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?
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
- 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
- Select subjects that are unfamiliar enough
so that the student does not have a memorized shape in mind. This
encourages better visual concentration.
- If the subject is familiar, invert it or
place it in a new position to make it look new.
- Keep it easy enough to avoid frustration,
but hard enough to be challenging.
- Avoid copying pictures. Even inverted pictures confuses the learner about best practices.
- Select content that students think is
interesting. Toys, sporting equipment, sculpture, clothing, and
so on are possibilities.
How to explain
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
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.
Click here for a
page that explains the practice stage for the drawings below.
Drawing Examples from Grades 3 to
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
This is the first
blind contour drawing observation drawing
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
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
This blind contour drawing
by a fifth grade child shows shadows as well
as shading created by flood lights that emphasized the variation in
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
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.
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