What Is a Contour Drawing?
September 12, 2021
Have you ever wondered what a contour drawing is?
Do you want to try your hand at drawing them?
Stick around for our blog and find out everything you need to know about contour drawing.
“Contour” in French means “outline”.
Contour drawing in art refers to a type of drawing in which only the outlines of an object or person are drawn, usually with one continuous line, and usually without looking at the page while drawing.
It is a popular form of art, with famous names such as Picasso being in the field, alongside simply being a well-regarded practice exercise for beginners and students of art.
Contour drawings are considered to be a form of Gesture Drawing, which is the art of drawing a series of bodies in still form.
The main focus of contour drawing is the edges and lines of an object, and how to capture as much detail and form possible while only using these lines.
There are many benefits that come from engaging with contour drawing. Namely increasing your artistic abilities, improving your linework, enhancing your physical hand-eye coordination, and also just relaxation and enjoyment.
If you haven’t tried this type of drawing before, it is an amazing thing for you to dive into.
To look at the art form in more detail, let’s start by first looking at the three core types of contour drawing individually:
What are the three types of contour drawings?
The three types of contour drawing are:
1. Blind Contour
2. Continuous Line Contour
3. Modified Contour
Blind Contour drawing is possibly the most classic form of contour drawing. In this type, you must look away from your page and what you are drawing entirely and focus only on the object that is your inspiration.
The key here is to hone in on the physical sensations of drawing and focus on drawing the object that you see intuitively, rather than over-rationalising and being overly cautious in your drawing process.
The aim is to simply draw what you see.
Capture all the edges and lines of the object in the best way you can, without ever looking down at your page.
It might feel a little tricky at first, but the more you practice the more natural it will feel.
Continuous Line Contour is the art of drawing the outline of a shape you see by using one continuous line and never breaking contact between your pen or pencil and the page.
Your drawing will be one continuous line that encompasses the entire outline of an object or person.
It will inevitably end up as a more abstract form of drawing and will have some overlapping and looping sections.
Modified Contour drawing is the least regimented of all three types of contour drawing. In modified contour drawing the goal is to look at the object you are drawing 90% of the time, and you can look at the page for 10% of the time to see where you are going and what’s happening.
It also includes multiple lines, as opposed to continuous line contour drawing, and you can go in and add detail or amendments in places you’d like to do so.
This type of drawing follows the main principles of contour drawing, capturing the outlines, focusing on the lines and overall shapes, but it is less strict, and you can give yourself a little bit of creative license and editing power.
No matter which form of contour drawing you go for, the basics are always the same. Focus on the outline, capture the shape, and draw intuitively. Don’t plan, don’t overthink. Just draw.
What do you need to draw a contour drawing?
In terms of art supplies, contour drawing needs very little.
All you need is paper and a pen or pencil.
You can do it digitally too using a tablet, digital pencil, and software such as Procreate. For this make sure that your settings allow you to draw lines freely without an autocorrecting or auto-straightening feature.
Why are contour drawings good?
Despite being relatively simple in form and execution, contour drawings have a lot to offer both art itself and artists.
Contour drawings capture the essence of things and people, with their overall structure and form. With the detail being found only in the lines and outlines, there is a lot of artistic expression in how this captures someone or something.
The drawings are minimal and yet can have a lot of emotion and storytelling behind them.
They are very popular right now in 2021 and have been ever since their debut as a form of teaching art in 1941.
It was debuted as a form of teaching art, and this remains prevalent today.
Especially with blind contour and continuous line contour drawing, the emphasis is on the tactile and sensory feelings of drawing, rather than your analysis of what the drawing of an object should look like.
Contour drawings are a great exercise and practice for beginners in art and drawing because they train your eye-hand coordination and work on the right side of your brain, the creative side.
When we are looking at an object and then our page and trying to faithfully re-create it, our analytical right side of the brain steps in and wants to measure and plan everything out.
Your brain has preconceived notions and stored ideas of how things should look and how you’ve drawn them before. This can get in the way of your artistic expression and can get in the way of just drawing what you actually see, rather than what you think you see or think you should draw.
There is a freeing element to contour drawing, and it can help you work on trusting yourself and your own intuition.
Sometimes we get overwhelmed in art and reaching writer’s block, as it were because we are overthinking and over critiquing our every move.
Allowing yourself to focus on how drawing feels and how the object really looks in real life, allows your creativity to flow.
If you are just starting out in drawing, doing some contour drawings regularly is a great practice to improve your skills.
It will help with your coordination, your linework, and you will simply have a lot of fun doing it.
Contour drawing, especially continuous line drawing, is also a very relaxing and calming activity.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist or someone who regularly draws, you can still reap the benefits of contour drawing.
Who or what should I draw?
Contour drawings can lend themselves to really any subject.
If you are looking to get into contour drawing, start by drawing what or who is around you.
There are no rules to what you can and cannot draw a contour drawing of.
Even small household objects are a great place to start.
Focus on the overall mass and shape of an object and try to capture its entirety through its outline.
Give each type of contour drawing a go until you land on which one is your favorite. Or maybe you’ll like to dip in and out of all of them, this is totally fine too.
As with all things art-related, there will be plenty of prompts and tutorials online if you need them.
Who are some good contour artists?
Two of the undoubtedly most famous contour artists of all time are Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. They both worked with continuous line drawing, and so you can look to their work for some top-tier inspiration if you would like.
Some other famous artists who engage in these types of drawing include Alexander Calder and Egon Schiele. Have a look at their work online and see what you can draw from it. It’s always good to have visual references and inspiration.
You never know, you might end up finding a whole new world of art for you to enjoy.
To sum up…
Contour drawing is a type of art that concerns itself only with the outlines of an object or person.
There are three types of contour drawing: blind contour, continuous line contour, and modified contour.
Each one offers an opportunity for artists to practice their skills and technique, by focusing on hand-eye coordination and their tactile sensations of drawing.
Contour drawing draws power from the creative left side of your brain and silences the right side of the brain’s analytic intrusions, allowing you to draw freely without interruption.
You don’t need much to start practicing contour drawing of any kind, just a pen or pencil and some paper.
Start by drawing random household objects you can see and work your way up from there.
Drawing contour drawings is an invaluable practice for developing your art skills, and for increasing your understanding of shapes and outlines and how they work.
After all, all drawings start off with shapes and lines.
Take some time to yourself tonight and give contour drawing a go, you’ll soon realise how relaxing, freeing, and creative it can be.