Contour Drawing

Make quick, freeform drawings with the contour drawing technique.

Contour drawing is a fun approach to drawing more loose and free. When you become more comfortable with contour drawing, you'll likely use this quick way of drawing to quickly find easy drawing ideas you imagine.

Developing good hand-eye coordination is one of the key drawing techniques you should practice.

With regular practice, blind contour drawing exercises will help train your hand to follow your eye movements.

The blind contour technique described in this online drawing lesson is an easy and fun way to improve your overall drawing ability.

When creating a blind contour drawing you are literally drawing blind. This doesn't mean you close your eyes, however! What it does mean is that you will only be looking at your object, not at your paper, during the entire process. Try not to peek at your drawing until after it's completed.

For this reason, blind contour drawings tend to have a quirky and abstract look to them. This is totally normal!

While you draw, try not to worry about what your drawing looks like. The goal of blind contour drawing is not to make a perfect drawing, but to train your hand to copy your eye's movements.

Contour drawing insights:

  • While you draw, look only at the object, NOT at your drawing.
  • Keep your pen or pencil in CONSTANT contact with the page.
  • Draw slowly. If it helps, close one eye while you draw.
  • Whenever several lines meet, simply choose a direction and reconnect those lines later.
  • Concentrate on practicing your hand-eye coordination instead of worrying about the look of your drawing.

Keeping your eyes on the subject matter while you draw ensures that you are exercising your hand-eye coordination.

For example, when you draw animals, spend more time looking at them than your paper. It'll help you in drawing movement and capturing their likeness.

However, this rule is unique to blind contour drawing. Don't confuse the blind contour line with other types of contour line drawing. You can, and should look at your paper when creating a regular contour line drawing.
blind contour drawing

For this exercise contour lines can include outlines, wrinkles, palm lines, fingernails, shadows & highlights. Basically, anything that can be drawn as a line.

Draw slow contour lines

If it helps, close one eye while you draw.

Your hand makes a great subject matter for contour drawing because it has lots of lines for you to draw. However, you don't have to draw every single line. It will be up to you to choose which lines to omit.

Whenever several lines meet, you will have to decide which direction to take. You can reconnect those cross-roads later by coming back to them from the other direction.

Keep your pen or pencil in constant contact with the paper! If you come to a dead-end, simply retrace the line or cross over (drawing an imaginary line) to where you want to be.

Hopefully, you've gotten accustomed to making very loose drawings that are free from perfection.

In this lesson, we're going to go one step further from drawing blind and focus on what's called contour line drawings.

Contour line drawings are free from shading and values. They're just lines, only now we're going to look at our paper more as we draw. Except, we aren't going to look at our subject.

Here's what I mean. Instead of looking at our subject we're going to focus on the space around our subject. This is called negative space.

Ignoring mistakes with contour drawing

I’ve seen beginning drawing students who are so afraid of making mistakes, they draw so light you can’t even see the drawing on the paper.

For an artist, the fear of making mistakes isn’t helpful.

Trial and error are an important part of the drawing.

As you’re drawing, you’re looking, holding, and drawing.

You’re essentially making lines based on the contours of your subject.

But as your drawings take shape, inevitably, distortions will occur.

As this happens, it’s okay to correct them as you go. No, not with an eraser, but with more lines. This is called “restating”.

Restating is where you draw more accurate lines next to the ones you aren’t happy with.

It will prevent you from focusing too much on your paper as you draw. Instead of stopping your observation process to erase lines and focus too much on what’s happening on the paper, you’re going to keep observing your subject.

Your drawings will look and feel more energetic and alive. Your drawings will become more interesting to look at because it’s showing your process.

In these drawings, I'm constantly going back over the initial lines to place new more defining lines. I'm discovering and exploring on paper as a study.

All the “restatements” that make up a drawing eventually turn into the signature or “drawing style” of your drawings.

It’s what makes your drawings uniquely yours. It’s a visual recording of what you're feeling as you find forms, search for shapes, capture contours, and openly sharing your adjustments, and corrections on paper.

Restatements embrace the hard truth that drawing is an exploration. Your reinstatements also reflect your mood. Sometimes when you're calmer your reinstatements will be more thoughtful and delicate. If you have more energy, your reinstatements will be more aggressive and loose.

So rather than erase your “errors” or “distortions”, draw the new lines alongside the old ones, and never erase.

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