Lesson 2 -Symbols, Contour Drawings and Viewfinders…OH MY!

Lesson 2 -Symbols, Contour Drawings and Viewfinders…OH MY!

All of the following material was taken from “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards

If you have stuck with us this far it is time to gather some drawing materials to complete the next lessons. The first “exercise” is actually putting together these materials and creating two viewfinders. The second exercise is a blind contour drawing and the last one for this week is modified contour drawing using a picture plane.


Drawing materials needed for Betty Edward’s “Drawing on the Right Side of the Bain” lessons.


• Drawing paper, pencil (#2, or #4 B) and an eraser

• You will need a piece of clear plastic, about 8″ x 10and about

1/16″ thick. A piece of glass is fine, but the edges must be taped.

Use a permanent marker to draw two crosshairs on the plastic,

a horizontal line and a vertical line crossing at the center of

the plane. (See the sketch in the margin.)

• Also, you will need two “viewfinders,” made of black cardboard

about 8″ x 10“. From one, cut a rectangular opening of

4 1/4″ x 5 1/4″ and from the other, cut out a larger opening of 6″ x

7 5/8“. See Figure 2-1.

• A nonpermanent black felt-tip marker

• Two clips to fasten your viewfinders to the plastic picture


• A “graphite stick,” #4B, available at most art supply stores

• Some masking tape

• A pencil sharpener—a small, hand-held sharpener is fine

Construct a viewfinder as follows:

1. Take a sheet of paper or use thin

cardboard of the same size as the

paper you use for drawing. The

viewfinder must be the same format,

that is, the same proportional

shape, as the paper you are using

to draw on.

2. Draw diagonal lines from opposite

corners, crossing in the center.

In the center of the paper, draw a

small rectangle by connecting horizontal

and vertical lines at points

on the diagonals. The rectangle

should be about I x I 1/4″. (See Figure

2-1.) Constructed this way, the

inner rectangle has the same proportion

of length to width as the

outer edges of the paper.

3. Next, cut the small rectangle out

of the center with scissors. Hold

the paper up and compare the

shape of the small opening with the

shape of the whole format. You can

see that the two shapes are the

same, and only the size is different.

This perceptual aid is called a

viewfinder. It will help you to perceive

negative spaces by establishing

an edge to the space around

















The scribbling stage


Making marks on paper begins at about age one and a half, when you as an infant were given a pencil or crayon, and you, by yourself, made a mark. It’s hard for us to imagine the sense of wonder a child experiences on seeing a black line emerge from the end of a stick, a line the child controls. You and I, all of us, had that


The stage of symbols


After some days or weeks of scribbling, infants—and apparently all human children—make the basic discovery of art: A drawn symbol can stand for something out there in the environment. The child makes a circular mark, looks at it, adds two marks for

eyes, points to the drawing, and says, “Mommy,” or “Daddy,” or “That’s me,” or “My dog,” or whatever. Thus, we all made the uniquely human leap of insight that is the foundation for art, from the prehistoric cave paintings all the way up through the centuries to the art of Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Picasso.

The landscape

By around age five or six, children have developed a set of symbols to create a landscape. Again, by a process of trial and error, children usually settle on a single version of a symbolic landscape, which is endlessly repeated. Perhaps you can remember the landscape you drew around age five or six.


The stage of complexity

…During this period (age 9 or 10), children try for more detail in their artwork, hoping by this means to achieve greater realism, which is a prized goal. Concern for composition diminishes, the forms often being placed almost at random on the page. Seemingly, children’s

concern for where things are in the drawing is replaced with concern for how things look, particularly the details of forms. Overall, drawings by older children show greater complexity and, at the same time, less assurance than do the landscapes of early childhood….

The stage of realism

By around age ten or eleven, children’s passion for realism is in full bloom. When their drawings don’t

come out “right”—meaning that they don’t look realistic—children often become discouraged and ask their teachers for help. The teacher may say, “You must look more carefully,” but this doesn’t help, because the child doesn’t know what to look more carefully for….



