Art lesson: Blind contour drawing
Observational drawing is about drawing exactly what we see — not what our brain may be telling us to hurry up and draw. (Silly brain, always in a hurry.)
When I see you drawing and looking only at your paper, I know you're not doing observational drawing — to do that, you need to look up and look up and look up again. Then I know that you are looking at something and drawing it very particularly.
Blind contour drawing is a fun way to see how accurately we can draw when we observe something very carefully, by looking at it and not looking away.
At the beginning of this lesson, we talk about outlines. We are going to draw the outline of something, in one continuous line, without lifting our pencil from the paper.
We practice by picking out a few things in the room and outlining them in the air with our index finger. Trace the edge of the item all the way around with your finger. That is what we are going to do with a pencil now.
To do blind contour drawing, we can't let our eyes see what our hand is doing, so we make a blinder.
I used a small paper plate for each student, poking a hole for the pencil to go through. This worked very well. You can also use cardboard. (Be sure to poke a hole smaller than your pencil, so the pencil fits tightly.)
Give each student something to draw. Flowers with petals and leaves with irregular shapes (e.g., oak or maple leaves) work very well. You can also take a wire and bend it into a complex shape.
Emphasize that when we're done, our drawing will almost certainly not look like the thing we're drawing — when we get all the way around, our lines won't meet up. (If they do, we'll know you were peeking! Don't peek!) Our drawings are going to look funny, and that's okay, because this is a fun brain game.
Work in the middle of your page, because your pencil is going to wander around quite a bit.
Pick a spot on the thing you are drawing and, without looking at your hand or the page, follow the edge very carefully all the way around with your eyes, drawing as you go.
When you get to the end, take a look and see what you have!
You will probably find a funny-looking line, but compare what you drew to the edge of what you were drawing — there should be areas that are very good representations. See what your hand can do when you trick your brain?
Try it a few different times on different parts of your page (or turn to a new page if necessary). Each time try to go slowly, never lift your pencil, and follow the edge exactly. Which drawing is best?
After a few goes, remove your blinder and do a regular observational drawing. Is it easier this time?
Usually observational drawings improve after blind contour drawings. Blind contour drawing forces us to really, really observe that outline very closely, and when we draw it without the blinder we usually include that extra detail more faithfully. Also, it's always encouraging to see how well you can draw something, even if you have to trick your brain to do it!
Note the bands on the tips of the petals!
Tip for encouraging children to make better observational drawings:
If they seem to be hurrying and drawing whole areas too quickly, or if they are looking mostly at the page and not referring back often enough to the thing they are drawing, sit with them and ask them to draw one detail at a time as you point it out.
Today we drew gerbera daisies. When I isolated items for one student, I asked him to draw a single petal exactly as it looked. Then I pointed to the petal next to it. Soon he was doing a much more detailed drawing.
First attempt at observational drawing following contour drawing
Second attempt, petal detail
My final tip of the day: I asked a florist if they could give me any partly- or mostly-dead flowers for my drawing class, and they gave me a huge, gorgeous bouquet for just a couple of dollars! So our second lesson for today is — just ask. People are nice. :^D)