by Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. © 2008

An online book with eight drawing lessons -
Author Bio

This lesson includes two warm-ups. To learn more about the warm-ups, see this page on the texture of noise.

Definition of Blind Contour Drawing

Blind contour drawing is done by looking intently at the edge of an object, but never looking at the paper while the pencil moves.  We call it blind because we are not allowed to look at the drawing paper while the pencil moves. In some lessons, we use a large blinder card on the pencil. Blinders were not used for the bear drawings shown here. All these drawings were done by sighted children observing a large teddy bear.

Why teach children Blind Contour Drawing?

  • To overcome stereotype ways of seeing and drawing.
  • To make the right brain more assertive and aware of the observable look of what we are drawing. We now use the the term r-mode thinking because brain science has broadened the learning to include more than the right hemisphere of the brain.
  • To balance the left brain's (l-mode thinking) tendency to standardize, generalize, and simplify everything.
  • It demystifies drawing and learning to draw.  Virtually anybody can improve their drawing ability with this method.  Child who learn to do blind contour drawing before they are eight can be saved from the frustration of not knowing how to learn to draw better.  In this lesson the children were told that today they are learning how to learn how to draw.
How it is done?
  • I stand next to the bear and trace my finger around the edges at the speed of a crawling bug.
  • Students practice in the air to build confidence.  They point to the outline and slowly draw it in the air.
  • Draw without looking at the drawing paper.
  • Slowly follow the edge of the object with the eye while the pencil makes the same movement on the paper
  • Never look at the paper while the pencil moves.
  • Using a blinder on the pencil reduces the temptation to watch the paper.
  • Look at the paper only when placing the pencil at a new starting position.
What are the best blind contour subjects
  1. Select subjects that are unfamiliar enough so that the student does not have a memorized shape in mind.  This encourages better visual concentration.
  2. If the subject is familiar, invert it or place it in a new position to make it look new.
  3. Keep it easy enough to avoid frustration, but hard enough to be challenging.
  4. Avoid copying pictures.  Even inverted pictures confuses the learner about best practices.
  5. Select content that students think is interesting.  Toys, sporting equipment, sculpture, clothing, and so on are possibilities.
How to explain it
  • Run your finger along the edge that students see and show how slowly the eye most move in order to catch the details of the edge.  Avoid drawing an example.  We do not want students to learn the teacher's image.  We want them to learn to see any and every subject.
  • Ask students to practice drawing in the air and watch how fast they move and remind them to practice it slowly to catch all parts of the contour (edge) line.
  • Allow some false starts, encouraging more than one attempt on each sheet of paper.  Encourage multiple practices in order to pick out a best one to develop.
What is helpful?
  • Many children find it easier to resist looking at the paper if they are asked to use blinders (helpers) on their pencils.  These are 8x8 inch squares of cardboard with a hole in the center.  The pencil is placed through the hole so it is hard to see what the pencil is drawing.
  • Allow erasing to make corrections so long as the life (spontaneity) is not all lost from the drawing.
  • Sometimes it is easier to break stereotypes if a familiar subject is inverted.
Preliminary Practice
Click here for a page that explains the practice stage for the drawings below.

Drawing Examples from Grades 3 to 6
After gaining confidence during preliminary practice, children in grades three to six made blind contour observation drawings of a large stuffed bear.  They then added textural shading to their drawings of Ralph.  Scroll down to see a few examples.

This is the first blind contour drawing observation drawing made by a third grade child that had never before been introduced to blind contour drawing. Many children are never shown the secret of how blind contour drawing can help them learn how to practice in order to learn how to draw. Almost no classroom teachers know about this method, and some art teachers do not teach this to younger children.

At he bottom of this drawing you see some lines. Before they started the lesson we did some warm-ups. I asked them to draw continuous lines across the paper. I also had them draw the texture of some noises that I asked them to listen to. These warm-ups helped them be more aware of the line quality and as you scroll down, you will see their use of texture in their shading as well.

This link explains the texture of noises warm-up.

A few children may find blind contour drawing particularly difficult.  The child who made this drawing of Ralph the bear was unable to draw from observation by the blind contour method.  She was the only one in a class of 24 third graders who was unable to see the actual contour on the first day the method was introduced.  All the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were able to follow the method and achieve reasonable results.

