Thursday, June 14, 2012

positive and negative contour drawing

"The concept of  edges is a fundamental concept in art, having to do with unity, perhaps the most important principle in art. Unity is achieved when everything in a composition fits together as a coherent whole, each piece contributing to the wholeness of the total image."

-Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

For me the practice of contour drawing—really focusing on those edges—is the most valuable drawing exercise I can do. Last night I went to my local guild meeting. The program was given by the wonderful Kerr Grabowsky and I was pleasantly surprised to hear her talk about how much she likes contour drawing and how valuable it is to her art.

One of the contour drawing exercises I really like and find challenging is identifying and drawing both the positive and negative spaces. Drawing negative spaces is a real right brain exercise if you can ignore the positive image and just focus on the shapes of the negative space.

Place an object or several objects on a contrasting background—a sheet of paper, a plain cover book, a place mat or napkin, etc. Be sure that your object(s) extend over the edge of the background in one or more places.

Start by drawing the object. Draw the contour, carefully observing the edges and the angles and the shapes, trying not to think of what object you are drawing, rather following the line of the contour with your eyes and observing it as line only.

Now, go back to your setup and look at the shapes of that background paper or book that your object is laying on. Try to make that little eye/brain flip that lets you see the individual shapes of the background, ignoring what is on top of it.
Observe that you have probably broken the background into more than one shape, by extending the foreground object over the edges. In my example I have three separate shapes to consider.

 Now draw those shapes, observing and following the edge, but this time not as the edge of the leaves and branch, but the edge of the negative spaces.


Jamie sent her contour drawing of several items, including the same key drawn from different angles.

There is a really nice loose, free feeling to these drawings! I especially like the keys, with their subtle hints of dimension. You can tell she was really feeling the shape of that key.

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