Blind Contour Drawing part 2

Last post I wrote about the practice of blind contour drawing, and I thought I would post a couple of blind contour drawings that I did for this project. Plus I’ve added a few more how-to’s and why’s.

Drawing #1

Using an Ebony pencil by Prismacolor for these, on a cheap 11″‘ x 14″ drawing pad. A soft leaded pencil is the best tool to use because it responds to the pressure you use pressing into the page: to make a dark line indicating where you see dark in your subject press harder, and where it’s light use less pressure. This trains your hand and eye to respond in synch with each other, and it carries over to the responsive pressure you use with a paint brush as well as a pencil. A ball point pen won’t give the range of expression you get from a 2B or 3B pencil.

This is the subject of all three of the drawings I’ve included:

For these drawings I followed what I absorbed from reading and practicing Nicolade’s The Natural Way to Draw: Start with your pencil on a point on the paper, and focus your eyes on a single point on the object you’re drawing. Now, going slowly, start moving your gaze, keeping it focused on the object and move your pencil in sync with your gaze so that the pencil touches the paper as your eye touches the object. In my example of the cup, scissors and pens I focused on the top most point of the left handle of the scissors and started down to my left.

Going slowly, allow your eye to wander, as long you keep responding and recording with your hand where your eye is touching. Notice every little thing, from the curve of the handle of the scissor to the shadows under the cup handle, around the lip of the cup into the rise of the orange pen, over to the ball point pen pointing up to the right.

This method of drawing is more for training your eye than to deliver a finished product. It is a discipline, like a musician practicing scales repeatedly or an athlete running drills: to sharpen their skills, in our case our observation skills. Practice builds muscle-memory that allows you to perform what you’ve practiced without having to think about it conciously. drawing without control in this way is the best method for achieving true control. Once you realize that you can make a beautiful drawing without the anxiety and fear that your drawing won’t be “good” by inappropriate and insane standards imposed by others, you’ll see your drawing improve with focus, not struggle.

The only way to make a bad bc drawing is to not respond with feeling to what you’re seeing. In learning to see shapes -I’m not drawing pens in a cup, I’m drawing the shapes that exist as edges, shadows and reflections (part of what you’re focusing on in the exercise) – you can then learn to use those shapes to create form and volume, texture, and the negative spaces between objects.

To show the line quality of a blind contour drawing
Drawing #2

In the drawing below I did look at the drawing a few times, when I reached a dead end or felt irretrievably off course, but not as I was drawing. You can see the lines that just end – the 2 hooked lines midway on the right side, where I stopped to reset my pencil to begin again.

Drawing #3

Looking at the drawings of Ingres, Degas, Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly, Gustav Klimt or Egon Schiele you’ll find how they each developed a style derived from blind contour drawing while not necessarily sticking to the “rule” of not looking or lifting their pencil.

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Blind Contour drawing

All of my students have heard me go on about, or they will, “blind contour drawing” as the best drawing exercise you can do. Now they don’t have to just take my word for it. Imagine my pleasure this morning to see the lead to Austin Kleon‘s* latest newsletter : “My favorite thing lately has been warming up my diary with blind contour drawings.”

He links to an article in the New York Times written by Sam Anderson:
“The goal of blind drawing is to really see the thing you’re looking at, to almost spiritually merge with it, rather than retreat into your mental image of it. Our brains are designed to simplify — to reduce the tumult of the world into order. Blind drawing trains us to stare at the chaos, to honor it. It is an act of meditation, as much as it is an artistic practice — a gateway to pure being.”

That is a pretty good synopsis of Kimon Nicolades‘ book “The Natural Way To Draw,” which is where I learned the practice, and Kleon talks about and quotes from. I discovered it when I was nineteen and becoming serious about making art. It was tremendously, wonderfully liberating and without a doubt helped me become better at drawing. I had always tried to draw things perfectly, with the only goal being to create a “finished product”. Even though I had practiced and learned the skills of creating forms and volumes and textures, my drawings didn’t look alive the way the drawings I admired did, and I didn’t know why.

