Saturday, 5 February 2011

Contour Drawing

Contour Drawing - 20 January 2011
Graphite Pencil on Paper
33cm x 40.5cm (13" x 16")

I know what you are thinking - it looks a bit odd.  It doesn't look like me either.

Welcome to the weird world of Contour Drawing, which is the topic of the first exercise in The Natural Way to Draw.

Contour Drawing involves not looking at the paper while you are drawing. As you finish each shape or contour, you are allowed to glance at the paper and decide where to start the next, but when you are actually drawing you must only look at the subject.

One of the key elements of the technique is to imagine that the pencil is touching the object and you are slowly moving it along its edges and contours. As you move the pencil you can feel the surface of the object underneath it.

I first encountered Contour Drawing in Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I hated the exercise and really couldn’t see the point, but now that I’ve read the explanations in The Natural Way to Draw and done a few hours of practice it is beginning to make sense and I really enjoy it.

The most obvious benefit is that it emphasises the need to look at the subject more than the paper.

Imagining that we are touching the subject encourages us to involve our other senses as well as sight.

The exercise requires undivided attention and provides a workout for our powers of concentration.

It also helps us to develop an innate feeling for the relative proportions of what we are drawing. The book stresses that we shouldn’t try to get the the proportions right, but with practice the skill develops.

It is not always easy, but I like the marks I am creating. There is nothing timid or fussy about them. When you look at a Contour Drawing the marks look intentional. It looks like some crazy artist is deliberately trying to make a point by messing with our perceptions.

I’ve dug out a sketch of a running shoe from last year to compare with a recent Contour Drawing.

At the time, I was pleased with the sketch, but now I prefer the contour drawing because it seems more energetic and expressive.

Running Shoe
17 June 2010 
Graphite Pencil on Paper
21cm x 30cm (8.25" x 11.75")

My Right Shoe
Contour Drawing  - 15 January 2011
Graphite Pencil on Paper
35.5cm x 38cm (14" x 15")


  1. Hi!

    Thanks for documenting your experience with The Natural Way to Draw through this blog. I'm getting my supplies together and am not sure what an eyeshade is as referred to in the list of supplies for exercise one. Is a type of blinder attached to one's pencil such as a folder with a hole in the middle of it? Or something else entirely?

    1. Hi,

      Sorry for the delay in replying – I have been away on vacation.

      Thank you for asking this question. I had completely forgotten about the instruction to wear an eyeshade. I agree with Jamato’s comment on I think an eyeshade is a visor to keep the sun and other overhead light out of your eyes – like the bill of a baseball cap.

      I haven’t tried using an eyeshade, but now you’ve reminded me I will give it a try.

      All the best with the exercises,