How to Draw a Blind Contour Portrait

This is a way to create interesting looking portrait drawings by looking at your subject without looking at your picture until it's all finished. It creates interesting portraits that are kind of automatic, subconscious caricatures, because you aren't aware of the proportions or appearance of your depiction of the person until later.


  1. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 1
    Find a willing portrait model. Have them strike a pose intended for a set amount of time (5 minutes is an appropriate amount of time for this style), and if they're an adult, disrobe as much as they are comfortable (clothing adds a lot more lines to interrupt the drawing) in a simple setting. If indoors, light the subject so that you can see him or her well, and so that the lighting enhances the form.
  2. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 2
    Set up your pad somewhere stable, either clip it to a slightly larger drawing board or put it on an easel. Set yourself up comfortably at arm's length behind your pad. Ideally, you should have full range of arm motion and be able to see the subject fully without moving. It is not important that you can see your paper, just as long as you can draw comfortably.
  3. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 3
    Turn your pad so it reflects the orientation of the subject. If it's horizontal the pad may need addition support so the binding doesn't break--an additional bulldog clip or rubber band. Individual sheets taped to a drawing board always work.
  4. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 4
    Look at your pad of paper for the last time before you start your drawing. Until step 9 you will be "blind" to the drawing.
  5. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 5
    Decide where you're going to begin your drawing, size up the pose mentally (try to imagine where the edges of the paper would appear around the figure) and put your pen down on your paper in a place where you think corresponds to how you see the figure. The head or highest point is usually a good place to start.
  6. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 6
    From that point, begin to trace a contour (line) in a given direction, both with your eye and the pen. Throughout this drawing you will be striving to follow what lines your eye sees with what your pen draws. Any contour is valid, whether it's an edge of a cast shadow, the edge of the figure, an internal fold of skin, where an area of body hair meets a bare area, or important background elements. Anything your eye takes an interest in is fair game. However, as much as possible you want to describe the figure in as few continuous lines as possible, so it's good to follow large exterior lines, and then if your find yourself in a corner work your way out of it with internal contours.
  7. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 7
    If you've drawn yourself into a "corner" and want to be drawing at another part of the picture, you can risk picking up your pen and guessing where the new contour would start. The risk with this is that you will be starting a new shape that can be radically out of place. The alternative is to retrace your current line to somewhere closer to where you want to be drawing. Either way can be charming in the end because there's no good way to be exact about this.
  8. Image titled Draw a Blind Contour Portrait Step 8
    When the time has run out, tell the model to relax and stretch, while you can look at your drawing. Use this break time to carefully evaluate your drawing, following the contour from the beginning.


  • Cheating and looking at your drawing can be allowed if you need to pick up you pen because you're starting a new line in another place. But try to keep these allowances to a minimum and only when you're trying to do a good job (selling the final drawing) or are trying to get back into the habit after ones drawing skills lapse.
  • The model must be able to hold a pose for a few minutes, however long you need to complete. Before a pose starts, let them know how long it's going to be. Ideally there can be a clock that they can see when they're posing.
  • Do not concern yourself with facial features or hair unless you have time--what is most recognizable about a figure drawing is the way the body hangs. Balance, Proportion and Mass, in that order, are the keys to a good figure drawing. Recognizable people will come with time but only after being able to apply the same principles to the head. Focusing on the important contours that appear in the face and head will help with this exercise.
  • If the time runs out and you're not finished, hold your pen in place, let your model take a short break before getting back into the same pose for another set amount of time. Do not look at your drawing at this time.
  • This works really well for relieving boredom between other types of drawings styles.
  • Remember, you owe nothing to your subject and owe everything to your artwork. The fact that the drawing doesn't resemble the model is completely irrelevant to its artistic value. The goal of drawing is not to mimic life, it's to SEE life and visually narrate the process of doing so.
  • Draw with your shoulder, not with your wrist. You may need to reevaluate which arm you draw with, as some people are switch hitters when it comes to arm's length easel sketches versus smaller, intimate drawings. It also adds another level of abstraction to the piece if you have less familiar control of the arm you're drawing with. Furthermore, it can give your main drawing arm a break.
  • Compensate your model so they get something out of the deal and are willing to pose again: artists benefit from having familiar models sit for repeated sessions. A drawing or a copy of a drawing is thoughtful but basically worthless in most people's eyes, a meal or money is much more worthwhile. If they express an interest in any of your drawings go ahead and give them a copy. Make sure the experience goes well for them, they're comfortable, and that they have breaks between poses and use them to stretch.
  • If you're trying to sell portraits, make a transfer sheet out graphite rubbed onto tracing paper so you can keep copies of the drawings for your portfolio.
  • A ballpoint pen is probably the least amount of fuss. You can feel when they're not working (since the ink is the lubricant). The fact that they can't be manipulated much by differing pressure and angle is a good thing, as you should be focused solely on WHERE to make your mark. Put something to back the paper as ballpoint will make an indentation onto the rest of your pad of paper, which you'll notice on subsequent drawings. If you want to experiment with other marking tools go ahead, but the ballpoint pen is likely the most efficient. A sharpie marker or pen that makes a pool of ink if held in the same place can be charming, because it indicates where the artist stopped to think.
  • Indicating how different parts of the body join helps a viewer make sense of the mess. T-shaped intersections of lines showing what part of skin overlaps another are a concise way of communicating this important information.
  • This is a much smarter alternative to caricature drawings. It doesn't let contrivances in the way of the aesthetic.
  • This art project is perfect for a coffee table activity for anyone that visits your home. Have everything ready so you can draw any visitors you have. Since you're not staring at your drawing it feels more social. Keep up your conversation skills so it doesn't become quiet and awkward for them. Set them up with something to drink, snacks within easy reach so they can hold a pose for a few minutes, although don't insist they hold the pose.


  • Unsophisticated people may want more a conscious drawing style, or may be offended, disappointed, or unimpressed that the picture doesn't look like them. Explain the exercise to them, if they want to argue about it, simply ask them if they can do better. If this happens consistently with many naysayers, you actually may need more practice until you are comfortable in the medium--hand-eye coordination and confidence are something that this activity requires (and builds on). Don't let it get you down, your worst enemy is bad drawing morale.

Things You'll Need

  • 12x18" pad of drawing paper
  • Ballpoint pen
  • A drawing board or easel.
  • A figure model
  • A space with good lighting
  • A timer or wall clock

Article Info

Categories: Drawing People and Features