view.        You can have your paper in front of you if you trust yourself not to cheat.  If you can’t          be trusted, then position your drawing paper so it is to the side or behind you as you face      your object or model.
2.  Before I start to draw, I like to look at the object and hold my pencil in the air as if I am        tracing the outside edge of it.  This helps me to familiarize myself with it, as well as              imprint the hand motion in my mind.
3.  Pick a point where you want to start on the outer edge (contour) of your item and place        your hand on your paper accordingly.  (Starting at the top of the item, place your hand at      the top of your paper.)  The most important thing to remember is to go slowly.  You will      be drawing as if your pencil is on the object not on your paper.  Focus on that starting          point.  As your eyes slowly move along the outer edge of the object, slowly move your        pencil in the same movement along your paper.
4.  Once you have gone completely around the outside edge, stop and have a look.  Is it            recognizable?  If not, that’s ok.  Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not, but that’s      not what your going for.  You are trying to train your eyes to really ‘see’ the object you        are drawing and to lose the fear of putting marks on a page. 
Here is an example of one I did a couple of years ago:
The Discus Thrower, he’s really let himself go.
This is a great exercise to prepare your mind and hand at the beginning of a drawing session.  If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out.


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