Project 1.2 – Contour drawing

Using a regular unbroken line to depict the simple shape or outline of an object. (From course notes)


Exercise – Contour of a simple object

Jug 1:  Initally I classed a small jug (Figure 1) as a ‘simple’ object. I was unable to work out the contour as my hand seemed to travel ahead in panic, leaving my brain behind. I slowed a little, making six attempts, but couldn’t get away from messy lines or overblown shapes. I went back and made corrections to some drawings to try to understand where I had gone wrong. (Figure 2)


Cup 1: I went back to basics, without spout. Much easier. This is where I tried breaking down the angles and distances, measuring by eye. This cup’s only challenges were proportion, degree of curvature. The only fiddly bit was the handle, which was challenging to mentally ‘flatten’. (Figure 3)

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Figure 3. Contour drawings, simple cup

Cup 2: To prove to myself that I now understood cups I took a curved one, more difficult that the rectangular cup 1. Achieving a fairly good result I returned to the jug.

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Figure 4. Second cup contour drawings

Jug 2: (Disregarding drawing 1 where I seem to have slyly pointed the spout forward!) Drawings 2-4 I was very pleased with. I began to notice additional details, but I didn’t have the guts to tackle the incredibly faint ridges running along the blue portion of its body… I did pause, but here my pen did not leave the paper.

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Figure 5. Jug contour, second attempt. Much improved.

General observations on use of hand and eye:

  • For larger lines (e.g. the long curve of the cup rim) I only really looked once to understand the degree of curvature and its proportion relative to the rest of the cup. Shorter lines took longer to judge because they involved an estimation of angle relative to some landmark already drawn, and estimation of length – so for shorter lines my eye flicked back and forth a lot.
  • I gained an awareness of my hand’s position in space – or rather the tip of the pen. The whole process was made much easier by holding the pen nearer to the end, as it meant I didn’t have to move my head.
  • My hand was desperate to leave the page when things got rough or I made an error, and indeed it couldn’t resist it at certain points (is it legitimate to blame my own hand? Probably not).
  • For me, this exercise was very challenging. But it forced me to make decisions about what I was seeing; by committing my mental judgements to the page, I could then evaluate them and identify where I was making judgement errors. I will be continuing with this exercise in my daily exercises…



Exercise – ‘Blind’ contour drawing

Using a pencil I drew the same small jug with an HB pencil, without looking at the paper, restricting to 5 minutes.

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Some unexpected results: I drew relatively quickly, finding that that way I could judge distances quite accurately by the movement of my forearm (again, the sweeping arc movement). This was helped by only rarely lifting my pencil off the page. Notably my ellipses seem more symmetrical than those ‘seen’ drawn looking at the page – indicating that I should pay more attention to the sensation of drawing action rather than the physical presence and visual cue of the pen or pencil in my fingers. I was surprised at how short 5 minutes of drawing is.

Q: How different are the resulting images? How did it feel to draw each one? Which outcome and experience do you prefer? Why?

These blind drawings I find very pleasant to look at – especially the handle of number 7 which has been ‘disassembled’ into short strokes but still recognisable – and are much more interesting than the contour drawings of the previous exercise (above). The lines are very smooth and intentional, which again I found difficult to achieve in the previous exercise where I was hesitant and constantly reassessing in a (vein) effort for reproduction accuracy. The blind drawings I feel are actually saying something (perhaps an impression of movement) rather than repeating what my eyes see.

My assessment of these two methods reflects how I experienced them. I found the ‘seen’ contour drawing very challenging and gruelling, because the object was accuracy. I found the ‘blind’ contour drawing very fun, quick. In short, I take something from both – I would do well both to improve my drafts(wo)manship and to loosen up my lines to create a more expressive aesthetic outcome.


Exercise – Drawing from memory

I chose a large aluminium colander for this exercise. Studied it for 1 minute, then drew it with HB pencil in A3 sketchbook under a time limit of 5 minutes. The result is mildly embarrassing – I am so slow! If this drawing says anything it’s, I’m panicking while drawing a colander. 

The picture is so flat! I left tone as an afterthought while it would have really brought the object out. I spent most of my time planning out the holes and trying to get the handle right (it’s not right). By that point the tonal differences had escaped me and I made a rather hackneyed guess as to where these lie. And again I am not bold enough with the tone, hence the large patches of white or near-white. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.


Exercise – Drawing blind

Returning with gratitude to my (now beloved) little jug, undertaking another blind drawing with the A3 sketchbook under the table with a 5-minute time limit.

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I was surprised how well this method worked. Clearly it could be better – I got lost lifting the pen off to draw the handle. Shoudln’t have done that. The edges are quite feathered as I drew the pencil back and forth checking I had estimated distances correctly (as least, that’s what it felt like I was doing). Imagining my eyes as a paintbrush was very helpful.

Reflection on methods

I can imagine how the final exercise would have turned out had I not done the sequence. There is not only a value in active looking, but in examining an object and memorising its basic shapes, proportions, and areas of tone, being in touch with the movement of the hand, keeping the pencil on the page, etc.

I would have preferred to draw the final A3-size little jug (final exercise) much larger. I found this was just one too many elements to keep tabs on while not being able to look at the page on my lap. I think it would be easier to plan out the space looking at the page.

This was my first foray onto my A3 sketchbook incidentally. I feel encouraged to move away from my tiny A5 drawings, perhaps to loosen up a little as I love the way that approach turned out here.