Contour Drawing is a method of drawing (or painting) where you draw an outline of a subject not looking at the surface. The result of the exercise does not matter as much as careful observation of the subject.
The purpose and importance of contour drawing or painting is to develop hand and eye co-ordination for both beginner or advanced artists. The goal in training your hand to copy movements of your eyes is to create a more “true” picture of what you see. So often, the tendency to draw what your brain tells you (right brain) creates a stereotypical rendition of the subject. By including the left brain tendency to simplify or generalize, the outcome captures different details and sometimes more three-dimensional character.
It is my opinion that contour drawing is one of the essential lessons for learning to sketch. And a sketch is often the start of a composition. Contour drawing creates an outline that defines edges. Although the normal tendency to look alternatively at the subject and surface while drawing, the challenge of contour methods self teaches the important lessons of freeing yourself of supposed ideals of what art is, while developing “a sense of play”.
For these exercises you will need any of the following; pencil, pen, crayons, pastel, conté and any water based paint. A sketch book is the easiest way to contour draw. If using loose paper try taping it down to a surface.
Modified Contour Drawing
The idea of modified contour drawing is to look only at the surface about 10% of the time when starting a new line on the page. Do not erase.
- Decide on subject(s) to draw
- Observe carefully and draw the outline of the subject looking closely at edges of the subject
- Use continuous line to create an outline, but stop to look at paper when starting a new line
The most important aspect about blind contour drawing is not to look at the surface or the tool you use to draw with. Do not erase.
- Decide on the subject(s) to draw
- Observe carefully and draw the outline of the subject in a continuous line movement.
- Start a new drawing each time you stop and try to increase the length of time not looking on every successive session.
Sketch Contour Drawing and Painting
Combine the methods of blind and modified contour drawing of not looking at the surface while portraying a subject. Sketch Contour outlines the subject in the style of sketching by wandering back and forth across the page capturing details. Try doing this with a few different colors. If you want to try this before feeling comfortable with the first two sessions put your sketchbook under a table, so as not to look while drawing. Once you feel comfortable trying this method by drawing, then try the following exercise with paint.
- Decide on subject(s) and mix 2 -3 colors in a palette
- Complete the first stage of the outline using one colour in a sketching outline style. Look at the page only when beginning a new line.
- Before applying the second color look carefully at the sketch you have and observe the subject carefully to remember your eye’s direction and later movement of your hands
- Complete the sketch with a third colour with the above instructions (optional)