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Loosen up your drawing hand to draw better and enjoy it more: A contour exercise.

Updated on December 5, 2010

Tips for the artist: Slow down with contour drawing

How to slow down with a contour drawing.

What you'll need.

You will need, a pencil (2B,4B or 6B), paper, sharpener or penknife, something to lean on, something to draw (this is up to you).

Setting up.

Position yourself comfortably. For some this will mean sitting with paper in front of you, for others at an easle. The key here is to place yourself in such a way that you will not be tempted to look at your paper. In the case of standing or sitting at an easle put yourself further to the side of your paper than you would usually, almost as if you are sitting beside the paper/ easle instead of in front of it.

If you are sitting with paper at a table or with a drawing board, again place the paper to the side so that you don't have it directly in front of you.

Get started.

Now, it takes a bit of self control but this is a drawing where you DON'T LOOK AT WHAT YOU'RE DOING. The point of this method is not the resulting drawing. We are not trying to make great art here. It is about calming yourself down and really looking, it is about training your eye to see and putting that hyper critical inner voice in its place.

Now, get your pencil nice and sharp, contour drawing works best with a fine line. Your 2B, 4B or 6B pencil will work best.

Choose your subject.

Choose something to draw. It doesn't really matter what. I like to choose intricate complicated subjects, something you can get lost looking at, like a big bunch of flowers, a tangle of telephone wires, a group of shells, your hand. But really anything, anyone or anywhere will do.

Now put pencil to paper and accept this is the last you will see of your drawing till the end. You can give yourself a time limit (eg 20 minutes) if you feel this will help relax you.

Look at your subject matter. Pick a point, any point on the subject. SLOWLY begin to follow the outline of what you are looking at, for example the edge of a petal, the side of a finger, the curl of a shell.


Hints and tips.

As your eye follows the contour or edge of the subject start to move your pencil. Follow the little bumps and details, every nuance of the line imagining there is a direct connection between your eye as it moves slowly around the object and your pencil. Only move your pencil as fast as you move your eye and keep the tip of your pencil on the paper AT ALL TIMES.

This is another key to contour drawing. Should you reach a break in the subject such as the end of an outline, don't lift your pencil and don't look at where it should go next on the paper. Just move your pencil, still with tip on the paper, across to another point and keep going.

You WILL feel resistant. You may even feel cross. Realise this is the inner critic trying to get the upper hand. Put your doubts aside. This WILL be good for your drawing, and it will help train your eye. If you persist it will give a sense of freedom and engagement with the act or process of drawing that you will carry with you when you next draw in the usual way.

Keep going. If you feel restless re-engage with the subject. Find the particularity in the outline and follow it. When time is up, take a deep breath and have a look.

I have seen people react lots of ways at this point. Some still feel cranky, often there will be good natured laughter. But most often I have seen people surprised and pleased. You will not have produced a picture of the subject that is even close to recognizable. But often you will see things in the drawing that you will recognize and you may be excited to see the quality of the line you have produced and the subtlety of the observation of which you ARE capable.

Contour Drawing is a great Drawing exercise and well worth the time and effort put in. I try to include it in my practice often and especially when I am feeling anxiety about drawing and my skills.

Once you have tried the basic technique you can add a couple of complications.

Extra exercise 1.

As well as following the outlines of the subject, allow your eye to wander freely over the inner landscape of the subject and follow these tracks with your pencil as before.This will help you to see more of the three dimensional complexity of the object and experiment with ways of seeing them.

Extra exercise 2.

Challenge Yourself. Use your opposite hand ( If you are a Lefty use your Right hand and vice versa). Drawing with your opposite hand is a terrific drawing exercise in and of itself as well. Combine it with a Contour Drawing and see where it takes you!


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    • profile image

      Rajesh 2 years ago

      I appreciate your kind and geoeruns advice a lot!. I have been trying it hardly and did not get those amazing results!. It is nice to see that you got my comment in a good way!God bless you!VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

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      Mouse 3 years ago

      I think I'll do this tomorrow while I wait for the ants to clear from my laptop :D

    • Fertile Forest profile image

      Fertile Forest 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Great! thanks for reading.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      I'm looking forward to setting aside some time for these exercises! Thanks. Definitely going to be a follower now.