The Natural Way to Draw
Kimon Nicolaïdes book “The Natural Way to Draw” has long been a staple of lower school art instructors. The one exercise that seems to get the most abuse is the blind contour.
Once again we have a piece of the puzzle taken out of context of the whole program. Sort of like turning to build house with just a window. The purpose of blind contour is usually understood as an eye hand coordination exercise that focuses on the outline of the subject. The premise is that it helps you to see a line around a shape without looking at your drawing.
Firstly there are no lines in nature, secondly we already have a propensity to judge our drawings on how much they resemble the subject. Training our eye and hand should always include our brain. This exercise, to be effective should be about what the non-existent contour really represents. Observe don’t just look. Observe overlaps, changes of direction, and undulations. When you get to a point where something happens/changes on the conTOUR stop and determine what, why, and how this occurs. Then go back to drawing without looking at the paper until you get to another linear change. Think of conTOUR as a map and stops along the intersections and points of interest. Or continue doing it the old way where the smartest girl in the class always does the best drawing because they realize that limits of the exercise and cheat. I use many aspects of Kimon’s program as part of my own drawing and am especially fond of doing memory drawing. I am just not a fan of blindly doing anything, particularly not looking at your drawing. Your drawing is far and away the thing you need to learn to observe (apart from the model.)
The Blind Contour Myth
So I went back to Kimon’s book which I hadn’t read for a while and noted he never mentioned “Blind Contour” his exercise is about a sense of touch not blindness. In fact he says you will look at your drawing several times during the process. The object is to look at the model while drawing a segment and look at your drawing when you stop. It is about feeling the form not drawing blindly. This simple useful concept has really gotten screwed up, misused and abused.
I need to say that I have never been very fond of this book, one of the big problems is the student examples which are horrible. The other big problem is starting with contour which in my book is not a starting point, but is arrived at through process. If I were to insert this sort of thing into instruction I would do an hour or so closing one eye and placing the pencil point visually on the actual model and walk the student through the contour pointing out the indentations of; insertions, interlocks, intersection, and intervals. This certainly would not be the first exercise in the program. I would also recommend a presentation of visual examples from master studies showing examples of masterworks. The missing link here is mass conception, the underlying form basis these contour lines are going over and around. All contour lines are cross-contour lines because there is really no edge to a form only a plane. This contour drawing as described in the book presupposes doing all the exercises in the book and that rarely happens. This “contour” drawing which has wrongly become know as the “blind contour” should really be called the “observed contour” and it is the instructors job to tell them what they are observing. There are far better exercises to begin with in this book. This particular exercise is pointless and dangerously misleading in the wrong hands. I am sure Nicolaides used its obtuse focus to guide his students to the TOUR in contour. This just isn’t going to happen in most cases leaving the students with bad outlines or “envelopes” and no feeling for FORM. In the wrong hands this the wrong place to start. I think contour has been so misused and misunderstood that its meaning has been corrupted. I, here to fore, change contour to conFORM. This myth started because the book The Natural Way to Draw shows a drawing done be a blind person to illustrate that drawing can done via a sense of touch. Kimon never once suggested doing BLIND CONTOUR drawings. So for all of you teachers out there that have taught blind contour drawing, you have been duped. If you wish to use this book, go by the book and get better examples of the exercises. In reality, teaching this method takes alot more skill than most teachers have.