Contour Drawing

Contour art is a basic drawing technique in which the artist sketches the outline of the subject with very little internal detail, but sufficient internal line detail to emphasize mass and volume. The focus is thus only on shape and not on minor details.

Contour drawing is important in that it can represent a final goal of an artistic piece or more usually provide simply a strong foundation for any drawing or painting you may accomplish. Drawing generally, and contour drawing in particular, is widely accepted as effective training and discipline for beginning and developing artists. Yet, even as an accomplished artist, you should always be willing to return to a basic look at or reexamination an object through a contour drawing. The objective in the contour drawing is to capture life, action or expression characteristic of the subject. Emphasis on contour art and thus  on length, width, thickness and depth are important and with practice can by itself begin to deliver immense visual pleasure.

In contour drawing you look at the subject and the paper and create a silhouette of the object. The contour drawing in particular relies more on sensation than perception and must be guided by instinct. It’s best to look at the object and not the drawing paper, but just draw rapidly without thinking much about what you are doing. Both contour and outline drawings are gesture drawings and you best begin to achieve skill by collecting a series of objects and drawing them in still form, both as outline and as contour drawings. Contour suggests form, mass, weight, space and distance whereas the outline suggests only a general shape projection onto the flat surface of the drawing paper.

In the contour drawing, by altering the character of the marks the artist can suggest many aspects of the object that can relate to its form and space to the viewer. Lines can be lighter or darker and thin or thick to suggest volume and distance and also help in suggesting light positioning by casting shadows. The more you practice the better your contour drawing will become.

Drawing blindly and quickly forces the artist’s inner eye to move along the contour of the object as the pencil moves along the paper. Initially this is always difficult and slow but practice helps to develop intuitive observational skill at discovering the underlying structure of the subject relating to form and even sensual experience.  Thus, skill develops with each drawing, and quick, successful drawing become the rule rather than the exception. Progressively the mind develops insight into how line thickness and intensity or darkness relates the impression of texture, shape and spatial distribution or relationship. Initially, the drawing is made entirely of lines. No shadowing, tone or texture is added. Don’t try to represent just draw.

In getting started select a focal point. Don’t move the pencil from the paper once you begin. Your eyes will move back and forth from the paper to the object as the hand draws quickly what the eye sees. Even though you will draw quickly once you begin, take a little time at the beginning to get a feel for the object you will draw.

There seems to be no limit to the use of contour art to the benefit of the artist. Volume established by outline as well as properly placed lines of variable intensity and thickness can suggest hardness as in bone structure or the softness of flesh and fat. Drawing blind fine tunes the coordination between eye and hand. Speed reduces thinking and elicits a more artistic right brain response.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s