Sunday, April 10, 2011

If You Don’t Begin Blind Contour Drawing Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later.

Blind contour drawing is the second focus in Schedule One of Kimon Nicolaides ‘The Natural Way to Draw’. The time spent on this exercise will amount to almost nine hours for this schedule. The use of a live model is highly recommended in the book, but you can make some clever substitutions for each exercise. Once again it is important that you draw for the total time as instructed for each session.

Blind contour is the practice of drawing a model or object without looking at the paper. The exercise will develop your observational skills and improve your hand-eye coordination. Blind contour drawing trains your eye to draw what it really sees (right brain process) rather than what it thinks it sees (left brain process). It will force the artistic side of your brain, the right side, to take control of the pencil as you draw on the paper.

Kimon Nicolaides recommends that you follow a few guidelines to get the most benefits from the exercise. The first guideline is keep your eyes on the outline of the model or object at all times. You may glance at the paper to place an internal feature, but once you begin to draw it, do not look down, but follow the same procedure as for the outline. The second guideline is draw the contour very slowly in a steady, continuous line without lifting the pencil or looking at the paper. The last guideline is that you should imagine the pencil is really touching the model. Feel your pencil move along the contour of the model at all times. Stop drawing if you lose that feeling and don’t continue until the feeling returns to you.

The exercise should be completed using a model or object from real life. The human body is a perfect model for blind contour drawing. Plants, trees, and sleeping animals would also be a good choice for this exercise. I have successfully used various toys and figurines in a still life for blind contour drawing. Look around your environment and you will be surprised to find that a model is always available for you.

I am nearing the end of Schedule One and I have noticed some things about myself. I am finally learning to have patience during the blind contour exercises. I felt, in the beginning, that this exercise was dreadfully boring for me. I was trying to draw to fast and I was not benefiting from the exercise. I decided to switch to my non dominant hand for drawing every other session. Switching hands has really helped me slow down and feel my way around the contour of the model. I highly recommend you try drawing with your non dominant hand next time.

I have also learned that it is possible to really feel like the pencil is touching the surface of the model. I can tell when I have lost that feeling, too. I notice my drawing contains many more curves and bumps when I feel like the pencil is touching the model. It is almost like I have a heightened awareness of the model’s surface. I feel like I am starting to accurately see the model during each session. I have posted a couple of drawings below for you to see as an example. Do you notice the difference between the first session image and the latest session image?

Thank you for stopping by the blog and reading up on my progress. I hope you are learning something useful from my experience. I will be posting about Cross Contour drawing in the next article. See you next time!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Are You Ready for Gesture Drawing?

Gesture drawing is one of the main focuses of Schedule One in Kimon Nicolaides ‘The Natural Way to Draw’. Schedule One requires fifteen hours of drawing and some light reading between sessions. A model is preferred for the exercises, but you can make a substitution if a model is unavailable. The real key is that you are drawing for the time allowed in each session.

Gesture drawing is, generally, a series of poses taken by a model and drawn in one minute or less by the artist. It is an attempt to capture action, movement, or feeling in your drawing. Gesture drawing will help you study the human figure in motion. You will gain a better understanding of muscle exertion, range of motion in the joints, and the effects of twisting in the human body.

Kimon Nicolaides stresses the importance of feeling the pose in your own body before you attempt to draw the pose. You may find, like me, that it will take some practice before you will be able to feel the pose. I have been known to actually get out of my seat and briefly hold the pose myself. I have found that it truly helps me capture the feeling on paper. You should give it a try during your next gesture session.

You may find difficulty in locating a willing model for your gesture studies. I have had great results using a couple of substitutes for a live model during my sessions. The first substitute is any sporting event on television (or real life). Football, boxing, gymnastics and baseball contain some fantastic live action poses. You could even try watching an action packed movie and capturing the various movements in your drawings.

The second substitute I use, most frequently, is an extremely useful website called Posemaniacs. I highly recommend this website if you can not obtain a live model for your gesture drawings. The website hosts a slide show that randomly displays 2 dimensional poses of the human figure. You can set a timer for the poses and even view them full screen on your computer monitor. The Posemaniacs slide show application is free to all users and can be accessed at

I have been working through Schedule One at a snail’s pace due to time constraints in my personal life. I have just completed session 1C and I already notice a slight improvement in my drawing. I still struggle with capturing the essence of the gesture quickly. Sometimes I find that I have spent too much time feeling the pose before putting my pencil to the paper. During a good session I feel that I have only a few great gesture drawings in the end. I thought I would include a few at the end of this post for you to view as an example. See you next time!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Essential Art Supplies for the Natural Way to Draw

Kimon Nicolaides book, “The Natural Way to Draw”, requires you to have some basic art supplies on hand. All the supplies you need are usually listed in the first few paragraphs of every chapter in the book. I decided to skim ahead through the chapters and compile the complete list of the supplies needed to complete the assignments.