Nevertheless, this child's work was accepted along with the others. She made a valiant attempt. She may catch up with practice, or she may benefit from other approaches.  As teachers, there are a few cases that confound our efforts.  This student may have been learning more than we know by doing this work even though it is not based on the same level of observation as others. It is possible that she has some unique learning challenges. 

This is the first attempt at blind contour by a fourth grade child.  Note that he started over once.  He was able to represent several different shading and texture tones.  He used the bottom part of his paper for practice.

Students were told not to worry if the lines were different than they expected. I told  them, "We are practicing.  Today we are learning how to learn how to draw.  When you are learning something new it will easier after you have practiced many times.  Today is the first practice so just do the best that you can."

This blind contour drawing by a fifth grade child shows shadows as well as shading created by flood lights that emphasized the variation in the tones.

During the preliminary warm up, each student hugged or petted the bear. 

During the preliminary warm up, they each filled four one-inch squares with textures that they drew while listening to various textural noises that I produced.

During the preliminary warm up, each student drew a series of continuous lines across the top of the page.  One was very dark. The second was very light. The third was a medium line.

No demonstration drawing was done by the teacher, but students were told not to look at the paper, but only at the bear while the pencil was in motion.

No example drawing were shown prior to the drawings by the students.

This is the second try by a sixth grade girl. She drew the bear once and decided to try it a second time to correct some errors.  She did not have time to add the cast shadows, but her outline came out very well.

Ralph does a summersault

In this experiment, I inverted Ralph to see if two first grade girls could draw the bear in this unexpected position.  The six-year-olds got the main attributes based on observation.  This suggests that young children can begin to do true observation drawings.  I believe that this type of practice can help prepare them for the day when they become disillusioned with their own drawings and would like to draw more realistically. They will have found a way to practice. Knowing how to observe better and how to practice may ease their progress to the next stage in their drawing development.

In the drawing below, one of the six-year-olds added a tree with branches and leaves that were not drawn from observation. The tree was drawn from her memorized schematic image of a tree and from her imagination.  This child does lots of drawing.

A five-year-old who tried this inverted bear (her drawing is not available to show here) found that she could draw the inverted bear, but she could not get her pencil to draw the bear's face upside down.  Her brain insisted that the eyes needed to be placed above the nose.  Ages and abilities are bound to vary between individuals.

Ralph is a big stuffed teddy bear shown here in my office. Our daughter named him. She grew up reading books with her head on one of Ralph's legs. Hence, his legs are dented in on top. This shows up in most of the drawings.  As they came into the room, each child was introduced to Ralph and invited to give him a big hug or just pat him a bit.

Ralph did not bring the computer to class when he posed for the children, but he likes to pose with it to show you how big he is.  His considerable size and infinite patience was a very helpful.  -mb

Other ways to draw

In addition to direct observations, other good sources for children's drawings include, their imaginations, their everyday experiences, their memories, and events in their lives.  To motivate and inspire them to draw and learn more, I ask them questions that help them notice things and get ideas.  I never draw for them.  Questions and their own experimentation can also help them with elaboration and refinement.  I am affirmative specific aspects of their work.  I treat their efforts as a gift no matter how it looks.  When they are corrected in their drawing, young children will automatically move to a less beneficial activity such as watching cartoons on TV. Rather than show them examples of artwork to inspire them, I assign warm up activities to get them in the mood, focused, and to build confidence. 

In addition to blind contour drawing, observation can be learned in a very expressive way with gesture drawing.  These links have descriptions of gesture drawing.

Portrait and Figure Drawing has a gesture drawing section.

Learning to Draw by learning the basic seeing and drawing skills needed to draw everything

Motivating Non-Drawing Students

An online book with eight drawing lessons -

All rights reserved. ©  Marvin Bartel. 2008, updated in October, 2011.  Permission is required to copy or publish any parts of this page.  Mention the URL or the title of this page in your correspondence. Quotations or other references to this page must include a link to this page.

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Links to related pages by the same author

Teaching Art HOME PAGE

About the artwork of six year old children

How to Draw an Orchid at age four and three-quarter

Teaching Creativity     Creativity Killers    Make Drawing Easier and Harder    

The Conversation Game to Get Ideas

The Secrets of Generating Art Ideas - An Inside Out Art Curriculum

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