How the symbol system, developed in childhood, influences seeing

Now we are coming closer to the problem and its solution. First, what prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, “It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it, because I’ve got a readymade symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business.”

And where do the symbols come from? From the years of childhood drawing during which every person develops a system of symbols. The symbol system becomes embedded in the memory, and the symbols are ready to be called out, just as you called them out to draw your childhood landscape.

The symbols are also ready to be called out when you draw a face, for example. The efficient left brain says, “Oh yes, eyes. Here’s a symbol for eyes, the one you’ve always used. And a nose? Yes, here’s the way to do it.” Mouth? Hair? Eyelashes? There’s a symbol for each. There are also symbols for chairs, tables, and hands.


Exercise 1: Using Pure Contour Drawing to bypass your symbol system


What you’ll need:

• Several pieces of drawing paper. You will draw on the top

sheet and use two or three additional sheets to pad the drawing.

• Your #2 writing pencil, sharpened

• Masking tape to tape your drawing paper to your drawing


• An alarm clock or kitchen timer

• About thirty minutes of uninterrupted time



What you’ll do:

Please read through the following instructions before you begin

your drawing.

1. Look at the palm of your hand—the left hand if you are

right-handed and the right if you are left-handed. Bring your

fingers and thumb together to create a mass of wrinkles in

your palm. Those wrinkles are what you are going to draw—

all of them. I can almost hear you saying, “Are you joking?” or

“Forget that!”

2. Sit in a comfortable position with your drawing hand on the

drawing paper, holding the pencil and ready to draw. Then,

put the pencil down and tape the paper in that prearranged

position so it won’t shift around while you are drawing.

3. Set the timer for 5 minutes. In this way, you won’t have to

keep track of time, an L-mode function.

4. Then, face all the way around in the opposite direction, keeping

your hand with the pencil on the drawing paper, and gaze

at the palm of the other hand. Be sure to rest that hand on

some support—the back of a chair or perhaps on your knee—

because you will be holding this rather awkward position for

the allotted 5 minutes. Remember, once you start to draw, you

will not turn to look at the drawing until the timer goes off.

See figure 6-1.

5. Gaze at a single wrinkle in your palm. Place your pencil on

the paper and begin to draw just that edge. As your eyes track

the direction of the edge very slowly, one millimeter at a

time, your pencil will record your perceptions. If the edge

changes direction, so does your pencil. If the edge intersects

with another edge, follow that new information slowly with

your eyes, while your pencil simultaneously records every

detail. An important point: Your pencil can record only what

you see—nothing more, nothing less—at the moment of seeing.

Your hand and pencil function like a seismograph,

responding only to your actual perceptions.

The temptation to turn and look at the drawing will be very

strong. Resist the impulse! Don’t do it! Keep your eyes focused

on your hand.

Match the movement of the pencil exactly with your eye

movement. One or the other may begin to speed up, but don’t let

that happen. You must record everything at the very instant that

you see each point on the contour. Do not pause in the drawing,

but continue at a slow, even pace. At first you may feel uneasy or

uncomfortable: Some students even report sudden headaches or a

sense of panic.

6. Do not turn around to see what the drawing looks like until

your timer signals the end of 5 minutes.

7. Most important, you must continue to draw until the timer

signals you to stop.

8. If you experience painful objections from your verbal mode

(“What am I doing this for? This is really stupid! It won’t even

be a good drawing because I can’t see what I’m doing,” and so

forth), try your best to keep on drawing. The protests from

the left will fade out and your mind will become quiet. You

will find yourself becoming fascinated with the wondrous

complexity of what you are seeing, and you will feel that you

could go deeper and deeper into the complexity. Allow this to

happen. You have nothing to fear or be uneasy about. Your

drawing will be a beautiful record of your deep perception.

We are not concerned about whether the drawing looks like a

hand. We want the record of your perceptions.

9. Soon, this mental chatter will cease, and you will find yourself

becoming intensely interested in the complexity of the edges

you see in your palm and intensely aware of the beauty of

that complex perception. When that change takes place, you

will have shifted to the visual mode and again you will be

“really drawing.”

