Lose the FEAR
with blind contour drawing
Along with the pleasures of drawing and painting come the inevitable stresses - fear of failure and wanting to improve. Thea Cable explains how she overcame these problems by not looking at what she was drawing!
Determined to improve, I wondered if taking some of the control away might work.I challenged myself to attempt a self-portrait, drawn in pen in one continuous line, looking only at my subject and keeping my eyes off my paper until the drawing was completed. I was keen to find out if ignoring my brain’s pre-conceived ideas about a subject and using continuous close observation of it instead would produce a livelier result – and bingo, it did!
I started my first blind contour drawing with a ‘devil may care’ attitude and had no expectations that my self-portrait would be a remote resemblance. I just kept my eyes firmly fixed on my subject (no cheating allowed) and drew quite slowly, trying to move my hand at the same speed as my eyes as they travelled around the facial features.
In an effort to make sense of where I was in the drawing, I had to link one shape to another, which is actually the only way to work out where you are with this drawing method. When I finally looked at my paper, I got quite a surprise as there was definitely a human face of sorts staring out at me from my paper. It most certainly wasn’t an accurate likeness (or I hope it wasn’t as I did look rather odd), but I felt the drawing had a vivacity and charm that I found refreshing. However it was only a first attempt and I was keen to see what a bit more practice could produce. I did another ‘selfie’, which I am told is a better likeness – so practice obviously pays off.
I found this way of drawing liberating, as I didn’t feel any pressure to produce a masterpiece - how could I without checking what I was drawing? Nor did I feel the normal fear that a gleaming piece of white paper often evokes in me. In an effort to make my selfie a bit more interesting, I added a loose watercolour wash (now looking at my paper). I soon noticed that drawing in such an uninhibited way prompted me to apply the paint in a similarly spontaneous fashion. The end result was far more dynamic than my normal work and the wobbly lines and inaccuracies added to, rather than detracting from it (Figs 1 & 2).
It was amazing how they guessed correctly, even though the portraits weren’t remotely accurate
I also had a go at some animals, still life and landscapes. I found I could draw anything using this method and achieve lovely loose and expressive results as long as I approached it with a light heart and altered expectations (Figs 4 & 5).
I had to be strict with myself about not peeking as I drew, as I found this affected the spontaneity of the end result. I also had to ensure my hand followed my eye as it moved around the subject rather than allowing my hand to get ahead of itself. I learned to enjoy the surprise when I finally looked at my paper.
Drawing like this has certainly improved my observational skills. It forces you to spend time closely looking at a subject and drawing what you ‘see’ rather than what you ‘know’. Having practised it for a while now, I think that my eye has better learned to ‘talk’ directly to my hand, thus almost bypassing the interference from my brain’s preconceptions about what a subject looks like!
As an experiment, I tried drawing a subject in the normal way then drew it using the blind contour method. I showed both drawings to a few people and was surprised that they preferred the latter, saying that it had more life and made them look more closely at all the interesting and quirky details.
I challenged a few other artists to have go and the resulting drawings were full of vivacity and one or two even had a touch of Picasso about them! We often had a good laugh at our results but even the drawings that were wildly inaccurate had a refreshing charm about them, so we were never left feeling that any of our drawings were failures. I would urge everyone to give it a go as it is fun and really does produce surprising results.