I prefer to be prepared ahead of time for the assignments, so I can keep on working without any delay (or procrastination). I also prefer to have enough time to find the best prices available for my art supplies. Check your local art store and online to comparison shop for your supplies. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of freight if you purchase the supplies online!

*Tip: Start the book around the same time children go back to school. You will grab some great deals on art supplies!

Please note, I have separated the supplies by assignment schedule.


Schedule One
3B Drawing Pencil, Manila Paper 15x20, Sketchboard, Eyeshade, 4B Drawing Pencil, Newsprint or Manila Paper 10x15

Schedule Two

Same as Previous Schedule

Schedule Three

Lithograph Crayon (Medium)

Schedule Four
Same as Previous Schedule

Schedule Five
Black Drawing Ink, Ordinary Pen & Penpoint (Large point, strong & blunt, prefer ball shaped tip. Do Not Use a Fountain Pen)

Schedule Six
Tube of Yellow Ochre Watercolor, Tube of Burnt Sienna Watercolor, Tube of Black Watercolor, Size 9 Sable Watercolor Brush, Watercolor Pan (cheap), several soft clean rags 6x6

Schedule Seven

Wolfe Carbon Pencil 2B or 3B

Schedule Eight

No New Supplies

Schedule Nine
No New Supplies

Schedule Ten

Tube of Permanent Blue Watercolor, Tube of Lemon Yellow Watercolor, Tube of Viridian Green or Hooker's Green Watercolor

Schedule Eleven
Drapery 3'by 5' - white or solid light color - medium weight and without sheen (x2), Tacks, 2B Drawing Pencil, 4B Drawing Pencil, Kneaded Eraser

Schedule Twelve

No New Supplies

Schedule Thirteen

Tracing Paper 15x20

Schedule Fourteen

No New Supplies

Schedule Fifteen

Practical, cheap anatomy charts or George B. Bridgeman Books on Anatomy,(Optional: small antique casts of full length nude)

Schedule Sixteen
No New Supplies

Schedule Seventeen
HB Drawing Pencil, Rough Toothed-medium gray paper (construction paper, cheap pastel or charcoal paper)15x20 or 18x24

Any two of the following (one black and one white) or all of them:
Black Conte Crayon - medium; White Conte Crayon - medium; Wolfe Carbon Pencil - medium or soft; White Conte Pencil - medium; Piece of White Blackboard Chalk;

Later substitute papers of various colors or brown manila wrapping paper.

Schedule Eighteen

No New Supplies

Schedule Nineteen

No New Supplies

Schedule Twenty
Inexpensive prints or any clear reproductions in books or magazines - black and white or color; reproductions showing the nude figure

Schedule Twenty-One

No New Supplies

Schedule Twenty-Two
Dark Brown Manila Wrapping Paper 15x20, Tube of Zinc White or Titanium White Oil Color, Tube of Black Oil Color, Two Long-Haired flat Bristle Brushes about a quarter of an inch and three-quarter of an inch wide, a cheap palette, a palette knife, rectified turpentine, Oil Cup or Small Jar, Supply of Clean Rags 5" square, prestwood or heavy cardboard

Schedule Twenty-Three

No New Supplies

Schedule Twenty-Four

No New Supplies

Schedule Twenty-Five

Oil Colors: Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Light Red, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Larger Bristle Brush, Small Flat Sable Brush, A No.3 Watercolor Brush

Also: Cheap Pastel Paper of Various Colors Shellaced; use ordinary white shellac diluted with two parts alcohol to one of shellac.

Venice turpentine, turpentine, sun-thickened or stand oil, dammar varnish (25%)

I am already working through the assignments in the book. I have been averaging two assignments each night after work and I already notice a change in my skill level. I will upload some images of the completed drawings along with my commentary in the next post.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Here is a Method That is Helping Me Learn the Natural Way to Draw

I have been thoroughly searching the internet for a method to improve my illustration skills at home. I spent a large portion of my time reading posts in various art forums and blogs online looking for a solution. My search revealed a lot of references to a classic book by Kimon Nicolaides called 'The Natural Way to Draw'.

Kimon Nicolaides taught in New York at the Art Students' League during the 1930's. 'The Natural Way to Draw' was compiled from his teaching notes and was unpublished at the time of his death in 1938. Kimon's students donated examples of his exercises (their personal artwork) to complete the manuscript and in 1941 the book was finally printed. The book contains blind contour, gesture, and value/mass drawing exercises totaling 375 hours worth of drawing time.

I noticed during my search there were many people with questions regarding the teaching methods in the book. I found only one serious attempt by another artist to guide others through the book's content by example. This blog is my attempt to share my experience with you as I work through the book. I hope it clarifies some of Nicolaides' methods and inspires you to undertake the challenge of learning to draw the natural way.

I plan to post some of the drawings created as I work through the exercises in the book. I will also post my thoughts about the lessons I’ve learned and any information I find that enhances the content in the book. I hope this provokes you to share your thoughts and experiences, too. I am looking forward to reading your comments.