Illustrating with Contours

Draw the line.  Investigate form.  Preferably without looking at pencil or paper, but with eyes steadily trained on the object you are

Claire Walker Leslie describes the blind-contour drawing, “Imagine your eye is an ant crawling slowly over the whole shape.  Either go from right to left or left to right.  Using a continuous and careful line, draw the wanderings of the ant over the contours of the object, in and out of each part your eye follows.”


It took me years to learn the true seduction of this exercise.  It took me years to stop cheating.  To cast myself upon the whimsy of process rather than standing on the known terrain of product.  But today, process opens the door.  I am delightfully beset with questions.

What happens with the 8B pencil in comparison with the 2H pencil; the PILOT GTEC C4 pen versus the purple PILOT HI TECPOINT pen?  Each tool alters the alchemy of eye-mind-hand.  As I play, trying one after the other, I imagine different species of “ant-toolpoint” wandering the contours of the hollyhock skeleton I gathered this morning from my snow garden.  Each species develops its own intimacy with the contours, the hills and valleys, of the golden brown carcass.  Each ant-toolpoint has its own way of knowing.  I fall in love with the friction-imposed slowness of the 8B pencil.  It is a way of knowing that is in stark contrast to the racehorse speed of the slick pens—their muscles bunching and leaping, gathering up ground.

1 thought on “Illustrating with Contours

  1. “Damn that ant. Does it forage optimally?”

    Another lovely thought. It’s like a Richard Brautigan poem (matched by some obscure title, like “Blind Contour” or something) – written and treasured most by those who know what he’s really talking about.

    It’s a very interesting thing, this entry – to see how the eye foraged a little differently each time, and to see how the medium really does set the tone for the image. I love the softness and pleasantness of the B pencils – a sleepy dreaminess to it almost, while the G-TEC renderings make me feel alert and ready to engage. Like I’ve taken a sip of hot coffee!

    Very interesting. What life there can be on the page, when all the world is covered in snow.

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