So when I read a respected teacher say that you not only could but should draw without regard for achieving a finished drawing, I tried it. It was fun, and the more I practiced the more I learned to see and the more I enjoyed it and the better I got at drawing what I was looking at. It turned out that slowing down in order to see and draw at the same time was what I needed to get more life into my drawings; to do blind contour drawings you have to be disciplined and really look at the life you’re drawing. With practice that focus becomes easier to slide into and out of. Then you can look at your drawing as you are developing it and on the go and retain your focus as your hand goes where the eye goes.

*Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) is a writer who draws. He’s the bestselling author of Steal Like An Artist, which I consider essential for anyone who is learning to be creative, or is in the midst of the struggle to be creative. And other books. I follow his newsletter, where he writes about a variety of art related stuff – writing, music, art, film – that’s smart, fun and insightful. His excitement for the subjects in his newsletter is infectious. And other books.

Now you don’t have to just take my word for it.

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Upcoming Workshops in the Upcoming Decade

I will be teaching 2 one-day workshops in January in the new decade, aka next month. The first one will be Saturday, January 11, 2020, 10 AM – 4 PM at my studio 144 Moody Str, Waltham.* The topic of the workshop will be Painting Drapery. This will be a reprisal of the December 7 workshop, true, but that’s because the first was such a success I vowed to do another one. Plus I had several people ask for another chance to attend the painting drapery subject specifically, so I figured why wait? The cost will be $110. Please use the comment section below to let me know you’re coming, or write to me at

Painting Drapery Workshop, Dec 7, 2019
fabric cloth painting
Antique White Drapery, Oil on canvas, 14″X11″

The second workshop on Saturday, January 25 at The Weston Arts and Innovation Center and I’m very excited about it. Titled From Realism To Abstraction, it’s for people who want to learn to create abstract paintings based upon the recognizable world without entirely leaving that world behind, and aren’t quite sure how to begin. To register for the workshop please visit:

The workshop will be held at The Weston Arts and Innovation Center (WAIC) a new venue for me, and for just about everyone else. A group of dedicated citizens have recently transformed the old Weston library (an excellent example of how beautifully that era cared for the aesthetics of a building and how the look affected the people who entered and used it: with respect. Where else but a library, church, temple or mosque, can a person be expected to sit quietly and will be reprimanded if they don’t?) into an exciting center for arts, ideas, and activities. You’ll be hearing from me that hopefully, I’ll be hosting further workshops at the WAIC, and hopefully, eventually, a “paint’n’sip” night.

You can read about WAIC “The maker space branch of the Weston Public Library” at To register for the workshop please click here. To read a more complete description of both workshops click on my website

*The complete address is : 144 Moody Street, Building 4, Second floor (Artists WestAssociation), Waltham, MA 02453. For further assistance text me at 617-851-7945. For the Google map to my studio building click here

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Workshop: Painting Drapery and Fabric Dec 7, 10:00 – 4:00, 144 Moody Street, Waltham

I will run a one-day workshop at my studio on painting drapery and fabric, Saturday, Dec. 7 at 144 Moody Street, my studio in Waltham. The cost will be $110. Please use the comment section to let me know you’re coming, or write to me at

Simply put, painting drapery and fabrics is beginning with modified simple forms in rhythmic combination. Specifically the cylinders, cubes and cones that make up the bulk of how fabric folds and bends.

Next is building those simple shapes into dimensional forms by adding a light source and shadows. In the workshop we’ll be learning to see shapes (2D) and develop them into forms (3D). Shading and blending show how the light hits a form and describes how it exists in space.

