Contour Drawing and Still Life Basics


Contour Line
blind contour hand

Blind Contour
In this section you use one long continuous line to draw a simple object without looking at your paper. Choose a time when you can work without interruptions.
Position yourself so that you are facing the object, but can’t see your drawing paper. Resist the urge to look at what you are drawing. No cheating now!
Read through all the following instructions before you begin:

1) Rest your drawing arm on the table in a comfortable position.
2) Place the point of your pencil on your drawing surface and look back at the object.
3) Focus your complete attention on the edges and lines of the object.
4) Allow your eyes to focus on one section of an edge of the object and very slowly visually follow the line created by this edge. At the same time, move your pencil very slowly in the same direction as your eyes.
As you draw, don’t think about what the subject is. Instead focus on the shapes and spaces on either side of the lines.
Keep your eyes and pencil moving together at the same slow, steady pace. Carefully notice each time the line on the edge of the object changes direction. Without peeking at your paper, allow your pencil to record every detail of the line (or lines) you are seeing.
5) Continue looking and drawing until you have drawn the entire object.

 Modified Contour

CONTOUR DRAWING WITH ONLY ONE LINE without lifting your pen
Blind Contour Example

Modified Contour Example


  • Why do we do modified contours?
    It is a classic drawing exercise to::
    • capture the edges and details that we often overlook. It makes the object look more three dimensional.
    • develop good hand/eye coordination which is key when learning to draw. With regular practice, modified contour drawing exercises will help train your hand to follow your eye’s movements.
    • develop the right brain muscles, help it become more assertive and aware of the observable,
    • balance the left brain’s tendency to standardize, generalize, and simplify everything, which creates stereotypical ways of seeing and drawing.
  • How do you do a Modified Contour?
    1. Look at the object! While you draw, look at the object, 90% of the time Look only at your paper when you are ready to make a new line on your paper and you are checking where to place it. Concentrate on practicing your hand-eye coordination instead of worrying about the look of your drawing.
    2. One continuous long line. Do not lift the marker off the paper unless you go off the edge of the paper and hit the table or come to an absolute dead end. Whenever several lines meet, simply choose a direction and reconnect those lines later.
    3. Go as slowly as a snail. Draw slowly. If it helps, close one eye while you draw.
    4. Detail, detail, detail! Capture edges only, but capture as much information as you can! Capture every nook, cranny,  edge, and crack, line, wrinkle, etc., that is possible to SEE not think is there.
    5. Work as close to life size as your sketchbook will allow.

Drawing tutorial:

In your sketchbook: 

Draw 3 modified contour drawings of your hand.


What is Cross Contour Drawing?

An example of cross contours in two directions.
Cross contour lines are drawn lines which travel, as the name suggests, across the form. Cross contours may be horizontal or vertical, or both.

Often, in more complex forms, cross-contours will be drawn at varying angles.

In this rather lumpy example, the grid of cross-contours looks a bit like the gridlines on a globe.


Cross Contours on a Complex Surface
Often cross-contours look like the contour lines on a map of rough terrain – they help us visualize the topography of a surface.

Usually, we don’t draw them this mechanically, but use the understanding of cross-contours to help us describe the form with more subtle line or shading.

They help us understand the three-dimensional form and describe it on a two-dimensional surfac.

Contours wrap around a form and obey linear perspective.



Applying Cross Contours in Line Drawing
Apple 3

In this example, the basic contour drawing is developed with some hints of cross-contour to suggest the form. The brain needs surprisingly little information to create a three-dimensional image from a simple drawing. Cross contours don’t have to be obvious – just indicate the direction and the imagination fills in the rest of the information.


Using Cross-Contours Expressively
Apple 4

Cross-contours don’t need to be mechanical unless you are drawing a topographic map.

You can use your understanding of the cross contour to create expressive marks which add energy to the drawing.

This interpretation of the subject using contour and cross-contour is more free and expressive, using a relaxed line but still paying attention to the observed form.


Using Cross Contours in Hatching and Shading
Apple 5
Cross-contours are often used when hatching. The cross contour lines may be carried all the way around the form, or used in small sections, curved, or straight, as in this example. The angle of the hatching as it moves around the form changes according to perspective. Even if you are using shading, and attempting to create a smooth surface, being aware of the flow of cross-contours as you draw can help you create a shaded surface that follows and enhances the three-dimensional form, rather than fighting against it.


Making and Using a Viewfinder to Set Still Life Compositions

A viewfinder helps you focus your scene and determine your pastel work’s orientation. You can buy various adjustable and window viewfinders, but you can easily make your own as well. Your pastel composition will thank you.
When you use a viewfinder, you hold it so that you can see the scene you are drawing in its window. The viewfinder isolates your scene by cropping out everything except the part of the scene you want to draw so that you can see exactly what it will look like on your paper if you transfer it accurately. The viewfinder also helps you establish accurate positions of your subjects on the paper in your initial drawing. If you bisect the window of your viewfinder with threads, you can draw lines on your paper to bisect it in a similar manner so that you can use them as guides to transfer your image, drawing the shapes according to their positions on the grid you created.

To make a basic window viewfinder, stick to these simple steps:
1. Take an index card and cut a window in the center using the same proportion of height and width as the paper you’re using. For example, if your paper is 12 inches x 16 inches, measure and cut a window 1-1/2 inches x 2 inches in the center of the card.
2. Use a metal ruler and a utility knife to cut straight edges.
3. After you cut the window, mark the middle point of each side and tape a thread from one side to the opposite side, bisecting the window horizontally and vertically.

To use the viewfinder, look through the window at your scene and notice where objects in your scene line up with the threads or corners of the viewfinder.

Lightly mark the halfway points on each side of your paper and use them to help you map the size, shape, and positions of the objects in your scene.


5. Rule of Thirds copy

Contour: Still Life
contour still life

contour copy

Strengths of a Strong Contour:
Close observation of details using continuous lines
• Shows understanding of proportion through use of line
• Sophisticated use of line variation and weighted lines that suggest form and mass
• Creative interpretation of subject matter in a successful composition

con     YES!


An example of a weak contour.
• Take more time observing and recording what you see; include more details
• Work on mastering proportion, carefully compare the size relationship of parts of the object to the entire object before you begin drawing
• Lines need more variety such as width, direction, value, etc. to suggest form and mass
• Take more time in the selection of the subject matter as well as its placement in the composition



Drawing Basics:Still Life

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