Another Bird Drawing Method That Works- Blind Contours

Crested guan, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn blind contour method, with one hand holding binoculars up to eyes and the other moving pencil around on the paper. No peeking.

Crested guan, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn blind contour method for the guan’s outlines, the details filled in immediately from subsequent looks.  One hand holds binoculars to eyes and the other pushes pencil around paper. No peeking. Pencil on paper.

I’ve always used more than one method for drawings birds. My usual fallback is the mental snapshot freeze-frame: I snag the bird in my mind’s eye, plop it on the page and draw it before it dissolves. Scope drawing is another good skill (you keep both eyes open- one on the bird through the eyepiece and one on the paper, going back and forth while drawing). And now for something a little different: blind contour drawing. This is where you keep both eyes on the bird and sketch freely without looking at the paper. In doing blind contour drawing, I can virtually feel the pencil touching the bird’s feathers. I’ve been working on this technique for several days now, getting some decent results.

Keel billed toucan, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn blind contour technique through field scope. pencil on paper.

Keel billed toucan, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn blind contour technique through field scope. pencil on paper, 8 1/2″ x 11″

Blind contour drawing might sound slightly loopy, but there’s history and reasoning to back it up. Kimon Nicolaides first proposed the idea in The Natural Way to Draw, and Betty Edwards developed it further in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Plain colored tanager preening, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn through the scope, mostly blind contour (I cheated and looked, though). Pencil on 8 1/2" x 11" S&B sketchbook paper.

Plain colored tanager preening, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Drawn through the scope, mostly blind contour (I cheated and looked, though). Pencil on 8 1/2″ x 11″ S&B sketchbook paper.

From personal experience I’ve found that my bird drawings, errors and all, have occasionally wiped and replaced the reality of the bird with a contaminated memory. Unfortunately, I often carry that broken image around with me until the next time I get a good look. Then I have to work hard to overcome the difference. In drawing blind, I hold my eyes on the bird instead of the drawing and spend more time learning the bird, getting a better baseline image. The sketch appears to take care of itself, but in practice the eye is unconsciously guiding the hand. It feels odd, but seems to work.

Masked Tityras, blind contour drawing through field scope, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Watercolor over pencil, S&B sketchbook 8 1/2" x 11" Alpha Series paper.

Masked Tityras, blind contour drawing through field scope, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Watercolor over pencil, S&B sketchbook 8 1/2″ x 11″ Alpha Series paper.

I’m new at this method but find I’m drawing with a lighter touch, making fewer marks, and catching quick gestures and proportions a little more effectively, all without forcing my will on the sketch. Try it yourself. The best moment will come when you look at the paper and think, “who drew that?” In a good way.

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About zeladoniac

Debby Kaspari travels the world with sketchbook and binoculars, drawing and painting in wild and not-so-wild landscapes. Norman, Oklahoma is her home base, and she lives there with her tropical ecologist husband and a mackerel tabby named Gizmo.
This entry was posted in Art, bird art, bird-drawing technique, birds, Drawing, field sketching, figure drawing, How-to, Nature, nature journaling, Panama, plein air, rainforest, Sketching, tropics, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Another Bird Drawing Method That Works- Blind Contours

  1. visionari1 says:

    They are impressive…must lead eventually to more connection with the subject drawn..
    .Brilliant work!

  2. KnitNell says:

    Your drawings look great and the birds are beautifully animated – blind contour is not something I have come across (only as a warm-up exercise in life drawing), I must give it a go. Cheers.

  3. Corienne says:

    Amazing–you and your drawings!

  4. This is a wonderful idea. A great way to get around obsessing about the bird on the paper and to focus on the bird in the bush. Your drawings have such aliveness and energy. Those moments preening are priceless. You inspire me.

    • zeladoniac says:

      John, it’s true- it puts you in the moment and prevents you from tightening up. By the way, the details were added in a normal mode once the outline, the blind contour drawing, was in place. Thanks for a great comment!

  5. Beautiful!!
    (I love birds!)
    Jen

  6. Duncan Butchart says:

    Thanks for such an inspirational and entertaining blog. I am certainly going to try this blind contour technique out as a possible cure for my stiff bird drawings. Looking forward to your next posting from Panama!

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