Complex forms are made by combining simple forms, and overlapping forms create palpable space. A soft flowing form bends and changes direction, which both terry cloth and silk do, yet they are very different from each other. In order to describe different fabrics, we will study painting textures, which is all about which brushes to use, how to handle the brush to blend values and colors, finding the right viscosity of the paint for your image, and more.

new painting
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An Upcoming Workshop: Realism to Abstraction

REALISM TO ABSTRACTION​                 
                         November 23 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

​ Weston AIC  Art and Innovation Center 
               356 Boston Post Road, 1st floor Weston, MA 02493         phone 781.786.6177   
                                                                  this workshop is now being offered at $120
This workshop will take a look at how artists have used realism as a starting point to explore unique ways of seeing and interpreting the natural world, and to access the artists’ inner world. While it often seems that abstract art has very little to do with depicting the world as we all agree that it looks like, the history of it is a linear, logical progression of simplifying forms into shapes that are less and less realistic, and swapping out colors for those that bring out the emotional power of color. A quick historical overview of that progression in order to understand some of the why did they do that? and how did they do that? and armed with a strong sense of play will be where we start to explore your unique interpretations of the world and get in touch with your inner abstractionist.

Using examples of paintings that exemplify that defining tenets of abstraction along with objects to paint from , we’ll explore elements of painting that apply to both abstraction and realism: composition, interactive shapes and forms, brushwork, color and more.  Techniques, processes and the ideas behind them will be emphasized.​

​Materials required:
​Acrylic or oil paint, brushes, canvas or paper, a sketchbook, and a pencil. (not supplied)

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The watercolor paintings

I’ve put together a selection of my watercolor paintings from a couple of trips to Europe over the last year and a half.


Rooftops, St-Cirq-Lapopie, France;   6×8″

Now, I don’t pretend to be or put myself out there as a watercolorist any more than I call myself a landscapist. I paint watercolors mostly when I travel or sketches in the studio*. I paint outdoors in the summer; landscapists are out there through-out the year. It’s what they do.**

IMG_7315I paint outdoors because it keeps my observation skills sharp and it’s great to be outside in good weather since my usual workday is in the studio the whole time. It gives me something to do when I travel that enhances the experience in the places I visit, and I have to believe it’s going to make me a better painter, in the studio or out.


View of St-Cirq-Lapopie, France;  7×10″



Cliffs At St-Cirq-Lapopie, France 6×8″

Church Tower, Krem

Church Tower, Krems, Austria. 7×10″

Bridge In Budapest

Chain Bridge In Budapest 7×10″

View of Koems From The Danube

View of Krems, Austria From The Danube.  7×10″

Along The Lot River, France

Along The Lot River, France. 7×10″

Five Cypress

Five Cypress 7×10″


Church Tower, St-Cirq-Lapopie. 6×8″


* I did do some watercolors for the Don Quixote Kickstarter Project in 2012.

**   Jim McVicker, and Scott L Christensen are both landscapists I admire, among many others

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Taking Watercolors out with you

I wrote recently about painting outdoors with oil paint; today’s post is about taking watercolors with you when you travel. Below is what my kit looks like when it’s in my luggage or my day bag. I keep my brushes and pencils in a plastic zip lock bag that is inside a freezer bag, along with one or two sketchbooks, depending on how long of a trip I’m on. A complimentary airline travel bag is terrific for an array of equipment you’ll see below.

The block of Arches WC paper -140 lb; 7″ x 10″ – and a styrofoam portfolio that doubles as a backing board don’t fit into the zip lock, but travel well enough on their own, although sometimes I use a big rubber band to hold them together.

I take a small variety of brushes: #10, #6, #4 rounds; 1/2″ and #12 flats, a fan brush and a 2H and a 3H pencil.

In the airline bag I keep my paint tray, mechanical pencils, erasers, a stump, toilet paper or a paper towel, a few rubber bands, a big paper clip and a small plastic cup for painting water. If you forget paper, like I did when I shot the photo above, you can always pick something up along the way. One other thing to have if you’re using a WC paper block is a knife to cut the top page off your block, which you then slide into the foam-core portfolio/backing board. A butter knife will do, but a pocket knife is best. Especially if your pocket knife has a corkscrew.

The mechanical pencils and stump I use for drawing in the sketchbooks, but for laying in the drawing that I’m going to paint over, I use the #2H and #3H pencils because they are so light they kind of disappear in the paint. But my favorite thing in my bag is the set of 3 collapsible daVinci brushes:

The brushes themselves are quite good, they take up very little space and they are so cute!

