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Blind Contour Drawing: A Great Drawing Instruction Method and Warm-up Exercise

Updated on October 5, 2012
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I am Diane Brown (dbro), an artist and illustrator living in Texas. I enjoy all phases of the creative process. Enjoy and comment!

Blind Contour Drawings

"Two Girls with Glasses" Charcoal on Newsprint, 24 x 18" Many blind contour drawings have a unique and charming appeal.
"Two Girls with Glasses" Charcoal on Newsprint, 24 x 18" Many blind contour drawings have a unique and charming appeal.

Introduction

As an artist and art instructor, I have often used a great drawing exercise that really helps artists and art students increase their proficiency and sense of comfort when drawing. Blind contour drawing is an approach to drawing that is quite unique and counter to our natural instincts when we think about drawing. In essence, the artist is setting up an obstacle for him or herself in creating an accurate drawing of an object. This sounds crazy on the surface, but this technique is very effective in drawing instruction on several levels. Let me explain...

The Method: What is Blind Contour?

The best way to describe blind contour drawing is to first define some terms. The term "contour" when used in drawing means the "edge" of an object. For example, when drawing a basketball, an artist will draw a circle to define the "edge" he or she sees when looking at the basketball. Of course, there is no actual edge to the basketball, but we perceive it as an edge, especially when we try to represent the ball in a two-dimensional format like drawing or painting. Edges can be found throughout an object when we observe it closely - not just along the outside of the item. Wrinkles in fabric can be seen as edges or contours, as can the transition between two colors or textures. So when we draw these edges, we are not just drawing "cookie cutter images," but rather complete drawings with interesting things going on on the inside of the objects as well.

So, that explains the "contour" part of this drawing technique. Now, for the "blind" part. In this drawing exercise technique, "blind" refers to the fact that the artist refrains from looking at his or her paper while executing the drawing. Instead, the artist keeps his eyes trained on the object being drawn and moves the hand holding the pencil or charcoal in response to the artist's eye moving along the contours (or edges) of the object. This sounds simple enough, but in practice it can be difficult. Our natural instinct is to look at our drawing almost to the point of obsession when we draw. The urge to look at the paper when we draw is quite strong. In fact, getting to the point where you can do the blind contour technique for even a few seconds can require practice and patience. The temptation to "peek" is very strong. It is important to persist, however; because the rewards of doing so are great. I'll explain in the next section.

The Benefits of Blind Contour Drawing

The first benefit gained from blind contour drawing is an increased ability to translate a three-dimensional object into a two dimensional representation. As the artist focuses his attention solely on the subject, his familiarity with the object increases. The artist sees details about the object he or she might not have noticed before. Also, the artist gains practice learning "the geography of the page." In other words, the eye and the hand learn to coordinate the motion of the eye following those edges we've been talking about with the motion of the drawing hand travelling over the paper. This is a hugely useful skill that can be translated to all forms of drawing and painting.

Similarly, this drawing technique can be helpful in breaking the artist's tendency to "over focus" on the product much too early in the drawing process. In drawing, especially in realistic drawing, more time should be spent looking at the subject than is spent looking at the drawing. This is especially true at the beginning of the drawing process. When one is just starting a drawing, at least 80% of the time should be spent looking at the object being drawn. Blind contour drawing helps make this practice more comfortable for the artist.

This next benefit of blind contour drawing is largely psychological. When an artist or art student is faced with the challenge of not looking at the paper while drawing, certain inhibitions and fears about drawing are conquered. Since such an obstacle to making an accurate realistic drawing is present, the inner critic is silenced and the fear of failure is cancelled out. The results of blind contour drawings are quite unusual and sometimes very appealing. This helps beak the notion that a drawing must be "perfect" in order for it to be worthwhile. This popular notion is quite untrue! The quirkiness of these drawings can be very charming and can stand on their own as a lovely work of art.

In my experience as an art instructor, I have found the blind contour technique to be very helpful in reaching reluctant or frightened drawers. As I've mentioned in a previous hub (How to Make Drawing Fun) most adults do not like to draw because of their fear of failure. This unusual drawing technique and its sometimes humorous results can really break the ice for the individual who is worried about "measuring up."

