Don’t keep your eyes on your own paper!

Blind contour drawing. Do you know what that is? I bet you’ve already guessed.

Blind-unable to see,not looking

Contour-outline representing or bounding the shape or form of something

Combined, these traits make a drawing exercise that challenges the person to really look at the subject they are drawing instead of focusing on the product they are creating on the paper. It’s an exercise in the practices of looking and observing. The slower, more concentrated, and aware you are of your subject and work, the more you get out of this activity.

Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve done blind contour drawings many times throughout my art classes. Think the first time this concept was formally introduced to me was back my freshman year of high school in the introductory art class I had to take to allow me to take more advanced classes and I’ll admit that I didn’t take to this method well.

I’m a very controlling person when it comes to art. I like seeing and intentionally making things that I want to happen, happen in my work. In the past I wasn’t as spontaneous, but rather more strict planning oriented. I liked realism and creating works that truly reflected the work around me. Yet at the same time I was super attracted to patterns and design, ironically still a very controlled look.

This idea of letting go of one of the most crucial senses needed to make art, since art is all about the visual, made me super uncomfortable and I struggled. It honestly took me until my sophomore year here, five years later, to finally have my AHA moment of “yes this is amazing.”

I finally understood that it wasn’t about the final product, it was all about the process and training that this assignment ultimately provides for you as you perform the task. You can’t rush it, you can’t cheat it because the results make it super obvious if you do (believe me, I know, I’m guilty of both.) To get to becoming comfortable with it I had to physically turn myself a whole 180 degrees away from the paper I’m drawing on so that there is no way to look at my drawing. I had to play mind games chanting in my head how I can not look, how I must stay focused on the thing I’m drawing. It took time and practice to change my nature and grow an appreciation for the work. Now I’m much more laid back with bind contour, I loose myself in my subject and just left the marks flow from my hand to the paper without having to think much about the fact that I’m not looking at my drawing. It’s become very relaxing and helps me loosen up when I get to tight in my work. —Though I still have to really position myself in such a way that I can;t see the paper, it’s best to illuminate that option-out of sight, out of mind!

It just finally clicked for me one day when I needed a break from my painting class sophomore year. I wasn’t sure what drew me to drawing (ha) but I felt a need to loosen up because I was getting too tight with my still life. So I got out my sketchbook and blind contoured my hand, then some objects on the table nearby, and I got it. I needed to be open minded about my mark-making, see the fun in not knowing how something would turn out without my direct visual influence. I can’t pinhole myself into the small details but I needed to rather go big, bold, and most importantly freely! I also just really appreciated the character I was getting out of the drawings. They were funny, unique versions of what I saw in front of me. I was learning how important it was to look at my subjects and see their general shapes, outlines, connections contained within their setting.The better I understood what I was looking at, the better my drawings became, I was learning to really observe my surroundings/subjects.

Coming into class today, I had had a busy, stressful week-it is Black Cat week after all and I’m a very involved person. It’s my favorite week of the school year!! So I had little sleep and lots of work on my plate, but also a really good mood going for me so not all was bad. 🙂 I think though that this time to just listen to music and let go of myself for an hour was much needed. I got out of my own head for a while and just drew what was in front of me. I had lots of fun sitting there drawing my left hand in different positions.

Then there came the challenge, using my non-dominate hand. I’ll have you know that I am horribly right handed, it’s a little embarrassing sometimes to see how useless my left hand can be. I learned after a couple of color guard related injuries to my right hand in high school. I can’t write worth a damn, struggle with hand-eye coordination (though I was okay spinning my rifle and saber for color guard in it interestingly enough) and definitely cannot drive one handed and still keep my car moving in a straight direction (guess that means stick-shifts are out!) Our professor asked us to draw a blind contour of our dominate hand using our non dominate hand, great. The ability to lose myself in the drawing process and just relax left me during the next ten minutes of the class.

I found myself growing more frustrated and irritated. I had a harder time focusing. I felt a very strong urge, a need, to look back at my paper and see what I was drawing. It was rough. Then part of the way through I started getting bad hand cramps, my left hand was not happy it was holding a marker the correct way that it should. I tired shifting it, and that only worked a for a couple of seconds before it became a problem of pain again. This only increased my frustrations. I started feeling anxiety and a need stop, but I persevered and continued drawing though the rest of the prescribed time. I think the music selection in addition to the pain was getting to me, I wasn’t a huge fan of the songs being played during this exercise running time.

Looking at my works from either hand here clearly shows how terrible I am at drawing with my left when compared to me right (insert photos) but oddly I love how they both look. Sure my right hand looks more like a blind contour drawing while my left looks like a toddler’s masterpiece of randomly drawn lines because they are just learning motor control but hey, art is art!

Moving forward from this experience I see two roads: never ever do this exercise with my left hand EVER AGAIN or do what I did with the ideology of blind contours themselves–keep working with my left hand to develop more motor control and get “better” using it for drawing. I’m more inclined to the second option, think it’ll be better for me 😉

Perseverance baby, it’s all about the process!!

Final reflection: I loved this class today, had lots of fun, enjoyed the freedom, and learned that I still have areas/struggles I can improve upon.



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