A contour drawing is a line drawing that focuses on the outlines, or edges, of things. It’s set apart from other more realistic drawing styles in that it doesn’t have any shading.
Contour drawing is often the first drawing technique students learn because it’s so foundational to drawing well in any style.
Here is a helpful “outline” for better contour drawings you can share with your students. As they follow these steps, students will see improvement not only in their contour drawings, but in all their drawings.
My ‘Contour Drawing Outline’ can be divided into 4 basic sections: Look, Draw, Ask, and Forget.
a) First of all, select your point of view and stick with it.
If you start out standing up and then sit down halfway through your drawing, it will change the angle of your view. (This may seem obvious, but let’s just say it doesn’t hurt to mention this to kids before they start drawing!)
b) Then, close one eye and use your pencil to trace around your subject in the air.
Begin at any point and continue all the way around until you meet your starting point. Notice there’s really nothing to think about… your eye and hand do all the work. Contour drawing on paper is a lot like that.
c) Plan to look more at your subject than at your drawing.
Remind yourself of this while you draw. Remember, there are no real lines around the edges of things, you just train your eye to see imaginary ones.
a) Now, lightly draw the silhouette, or outside edge, of your subject as a single abstract shape.
Shapes are always easier to draw than things. Draw what you see, not what you think you should see. This is called “seeing like an artist”.
b) Make your pencil move at the same speed on your paper as your eyes moving around your subject.
c) Draw the largest shapes first.
d) Develop your whole drawing altogether.
Don’t start adding details to any individual area until your entire drawing is ready for it. Contour drawings typically have a minimum of details, if any.
a) Talk to yourself as you draw!
Ask yourself questions like, “Is that edge straight or slightly curved?” , or “Is this line vertical or does it lean a little to the left?”
b) Pay careful attention to the proportions you see.
Proportion refers to the relationship of one part to another and all parts to the whole. Ask yourself things like, “How does this shape compare with the one next to it? Is it smaller or larger?”, etc.
c) Keep this internal conversation going the whole time you are drawing.
a) Try to forget that you’re drawing whatever your subject is and just concentrate on the lines and shapes.
For example, if you’re drawing a chair, don’t think about it as a chair. Instead, think of it as a combination of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, and whatever shapes you see. Notice the shapes made by negative spaces, too.
b) Remember to forget!
When you catch yourself “forgetting to forget”, just acknowledge that to yourself and resume focusing on the lines and shapes. And keep going.
c) Practice “forgetting” until it becomes automatic.
You’ll be amazed at the difference this kind of “forgetting” will make in your drawings.
Learn to Draw with Contour Drawing
If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce your students to contour drawing, check out Learn to Draw with Contour Drawing in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
In this 14-page pdf you’ll find activities for Blind, Memory, Guided, and Touch Contour Drawing which can be done together in one class session.
Then, follow up with a 2-session contour drawing with a super-engaging finish that makes a fantastic bulletin board for your Open House or Back-to-School Night.
Finally, take one more session to draw a natural object with a surprising twist at the end. These activities pack in lots of learning and help kids take their drawing skills to the next level and beyond.
an inspiring quote:
“The whole world is an art school—we just need to engage with it in a creative way.”
~ Patrick Brill
In a perfect world, every school would have an excellent art program. But short of that, we can still integrate imagination and creativity into kids’ everyday lives.
We do this when we ask open-ended questions, encourage problem-solving, and help kids see their mistakes as opportunities to learn.
Teaching kids how to think, rather than what to think, develops the kind of imagination and creativity we need in tomorrow’s great innovators, thinkers, and leaders.