Day #039 – Modified Contour Drawing of my Hand

So I tackled the closing exercise on modified contour drawing in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The steps were as follows:

  1. Use your perspex viewfinder to trace your hand in some chosen pose. There are examples of this in my day 37 post ‘Blind and Modified Contour Drawing‘.
  2. Use my viewfinder to draw a box of the same size on a standard piece of paper and then use a graphite stick to ‘tone’ the paper. I’d never toned paper before and it was immediately fun. A lot of good  drawings I’ve seen had a certain look about them and I never knew what it was. Now I can see that it was toning the paper they were doing all along.
  3. Lightly copy the drawing you’ve done on the perspex onto the equivalent (toned) plane on the paper. This is just a light sketch.
  4. Now put your hand into the original position and copy all the details in depth onto the rough outline you’ve already laid down.

I’m not happy with the result. I think the bottom of the palm looks completely wrong and the index finger isn’t very good either. The biggest problem, though, was in copying my hand. Perhaps I chose an awkward pose to hold but I’m sure my head position kept moving as did my hand which meant the creases in the palm and shadows on the fingers kept changing causing me to create a piece that overall looks wrong.

The book advised referring to your perspex drawing to remind yourself of where your hand should be but this is not easy at all as it must be in the exact same pose and your head must be in the same place too. This drawing one-step-removed I personally found harder than if I’d just started the whole drawing from scratch just looking at my hand. I think the exercise would have worked better if the book had suggested choosing a hand pose that is very easy to rest on a table as anything that requires tensing a muscle or holding up a finger is inevitably going to strain and start subtly moving as the hour progresses.

Another thing the book recommended is closing one eye so you get an accurate view of your hand as a 2D plane (so it’s more accurate copying to the 2D surface of a piece of paper. The trouble with this is that keeping an eye closed for half an hour is extremely difficult. Also, any benefits are only kept if you can keep your head and hand-pose very still. If they move at all you lose all benefits of keeping the eye closed.

It’s possible my setup at my desk is too cramped and awkward to properly copy also. I know that the more angled your drawing surface is the better and presumably that’s why artists often use easels when drawing from life.

On the positive side I did enjoy creating the drawing and one or two parts look okay. The thumb most notably. I also enjoyed using my eraser on the toned paper to create highlights. Definitely creates a punchy contrast that you don’t’ get if the paper around the drawing is white anyway.

The next chapter of the book is called “Perceiving the Shape of a Space: The Positive Aspects of Negative Space” which sounds really interesting and I’m looking forward to continuing with the exercises!

Modified Contour Drawing of my Hand



Day #037 – Blind and Modified Contour Drawing

I spent a long time today working through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I would have continued further but the next exercise was advertised as needing at least an hour so I will have to save that for tomorrow.

The book first introduced the concept of “Blind Contour Drawing”. This is where you place your pencil on your paper and without looking at your hand simply follow along very carefully, milimetre-by-milimetre, with whatever you’re looking at. Ideally what you’re drawing should be quite intricate in nature so the closer you look the more lines you can follow. The palm of my hand is what I used as suggested in the book. This exercise supposedly works wonderfully to get you to shift out of your “Left Brain” and into the visual “R-Mode” so essential for drawing what is really there. I have to say I found it worked excellently and reminded me A LOT of the feeling you get when successfully meditating. A heightened awareness of all the detail and depth of everything. Apparently some seasoned artists use this exercise as a warm-up before drawing.

As you are not looking at what you’re doing the finished product will tend towards being something of a mess. In the book, however, Edwards argues that these scribbles are a different kind of mark than what your left-brain would ever create. That they have a kind of beauty in and of themselves. I’m not too sure mine are beautiful but I understand what she’s getting at. The marks are a different sort of sensitivity.

First attempt at blind contour drawing


If you’re not sure about whether you should try Blind Contour Drawing then this quote from Betty Edwards about what you can expect if you give it a go might convince you:

Whatever the actual reason may be, I can assure you that Pure Contour Drawing will permanently change your ability to perceive. From this point onward, you will start to see in the way an artist sees and your skills in seeing and drawing will progress rapidly.

The next exercise required some preparation. I’d bought the materials a few weeks back but hadn’t yet put them together. I was required to create a ‘view-finder’ by cutting a 6″ x 7 5/8″ square out of a piece of thick card. I then had to clip some clear plastic to the back of this viewfinder and place vertical and horizontal lines on it with a non-permanent marker. It looks like this:



The next exercise, then, was to literally hold my left hand against this transparent plane and almost ‘trace’ over it. By keeping one eye closed and your head very still you can then create accurate perspective drawings of very difficult hand positions. Although this very much feels like “cheating” the exercise, apparently, helps enormously in seeing things properly. A letter from Van Gogh to his brother Theo is reprinted in the book where he discusses using a similar implement which he devised himself. Well if it’s good enough for Van Gogh…

After completing the contour drawing I’ve placed it over a piece of white paper to photograph it effectively:

First attempt at a contour drawing through my viewfinder

Second attempt at a contour drawing through my viewfinder


Finally I’ll leave you with another quote from the book which I liked. Edwards is answering the question “If what drawing essentially is is accurately copying what is in front of us, why not just take photographs?”

Also, your style of line, choices for emphasis, and subconscious mental processes–your personality, so to speak–enters the drawing. In this way, again paradoxically, your careful observation and depiction of your subject give the viewer both the image of your subject and an insight into you. In the best sense, you have expressed yourself.