"My Left Hand" Pencil on Paper 8 x 10"
"My Left Hand" Pencil on Paper 8 x 10"

Tips for Making Blind Contour Most Effective

I'd like to share several tips for getting the most out of the blind contour technique:

• Don't use expensive materials - Since these drawings are for a warm-up exercise and the results are so unpredictable, don't waste money on fancy paper or drawing materials.

• Go big - The idea of blind contour drawing is to lessen the artist's fears about failure. Usually these fears are translated into small, tight drawings. To counter this tendency, encourage your students (or yourself) to use large sheets of paper and to try to fill the page with the drawing.

• Use "easy" materials - Since you want to discourage "peeking" at the page, make sure you use drawing materials that easily make strong marks on the paper. Something like soft charcoal or large markers are preferable to pencils or fine-line markers for this technique. If it feels like you are easily making strong marks on your paper, you will be less likely to look at the paper to check your results.

• Don't judge - Remember, these drawings are only meant for warm-up or practice. Don't apply any preconceived "standards" to these drawings. You don't have to like everything you draw. Each drawing is an exploration. Don't pressure yourself (or your students) to draw something perfectly. This tip goes for any form of drawing.

• Keep it short and sweet - Keep the time allowed for each drawing short. Thirty seconds to a minute or two is plenty of time. Any more than this will encourage peeking and/or "fussing."

• Blind contour can also become a method artists choose to make finished art for display if the method and its products resonate with the artist. In this case, the artist would want to choose better materials to create the drawings, like acid-free paper and fade resistant inks, etc.

"Hipster Girl" Pencil on Paper 10 x 8"
"Hipster Girl" Pencil on Paper 10 x 8"

Conclusions

Blind contour drawing is a great technique to use to help artists warm up before more formal drawing or other art projects. It is also a great skill building exercise for artists of all levels of experience.

This technique is also helpful in getting reluctant artists to break free from their inner critic and enjoy the wonderful world of art. This, I think, is the best and highest purpose of the technique.

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    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, Better Yourself! This is a great warm-up technique as well as a great skill builder for eye-hand coordination - something artists really need. Thanks again for your comment!

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub! I've used blind contour as a drawing warm up, and love it! It's fun to see the results! I think this was wonderful information to share for artists who haven't tested this method before.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comment, carol7777. Blind contour is a great technique for warm-up and/or skill building. I would encourage everyone interested in drawing to give it a try.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I have heard of contour drawing..but you really explained it well. Thanks for all the information.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      In my book that means you are an artist, shrestha! I'd love to see some examples of your work someday! Thanks again for your interest!

    • shrestha monsoon profile image

      shrestha monsoon 5 years ago

      No, but I like to paint.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      I think you should try it too, shrestha monsoon! It's great fun, and it really does help most people improve their drawing skills. I appreciate your comment very much. Are you an artist?

    • shrestha monsoon profile image

      shrestha monsoon 5 years ago

      I think I should start blind contour drawing.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you for your kind comment, Patricia! This technique is greaat for students or anyone who is reluctant to draw due to the "fear of failure." It is also wonderful for those of us (me) who can tend to "fuss" over their drawings. :)

    • profile image

      Patricia 5 years ago

      As a former English teacher, I commend you for your well-written

      article. One of my favorite paintings was done in a workshop using

      your method. It takes away the pressure of doing a great drawing.

      No one is expecting wonderful results with Blind-Contour drawing,

      but sometimes the drawing does turn out well. Thanks!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks so much for your encouraging comments, CZCZCZ! I hope you will try the blind contour technique. I think you'll find it very helpful.

      I'd love to see some of your drawings!

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 5 years ago from Oregon

      This was great to read. I am interested in becoming better at drawing and so this was fun to read and will try to implement the suggestions that you outlined. Voted this hub up and tweeted it.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your kind comments, whonunuwho! This technique is a great way to train the eye, the mind, and the hand to work together.

