1.2 Contour Drawing

Exercise 1: Contour of a simple object

  • place a simple object slightly at an angle
  • with a pen begin to trace its outer edge
  • when I have a believable shape, trace negative spaces into it
  • Do this on several A4 sheets
  • reflect on where I have made good use of my observation
  • reflect on the double experience observing/drawing


I found this exercise very difficult as I do not normally draw like this. I try to construct the shape rather than follow its outer contour.

First attempts

I also wanted to correct mistakes in order to learn the shape.  Also certain things I observed got amplified by my hand and I had to moderate them. My first attempts were very disjointed and wonky.

Drawing in the negative spaces felt like a relief! They helped me to understand the shape. When I change my eye to concentrate on what is inbetween as if it were a positive shape I see what is there rather than what I think the shape is.

My eyes tended to stay with the object rather than flicking between object and drawing and so I lost track of the drawing. After a while I found a balance that worked.

Exercise 2: ‘Blind’ contour drawing

  • Draw the same object as in Ex.1
  • Draw its contour and negative spaces
  • Do not look at your drawing
  • Keep this up for 5 min.

I was glad I had already studied my subject in the previous exercise. I felt that my hand knew the shape of its belly and of the handle. Alas it also knew a garbled shape of the pipe. Maybe I relied too much on my hand’s memory and did not really look anymore. I observed that my eyes won’t trace a line as would my fingers. Instead they jump, catch, accelerate, backtrack… It is not as if I could couple my hand to my eyes and let the latter lead the former. My eyes are a jumpy guide.

blind contour.JPG

Claude Heath

Claude Heath is a contemporary draghtsman who draws objects he does not look at but feels with his hand. Neither does he look at his drawing. Touch is different from sight in some important features – especially in connection with drawing. Where a seen object has one contour line, a silhouette, a touched object has not. Where a seen object is partly obscured by itself, a touched object is not. Neither colour, shadows or perspective come into it when we touch an object. Claude Heath translates the shapes he feels into pictures where he draws the lines he feels with fine pens. Some of them are recognisable images, especially when he helps the eye by choosing different colours for front/back or outside/inside. This helps the viewer to interpret the many marks. He sais that by not looking at the image taking form makes the act of drawing a part in a performance (1).

I think the idea of translating touch into sight is very intriguing. His drawings also show that it is possible to synchronise the drawing hand with the feeling hand (or with the eyes if one were looking) to a point that results in quite accurate lines. The pictures Heath made of his brother’s face are fantastic in that respect.

He uses other techniques as well, like drawing with both hands simultaneously , or 3D drawings (‘blind’ as well).


  1. http://www.claudeheath.com/texts/trinity_heath.pdf
  2. http://www.claudeheath.com/texts/article7.php

Reflections on Ex. 1 and 2

I think both of these exercises help me to look closely and observe. Drawing like this relies heavily on observation rather than on understanding shapes, the laws of perspective and geometry. It is a skill that I feel I need to develop.

They also build eye-hand coordination – especially ex. 1 where I have the possibility to correct mistakes and calibrate my hand movements to what I see.

Blind drawing forces me to stay with the object rather than my drawing. It can build courage to rely on my hand for longer stretches of time. That is a good thing for the information, after all, comes from the object.

Exercise 3: Drawing from memory

  • Choose an object with interesting shapes and holes
  • Study it for 1 min.
  • Then put it away and draw it from memory in 5 min


As in the first exercise I notice that contourdrawing makes me forget all other things I otherwise use when drawing. I loose track of where I am even with my eyes on the paper. I also notice that I fall back on what I know rather than what I have seen in terms of perspective in order to make up for things I have forgotten (like the angle I saw the object from).

Exercise 4: Drawing blind

  • Look at your object very attentively
  • Then begin to draw with the paper out of sight
  • Keep drawing for 5 min.

How is this exercise the potentially most valuable in terms of observation?

I have difficulties to let my hand follow my eyes as they jump back and forth along the line I want them to follow. I loose track and draw in different scales – a problem I noticed I have in my life drawings as well. Revealing! The problem might be hand-eye coordination? Deficiency in that would make it hard to remember where my lines are when I need to lift the pen.

A somewhat picassoesque passoire


Before these exercises I had not thought of the contour as a distinct feature of an object – I had always concentrated on shapes. However, now I understand that the contour can give information about the shape of an object in its own right. There are some advantages to be had from that:

  • The contour line can be used to check a drawing for mistakes
  • It can also help to try and see lines and shapes instead of the object as such in order to draw what is there rather than what I think I see.
  • When setting up a still life I can make quick contour sketches to get an understanding for how my composition works in terms of balance and interest. This can also contain shadowlines. Example of two different arrangements of the same objects:
  • The same goes for portraits: With the help of contour sketches I can choose an angle that is interesting and where distinct features in the silhouette give information about shapes and directions (from the right angle a silhouette can give an astonishing amount of information. I realized this when I drew contours in the train, in my sketchbook)

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