10. When the timer signals the allotted time, turn and look at

your drawing.


Why you did this exercise

The most important reason for this exercise is that Pure Contour

Drawing apparently causes L-mode to “reject the task,” enabling

you to shift to R-mode. Perhaps the lengthy, minute observation

of severely limited, “non-useful,” and “boring” information—

information that defies verbal description—is incompatible with

L-mode’s thinking style.

Note that:

• Your verbal mode may object and object, but eventually will

“bow out,” leaving you “free” to draw. This is why I asked you

to continue drawing until the timer sounds.

• The marks you make in R-mode are different from and often

more beautiful than marks made in your more usual L-mode

state of consciousness.

• Anything can be a subject for a Pure Contour drawing: a

feather, a piece of shredded bark, a lock of hair. Once you

have shifted to R-mode, the most ordinary things become

inordinately beautiful and interesting. Can you remember the

sense of wonder you had as a child, poring over some tiny

insect or a dandelion?




Exercise 2: Modified Contour Drawing with picture plane


Modified Contour Drawing: First, drawing on the

picture plane

What you’ll need:

• Your clear plastic Picture Plane

• Your felt-tip marker

• Both of your viewfinders

Before you begin: Please read through all of the instructions

before starting your drawing. In the next section I will define and

fully explain the Picture Plane. For now, you will be simply using

it. Just follow the instructions.


What you’ll do:

1. Rest your hand on a desk or table in front of you (the left

hand if you are right-handed, and the right, if you are left handed)

with the ringers and thumb curved upward, pointing

toward your face. This is a foreshortened view of your hand.

Imagine now that you are about to draw that foreshortened


If you are like most of my students, you would simply not know

how to go about doing that. It seems far too difficult to draw this

three-dimensional form, with its parts moving toward you in

space. You would hardly know where to start. The viewfinders

and plastic Picture Plane will help you get started.

2. Try out each of the Viewfinders to decide which size fits most

comfortably over your hand, which you should be holding in

a foreshortened position with the fingers coming toward you.

Men often need the larger, women the smaller-sized Viewfinder.

Choose one or the other.

3. Clip the Viewfinder you have chosen on top of your clear plastic

Picture Plane.

4. Use your felt-tip marker to draw a “format” line on the plastic

Picture Plane, running your marker around the inside of the

opening of the Viewfinder. A format line forms the outer

boundary of your drawing. See Figure 6-4.

5. Now, holding you hand in the same foreshortened position as

before, balance the Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane on the

tips of your fingers and thumb. Move it about a bit until the

picture-plane seems balanced comfortably.

6. Pick up your uncapped marking pen, gaze at the hand under

the plastic Picture Plane and close one eye. (I’ll explain in the

next segment why it is necessary to close one eye. For now,

please just do it.) See Figure 6-4.

7. Choose an edge to start your drawing. Any edge will do. With

the marking pen, begin to draw on the plastic Picture Plane

the edges of the shapes just as you see them. Don’t try to “second

guess” any of the edges. Do not name the parts. Do not

wonder why the edges are the way they are. Your job, just as in Upside-Down Drawing and in Pure Contour Drawing, is to

draw exactly what you see, with as much detail as you can manage with the marking pen (which is not as precise as a pencil).

8. Be sure to keep your head in the same place and keep one eye

closed. Don’t move your head to try to “see around” the form.

Keep it still. (Again, I’ll explain why in the next segment.)

9. Correct any lines you wish by just wiping them off with a

moistened tissue on your forefinger. It is very easy to redraw

them more precisely.


For further practice: I suggest that you erase your felt-tip pen

drawing from the Picture Plane with a damp tissue and do several

more, with your hand in a different position each time. Try for

the really “hard” views—the more complicated the better. Oddly

enough, the flat hand is the hardest to draw; a complex position is

actually easier. Therefore, arrange your hand with the fingers

curved, entwined, crossed, fist clenched, whatever. Try to include

some foreshortening. Remember, the more you practice each of

these exercises, the faster you will progress.

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