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How to Explore the Magic of Blind Contour Drawing

Finding engaging art lessons can be difficult in our current world of art education. Maybe you’re teaching virtually, relying heavily on engagement through your screen with students. Perhaps you are teaching in person, trying your best to stay safely distanced and sanitizing materials for the millionth time. You might even be teaching art in a hybrid version, ultimately testing your organizational skills.

No matter how you are currently teaching, it’s helpful to return to the basics.

student drawing a plant

Students typically learn to draw by using simple outlines to signify the object they are representing. As art teachers, we have all used these simple outlines to teach our students the basic skills of drawing. These outlines are referred to as contour lines.

Contour drawing, especially blind contour drawing, can be a magical and wonderful way to get back to the basics of drawing.

Student Drawing

Your students likely know how to draw single outlines; it happens pretty naturally, but what happens when they cannot look at the paper as they draw? Drawing from observation without looking at your paper is when the “blind” part comes in. Taking away your student’s ability to look at their drawing opens up an entire world of challenges, openness, and play. And trust me, your students are going to love it!

student drawing

You can certainly create blind contour drawings with students during any art teaching model. I’ve done blind contour drawings with my artists many times before but only recently taught a blind contour lesson virtually. And let me tell you, it was an amazingly engaging lesson.

Tricks for Creating Blind Contour Drawings:

Student drawing

  • Start simple. Start by having students draw an object from observation using a single contour line. Then, the transition to drawing a blind contour line drawing seems more manageable.
  • No peeking plate. To stop students from peeking at their paper as they draw, punch a hole in a paper plate and slide it over the students’ pencil bearing hand. This way, the paper plate hides the drawing paper’s surface, allowing the blind contour to stay hidden.
  • Under the table. You can also have students place their paper on a hard surface underneath a table edge to obscure the work in progress. This works great for virtual learning to help students keep their drawings hidden.
  • Model for students. Drawing blind contours of the face is a classic subject matter. Start by drawing your face as a blind contour and model to your students how it’s okay to giggle at the outcome. During class time, draw blind contour drawings of students who volunteer as a special incentive.
  • Start with the big parts. Remind students to try starting their drawing with the largest object first. For example, if they are drawing a plant, start by drawing the pot and then add the details.

blind contour drawings

Creating blind contour drawings with students comes with a multitude of benefits.

1. They require simple materials.

Drawing blind contours can be done with just about any art material. The best part is that the most simple materials, a piece of paper and a pencil, are ideal. If your students have limited supplies, check out what to do when you’ve only got a pencil and paper.

2. They unleash the silliness.

Your students will undoubtedly laugh upon revealing their blind contour drawing. There is something so silly, innocent, and simple about a blind contour line drawing that students love.

3. They loosen artists up.

Blind contours are a perfect warm-up drawing. They are low pressure, quick, and easy to explain. If your students have sketchbooks, try a timed contour line drawing to start class.

contour drawings

4. They use versatile materials.

You can create contour line drawings with pencil and paper or brainstorm some more unconventional tools to use. For example, using dry erase markers and whiteboards is a low-pressure way to practice many times. You could even consider having students lay down string on a surface to create a contour line drawing.

5. They are great for virtual or face-to-face learning.

Creating blind contour line drawings is an excellent activity for all teaching models. It’s also fun to draw blind contours of students on-screen who want a special drawing. Seeing you laugh about your artmaking reminds students that art doesn’t always have to be serious.

6. They make for a quick lesson.

You can create a blind contour drawing in mere seconds. Teaching students to draw quickly allows them to break through their initial fear and hesitation to get started.

7. They create routine and resilience.

Building a routine around blind contour line drawings can help gather data about your students’ control, speed, and observation ability. If you start each art class with a thirty-second blind contour line drawing, you can watch student confidence grow. Check out Austin Kleon’s daily blind contour drawings as inspiration.

8. They help students accept mistakes.

We’ve all had students who have a tough time accepting mistakes. Providing opportunities for students to persevere through their struggles will make them stronger artists and more resilient humans. Learn more about how to teach students to fail spectacularly.

9. They can take drawing further.

Once a blind contour drawing is completed, challenge your artists to add further details such as overlapping drawings, faded value, painting patterns, or collaging with paper and found items.

Blind Contour Drawing

Keeping it simple with a classic blind contour drawing lesson is a great way to engage your artists. And you certainly know, in our current world of art education, we need simple, classic, and meaningful lessons now more than ever.

What other types of simple lessons do you love to teach to your students?

Do you have any tricks for teaching blind contour line drawings?

How could you envision extending a quick contour line drawing into a more complex project?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.

Sarah Krajewski is an elementary art educator in Wisconsin. Her teaching philosophy is mirrored in her classroom mantra: "I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

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