Lesson 3 – Modified Contour Drawing

If you use Instagram post your drawings and tag them with #plpDrawingClass. It will be fun to see everyone’s work!

I am following through “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards with the kids.  The materials provided here are taken directly from the book and are the actual exercises and selected highlights.  I highly recommend reading the book if you are interested in learning to draw.



A quick review of the five perceptual skills of drawing

In this lesson, we are working on the perception of edges as one of the component skills of drawing. Recall that there are four others and together these five components make up the whole skill of drawing:

1. The perception of edges (the “shared” edges of contour drawing).
2. The perception of spaces (in drawing called negative spaces).
3. The perception of relationships (known as perspective and
4. The perception of lights and shadows (often called “shading”).
5. The perception of the whole (the gestalt, the “thingness” of the thing).

Exercise 1: Modified Contour Drawing

Several sheets of the smaller drawing paper

• Your graphite stick (4b) and some paper napkins or paper towels

• Your #2 writing pencil or your # 4B drawing pencil, sharpened

• Your eraser

• Your plastic Picture Plane

• Your felt-tip marker

• The Viewfinder you used for your drawing on the Picture Plane

  1. Tape a stack of several sheets of paper to your drawing board. Tape all four corners securely, so that the paper will not shift around. One of your hands will be “posing” and must remain still. The other will be drawing and perhaps erasing. If the paper shifts under your hand while you are drawing or erasing, it is very distracting.
  2. Draw a format on your drawing paper, using the inside edge of your Viewfinder.
  3. The next step is to tone your paper. Make sure you have a stack of several sheets of paper to pad your drawing. Begin to tone your paper by rubbing the edge of the graphite stick very lightly over the paper, staying inside the format. You want to achieve a pale, even tone—don’t worry too much about staying within the lines. You can clean up the edges at a later time. Figure 6-15.
  4. Once you have covered the paper with a light application of graphite, begin to rub the graphite into the paper with your paper towels. Rub with a circular motion, applying even pressure right up to the edge of the format. You want to achieve a very smooth, silvery tone. Figure 6-16.
  5. Next, lightly draw horizontal and vertical crosshairs on your toned paper. The lines will cross in the center just as they do on your plastic Picture Plane. Use the crosshairs on the plastic plane to mark the position of the crosshairs on the format of your toned paper. A caution: Don’t draw the lines too dark. They are only guidelines and later you may want to eliminate them. Figure 6-17.

  6. Retrieve your Picture Plane with the felt-tip drawing that you did <in the previous exercise>, or, if you wish, you can do a new drawing (Figure 6-18). Place the plane down on a light surface, perhaps a sheet of paper, so that you can clearly see the drawing on the plastic. This image will act as a guide for you when you next draw your hand without the actual plane.
  7. An important step: Now, you will transfer the main points and edges of your drawing on plastic to your drawing paper (Figure 6-20). The formats are the same size, so it is a one-tone scale transfer. Using the crosshairs, place the point where an edge of your hand contacts the format. Transfer several of these points. Then, begin to connect the edges of your hand, fingers, thumb, palm, wrinkles, and so on with the points you have established. This is just a light sketch to help you place the hand within the format. Recall that drawing is copying what you see on the picture plane. For this drawing, you will take this actual step, to get used to the process. Don’t worry about erasing the ground if you have to change a line. Erase, then just rub the erased area with your finger or a paper napkin and the erasure disappears.
  8. Once this rough, light sketch is on your paper, you are ready to start drawing.
  9. Reposition your “posing” hand, using the drawing-on-plastic to guide the positioning. Then, set aside your drawing-on plastic, but place it where you can still refer to it.
  10. Then, closing one eye, focus on a point on some edge in your posing hand. Any edge will do to make a start. Place your pencil point on this same point in the drawing. Then, gaze again at this point on your hand in reparation to draw. This will start the mental shift to R-mode and help to quiet any mutterings from L-mode.
  11. When you begin to draw, your eyes—or rather, eye—will move slowly along the contour and your pencil will record your perceptions at the same slow speed that your eye is moving. Just as you did in Pure Contour Drawing, try to perceive and record all of the slight undulations of each edge (Figure 6-21). Use your eraser whenever needed, even to make tiny adjustments in the line. Looking at your hand (with one eye closed, remember), you can estimate the angle of any edge by comparing it to the crosshairs. Check these angles in your drawing-on-plastic that you did earlier, but also try to see these relationships by imagining a picture-plane hovering over your hand, with its helpful crosshairs and the edge of the format to guide you.
  12. About 90 percent of the time, you should be looking at your hand. That is where you will find the information that you need. In fact, all the information you need to do a wonderful drawing of your hand is right in front of your eyes. Glance at the drawing only to monitor the pencil’s recording of your perceptions, to check for relationships of sizes and angles, or to pick a point to start a new contour. Concentrate on what you see, wordlessly sensing to yourself, “How wide is this part compared to that? How steep is this angle compared to that?” And so on.
  13. Move from contour to adjacent contour. If you see spaces between the fingers, use that information as well: “How wide is that space compared to the width of that shape?” (Remember, we are not naming things—fingernails, fingers, thumb, palm. They are all just edges, spaces, shapes, relationships.) Be sure to keep one eye closed at least a good portion of the time. Your hand is quite close in proximity to your eyes, and the binocular disparity can confuse you with two images.When you come to parts that impose their names on y o u—fingernails, for example—try to escape the words. One good strategy is to focus on the shapes of the flesh around the fingernails. These shapes share edges with the fingernails. Therefore, if you draw the shapes around the nails, you will have also drawn the edges of the fingernails—but you’ll get both right! In fact, if mental conflict sets in over any part of the drawing, move to the next adjacent space or shape, remembering the “shared edge” concept. Then, return later with “new eyes” to the part that seemed difficult. (Figure 6-22)
  14. You may want to erase out the spaces around your hand. This makes the hand “stand out” from the negative spaces.You can work up the drawing with a little shading by observing where you see areas of light (highlights) and areas of shadow appear on your posing hand. Erase out the highlights and draw in the shadows.
  15. Finally, when the drawing begins to become intensely interesting, like a complicated and beautiful jigsaw puzzle gradually taking shape under your pencil, you will be really drawing.

You might want to do a second Modified Contour Drawing of your hand, perhaps this time holding some complex object: a twisted handkerchief, a flower, a pinecone, a pair of eyeglasses. For this drawing, you can again work on a lightly “toned” ground.

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