Shown below is an alternative for carrying brushes that I use when I’m packing long handled brushes. The hard plastic case is expandable to accommodate whatever brush size you want

The backing board/portfolio for finished paintings and drawings:

A rubber band keeps the folio closed to protect your paintings.

That’s it. Go forth and paint. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, and maybe not even good enough. Good for you for trying! Fact: The more you practice the better you become.

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The plein air paintings

To follow up the last post, “Learning to Paint Plein Air”, on what I take with me to paint outdoors, here are a few landscape paintings from this summer.

The most recent have a lighter tone, feeling more “airy” on purpose: I replaced darker colors like ultramarine blue, Courbet green, burnt umber and yellow ochre with cobalt or cerulean blue, cobalt teal, nickel yellow.

I picked up that tip from watching this Nita Leland’s video Creating Confident Color. I have been studying her book by the same name, hoping to learn things I can teach.

Walkway in The Park;
oil on canvas, 8 x 10″

Tree and Rock; Newton, MA
8 x 10″, oil on canvas

Waltham Commons;
oil on canvas, 11×14″


oil landscape

High Head, No. Truro; oil on canvas, 11×14″




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Learning to paint plein air: materials

I been going outdoors to paint plein air again this summer, both as a teacher and just for fun. Therefore, I’m also a student, trying to improve.

I thought I’d share what I take with me. Today I’ll show my oil painting kit, and next time I’ll show what I take for watercolor.

Oil paints:

This is the kit I use. A Julian French easel, still the industry standard, as far as I know.

materials for plein air painting French Easel, open


I love it. It’s compact, comes I straps for carrying, a zippered bag for traveling with it, and it can adapt to uneven terrain, if you’re standing in a slope for example. The drawer slides out, giving you access to the brushes and stuff under the drawer of paint.

Not shown, but other things you should bring with you: drinking water, a hat, small folding table or tv tray, folding stool to sit on, tape, a bag for trash.



materials for plein air painting; French easel, open
materials for plein air painting French easel, open showing palette and brushe






Paints  (small tubes)   

materials for plein air painting oil paints

Titanium white, Zinc white, Burnt umber, Burnt Sienna, Yellow ochre, Ivory black,   Cadmium red light, Alizarin crimson, Cadmium yellow medium, Cadmium yellow light, Nickel yellow,  Courbet Green, Sap green, Cobalt teal, Cobalt blue, Cerulean blue, Pthalo blue, Ultramarine blue

This set of colors gives me three color schemes I can choose to use: light and airy, bold, or earth tones.

Pencils (2B, 4B) and a sketch book

Canvases, panels, or canvas boards, whatever size you’re comfortable with. Bring an extra one.

Rags or a roll of paper towels or both

Brushes– the basics brush types are round, bright, flat and filbert

The brushes I carry are shown above, along with palette and painting knifes, and a couple of old brushes that create unusual textures:

materials for plein air painting Brushes

Hog bristle:

1@ #12 Bright, 1@Round//1 ea @#8, #6, #4 round, //2@ #8 flat

Soft synthetic bristle:

2@ #18 Flat, (only one showing)// 2 or 3 each #10, #8, #4, #2

4 palette/painting knives

2 dried-up brushes with stiff bristles for drawing into wet paint

Palette knifeor Painting knifefor mixing paints and/or painting with

Mediums or thinners  for acrylics:bring water and container:  plastic yogurt or Tupperware, for mixing and cleaning.  Gloss medium

For oils:  you won’t need a lot of painting medium: buy a jar of pre-made painting medium and keep the jar for future use. You’ll also want small tin cups that attach to your palette and a small (2-3”) glass jar or can with a lid to carry out your cleaner. Pour it into another jar or can, let the crud settle to the bottom for a day or two and pour off the clean thinner off the top.

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Thinking About A Painting From 28 Years Ago

A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman who, with her husband, bought a painting of mine, Violet Dawn (below), from the Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, dated 1991. So, it would have been purchased in 1992 or ’93. She and her husband are looking at what will become of the art they have lovingly collected over many years, including quite significant names: Ruscha, Basquiat, Motherwell, Thiebaud, Kandisky, Brice Marden, and lots more. I am proud and humbled to be in such company.

