An art teacher once confided in me that she felt that she never really learned to draw. So I started asking her some questions. Did you do blind contour drawings? How about modified blind contour drawings? Did you do drawings where you looked at the negative shapes? And you know about sighting? She answered “yes” to all of my questions. I said that sometimes the way things are presented, it seems to have no connection. But since she knew all of those things, she just needed to put them together.
It is funny, I get my students to do their blind contour, and modified blind contour drawings, and then when they move to actually drawing, they slow way down. And I must confess, it happens to me too. But I try to remember all of those lessons and apply them to my drawings.
The purpose of the blind contour drawing is to learn to really see. You are looking for relationships. Without naming the names of what you are drawing, mentally, while drawing, you think about “this” (whatever this is) is going “here.” “That” is lining up with “that” over “here.” And “this” is curving out over “here.” And so on. And yet we never look at our paper during this process. It is all about seeing the subject matter before us. Also, when practicing your blind contour drawings, draw several items, a corner of the room, items on the desk, anything, just don’t draw one item at a time.
In modified blind contour drawings, you get to look at your paper a little bit more. In order to draw what is before you, you must look at it. If you are spending more time looking at your paper than at what you are drawing, you are making up whatever it is that you are drawing. I had one student who was drawing a flower that had graceful curves and overlapping petals, and yet she drew a daisy with uniform petals in a single layer. She clearly wasn’t looking at what she was drawing. In modified blind contour, you look a lot at your subject matter except now, when you decide that “this” is lining up with “that” you look at your paper and make a mark. Then you look back to your subject matter to see where the next mark should go.
When drawing negative shapes, we look at the shapes around the object. This is a great way to see if what you drew is correct. Often you will see your errors here.
Drawing the positive shapes is when we draw the shapes of the actually object.
Sighting is when we use our pencil to check relationships, proportions, and angles of the subject matter before us.
When you are doing a drawing for “real” and not just practice, you should worry about placement on the page. To do this I simply draw common shapes to show placement of objects. For instance, I drew a teapot, and after figuring out by sighting that the teapot took up a square shape, it was not shaped like a square, I put a square on my paper to show where the teapot was going to go. I continue to use simple shapes to indicate where objects are going to go, looking for their relationships. “This” is about half the size of “that.” “That” is lining up with “this” about “here.” Once you have everything placed where you think it should go, step back and take a look at it to see if it feels right.
I also use sighting at this point to determine angles of my subject matter. If I am drawing a pear, is it leaning to one side? How much of an angle? It doesn’t have to be mathematical, just use your pencil to and line it up with the angle that you see. Then lightly mark it on your paper.
I don’t obsess about measuring everything because that would take the fun out of drawing. I measure a few things by sighting and then rely on the skills that we practice through modified blind contour drawing.
When it doesn’t quite work out:
When it doesn’t quite work out, and if you are drawing from a photo, turn your photo and your drawing upside down. Sometimes changing our view point helps to see the problem area better.
Hold your work up to a mirror. When you do this, the problems will jump out at you. Maybe an eye drifted out of place. And if you check early enough in your drawing, you can correct it.