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 5 years ago from United States

      It uses the finest modality, in using the mind, as well as the hands to create art. Nice work, Dbro.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, ComfortB! I'm glad I could let you know about such a fun and instructive method of drawing. I hope you will give it a try. Do you draw or paint?

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      I didn't know about this type of drawing until I read this hub. Thanks for the lesson, it was very well defined. Congrats on the HOTD award!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, glassvisage! I really enjoy this drawing technique as well. As I've said before, I can be a bit "fussy" in my drawing and painting, so a technique like this that encourages looseness and a sense of fun is great for me. I hope maybe you'll consider giving blind contour another try sometime soon!

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 5 years ago from Northern California

      Great idea for a Hub! I used to do this exercise when I was younger, and honestly some of my favorite doodles were through this method. Thanks so much for sharing this with others!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks so much, Happyboomernurse! I'm tickled to have won this accolade. I'm glad you stopped by to leave such an encouraging comment.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Came back to wish you congratulations on earning the Hub of the Day accolade for this well written article about a unique and interesting topic. It is, indeed, worthy of the recognition.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Stephanie! This is a great technique, and I'm glad I could remind you of it. I love how blind contour helps "loosen" us up as we approach drawing or any media. Having fussbudget tendencies myself, I really benefit from this type of warm-up. I'm working on a hub about gesture drawing - I hope you'll check it out!

      I really appreciate your kind comments.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      I'm glad I was able to offer new and useful information to you, Melovy! Blind contour drawing is an excellent skill builder, but I think its best result is the better attitude artists gain about their own efforts. I am thrilled that I may be able to help your child with his/her art! That means more than I can say!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, snakeslane! Your comment was the first clue that I had won this honor! I really appreciate hubbers like you who keep me encouraged to write more.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      I remember doing this technique in drawing classes and your hub reminded me how valuable an exercise it was. Now I have to try it again. I like the idea of doing blind drawing with charcoal or markers - it might be a great basis for an abstract drawing or painting. Thanks for a great hub and congratulations on your Hub of the Day!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      I've never heard of this technique even though I taught art for a while. I would definitely have used it in teaching: I regularly told pupils we draw with our eyes as much as with our hands, and encouraged them so spend time looking and letting go of preconceived ideas of what an object should look like. This would have been a great exercise to do! One of my kids is now studying art at school, so I will pass your suggestions on to her.

      A very interesting hub and congratulations on your Hub of the Day!

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 5 years ago from Canada

      Congratulations on Hub Of the Day Dbro!

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comments, happyboomernurse! I'm glad I could introduce you to this fun and useful drawing technique.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      I never heard about this technique before and learned a lot from this interesting article.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      It is tough, AjeetKhruana! It takes determination and practice, but it can be accomplished. I know that you could do very well with this technique. All of my students have responded positively to drawing in this way, mainly because it helps them learn to value their efforts and thereby their products. From reading your hub, I know that you have the motivation and desire necessary to accomplish most anything. I'd suggest you give it a try! Thanks so much for your comments!

    • AjeetKhurana profile image

      Ajeet 5 years ago from Mumbai, India

      This sounds tough. I do not think that I am artistically inclined enough to manage this :)

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, carol7777! I'm glad this technique has resonated with you. I think you'll very much enjoy the process and the results. Let me know how it works for you. As you can see from my examples, the results can be quite charming and amusing!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I am always looking for new drawing and painting tutorials. This is excellent. I am voting up and sharing.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Me too! I can tend to be a bit "tight" in my work, so I really appreciate something that forces me to lighten up and loosen up as well! I like some of my drawings using this technique more than my more "serious" attempts!

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 5 years ago from Canada

      Hi Dbro, you're very welcome, thank you! Yes, I have used this technique a lot in drawing classes I've taken. I love the results.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, snakeslane! I really do enjoy this technique. Have you ever used this method? I find it helps artists loosen up and prepare themselves for more challenging drawing tasks. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment!

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 5 years ago from Canada

      Dbro, you've explained this technique very well, and I like the illustrations you've included. Nice work, voted up. Regards, snakeslane