As they are looking to eventually donate their collection, she asked me to write something about the painting they bought, Violet Dawn, to help facilitate registrars and curators wherever it may eventually land. Now, this is a painting I created 28 years ago! I dug out my box of slides, 4×5 transparencies, announcements and artists statements and got after it. Starting with the kind of motivation that’s powered by vanity (I am one of my favorite subjects to write about) I headed down a rabbit hole of memory. What I found there, and what I am to do with it will be the subject of this and likely more posts to come.

Violet Dawn, 48”x64”, acrylic on canvas, 1991

First of all, I’ll say that slides sucked. You can read more of my rant about it below.

But what’s more interesting is the mental and emotional process I went through, reflecting on how I saw myself then: my ambitions and goals, doubts and demons, the victories and the concessions I made, opportunities given – some squandered, some realized- and to put that next to how I see myself and my artwork now was a little disconcerting. Staggering might be a better word, because the changes in style and subject matter seem pretty stark. As does the fame and fortune I anticipated that hasn’t materialized yet. I accept that I did what I thought was best, but I wish now that I’d made different choices. Who doesn’t, I wonder?

Could I have dug deeper to find a way to continue doing what was popular, and seemed likely to have provided that most precious and elusive brass ring: a sustained living as an artist? Probably, since anything is possible, but since the past is immutable self-flagellation is pointless.

I didn’t realize then that if you don’t make the decisions about the artist you want to be other people will make them for you, either out of self-interest or in their effort to help. It’s difficult for a lot of us to know or see other people’s agendas when they’re offering help. Being over-sensitive, an introvert, a little naive about how the world (people) works, socially awkward when it comes to self-promotion, makes many of us are not the players the system was made for.

The answer? Belief in yourself, and practice, practice, practice until you are supremely confident in your skills? Sure. But continuing to show up to work, so the muse knows where to find you seems to be the first and best method for success in this field. Luckily this field gives us all kinds of ways we can define success for ourselves.

In the absence of making a living, gaining recognition, support from anyone other than family and close friends, we’ve been performing pirouettes of rationalization and modifications to keep going for years. Living outside the system has left us scrambling for much of what we do as artists. We find ways of convincing ourselves to keep showing up, at least for another day. In my recent case, having someone still happy with a painting after 30 years gives me hope that perhaps I’ve got one more painting worth making.

The rant about slides:

I found the slide of the painting and took it and 59 slides of other paintings and sculpture – 3 sheets of slides – to have scanned so I can I have a digital archive of my past work. I was struck, going through what was hundreds and hundreds of dollars on slides, remembering the many hours not only the actual photographing, but then taping and labeling them, organizing them to send out with statements and prices: this was the standard, accepted, affordable technology at the time, and now it’s been outdated for 20 years.

How long before we switch again to the next best tech, or has it happened and I’m behind the times? I suppose it’ll all have to be transferred again whenever that day comes.

Slides were a pain in the ass. We needed plenty of slides to send out, and mostly you couldn’t count on them being returned. You had to shoot enough of them to not have to have duplicates made, because every time you duplicated a slide you would lose fidelity to the image. Plus, in order to be sure you had the right exposure, you shot at the setting that showed the correct f-stop, then shoot them again at a lower f-stop, then again at the next setting that was a stop above the “correct” one. By now you had shot 7 or 8 at each which makes 21- 24 photos. For the first painting. Repeat for each painting, twelve paintings to document comes to, say 250 to 288, photos, each of which then needs to be developed, then the good ones had to be taped off so there was only the painting and black. No background, just black, so even if the painting was exactly the same dimensions as the view finder in your camera, you had to be sure you got all of of the painting, so the only other option was to shoot against a black felt backdrop.

Many of the same issues apply to digital “slides”: cropping, adjusting the color, and probably a couple other things I can’t think of, but it sure is easier and cheaper (once you buy the computer and software). So much easier, and better in every way.

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