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.