Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Contour Drawing & The Human Figure

Line is an invention. It does not exist anywhere in nature. To use it in a drawing we must first understand that it is a completely artificial invention. Once we understand that basic idea we can begin to understand how best to put it to use. When line is not understood it is often used as a “sketchy outline.” Typically all this sketchy outline amounts to is a visual approximation of some stored semantic knowledge. As such sketchy outlines lead to symbols not observations. Line in life drawing is best used either as contour line (see above examples) or as a guide to understanding the underlying shapes and angles that make up the figure. This post is about the former.

Nicolaides says we should not even begin to draw a contour line until we truly believe the point of the pencil is resting not on the paper but on the form itself that we are drawing. The point moves over and under, down and around, in and out of space. The line weight shifts from heavy to light depending upon whether the shifts in planar structure are severe or subtle. The great focus required for a successful contour drawing should fix the eyes of the drawer like those of the tightrope walker high above the crowd. Without proper focus she falls. Without that same focus the drawing fails to reach it’s potential.  Above we see two examples of semi-blind contour drawing and two smaller examples of blind contour drawing. Below are two examples of contour line from one of the supreme masters of this art, Egon Schiele.

Egon Schiele: Standing Male Nude With Red Loincloth, 1914 (left) / Newborn Baby, 1910 (right)


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