Section 7. Emphasis on Contour — The Head

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Section 7. Emphasis on Contour — The Head

Developing the Long Studies

You have been rushed through a number of exercises in what may seem a very short time. I realize that it has been impossible for you to go deeply enough into any one exercise, but it is necessary in the beginning to avoid the great danger of monotony. At this point we are going to take up in turn each of the four long exercises you have already begun, attempting to carry each one a step further along. In Schedule 7 we return to contour and you are asked once again to fix your mind on the basic idea of touching the edge of the form. All of these exercises are aimed at the accomplishment of the same thing — keen observation and a full understanding of the motivation of movement and growth — and each exercise should make a real contribution to the others.

When you attempted your first contour drawing, you started with a blank. Now you start with all the accumulated knowledge and ability which you have gained from weeks of hard work. Consequently, this will be a new experience. Previously I have not asked you to devote more than an hour to one drawing, partly because I realized that your knowledge of the figure was limited and that you might not see enough to occupy you for a greater length of time. I remember vividly one of my first attempts at studying art. For several days the instructor did not visit the class. I drew the model as best I could, but after about an hour I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Not wanting to lose any time, I started over and made a new study, but it showed little improvement because I knew no more than I did at first. When finally the instructor came and looked at my drawings, he made one comment, ‘Why so many?’ With that he went on to another student, leaving me as bewildered as I had been before. It was probably that experience which led me to adopt one of the principles on which all my teaching has been based — that the teacher should always recommend something positive for the student to do instead of telling him only what he has done wrong.

In the beginning you also probably felt after an hour that there was nothing more to draw. You may have felt that the contour from the knee to the ankle, for example, was a simple curve — that you might have made it with one stroke of the pencil instead of feeling your way slowly along it. I am sure you realize now that the curve is not so simple. You may even begin to sense the movement of the muscles and bones underneath the flesh. You will now be able to spend hours instead of minutes on a drawing before you have exhausted the sensation of touching the contours.


Half Hour Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings)
Half Hour Ex. 3: Cross Contours (one sheet of drawings) Ex. 18: Quick Contour (3 or 5 drawings) Ex. 19: The Head (one drawing) Ex. 21: Right-Angle Contours (one drawing) Ex. 18: Quick Contour (3 or 5 drawings)
Quarter Hour Ex. 8: Memory (15 drawings) Ex. 9: Moving Action (5 drawings) Ex. 20: Gesture of the Features (15 drawings) Ex. 10: Descriptive Poses (6 drawings) Ex. 8: Memory (15 drawings)
Quarter Hour Rest Rest Rest Rest Rest
Half Hour Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings) Ex. 2: Gesture (25 drawings)
One Hour Ex. 17: Five-Hour Contour (one drawing)

Remember the Daily Composition (Ex. 14) every day.

Henceforth, the same model should be kept throughout each schedule so that the long pose can be repeated.



Materials: You may use the same materials as in Exercise 1; or, if convenient, use a Wolfe Carbon pencil (2B or 3B) with a fine point, and a slightly larger piece of paper.

You are to make one five-hour contour drawing from the one-hour pose which is repeated throughout Schedule 7. As in Exercise 1, sit close to the model, do not look at your paper, and draw even more slowly and intently than before. If, after drawing the outside and inside contours, you find you still have time left, draw the important cross contours in their proper places on the figure. In a way this drawing will be a test of how much you have learned. If you are able honestly to concentrate on one pose for five hours, it will mean that you have already gained a great deal of information about the figure.

Every step in this book is founded on your willingness to look at the model. As a substitute for the model, or as a helpful supplement to your class work, make a five-hour contour drawing of the interior of a room or a landscape. Draw all the details, but don’t worry about whether their relative size or position is exactly correct. Feel as you draw that one thing is repellent to the senses while another is not — that a stone would cut and crush if it fell on your foot, that the sharp corner of a chair is not the sort of thing you would want to run into in the dark.

Read again the paragraphs about contour in Section 1. I ask you to do this, not because I think you have forgotten what you read or that you failed to read it carefully, but because it should mean something more now. Everything I say has meaning or truth only in relation to the act of drawing on your part. A thing said when you have completed five drawings means something else when you have completed fifty — and still something else when you have completed five hundred.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 7 A.



This is a contour study to which you will devote only five or ten minutes. It is of necessity, due to the limited time, something that we would not have called contour study in the beginning, but when done correctly it has close kinship with the long contour.

Student Drawing: Quick Contoure


In the long contour you move slowly, a particle of a second to a particle of a second, whereas with the quick contour your eye on the model moves quickly and your pencil on the paper moves quickly. However, you continue to have exactly the same consciousness that the pencil is actually touching the contours. The difference is like the difference in moving your hand quickly or slowly over a piece of wood. When you go quickly, the changes pile fast on one another and only the crescendos of movement will be felt. The contrasts are emphasized. The smooth, uneventful forms take a second place and the more eventful or exciting forms become intensified. Always draw the whole figure. In the beginning you may have some difficulty in getting exactly the right pace, but through practice you will learn the relationship of the time you have to the amount of study you have to accomplish.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 7 B.


Student Drawing: Quick Contoure

Student Drawing: Quick Contoure


Because the head is one of the important parts of the body — the most important for the purpose of identification — devote one pose in each schedule to a separate study of the head, including enough of the neck and shoulders to support it. The drawing should be more than life size, filling a large piece of paper (fifteen by twenty). This exercise supplements the long study in each schedule. Work with the same materials and follow the same directions as in the long study, but use a different view of the head. In Schedule 7, for example, you will make a large contour drawing of the head.

Some students become self-conscious and confused as soon as they attempt to draw a face. Don’t think of the head or the face as something different from any other part of the body. Draw it as you would draw a hand or an elbow or a knee. Don’t try to ‘get a likeness’ of your model. The tendency of the beginner is to separate likenesses from drawing. Draw strangers if you can because you care less what they look like. Do not draw members of your family — or at least do not show them your drawings — because their one reaction will be to look for the likeness. Keep it clearly in mind that you are not making a portrait. You are making a study of a head.

Student Drawings of the Head: Lithograph, Contour, and Ink
Draw the head just as you would draw any other part of the body


Student Drawing of the Head in Water Color



Each drawing of the head may be accompanied by a group of one-minute gesture studies, also of heads. This may be done most easily in places where you see many faces in rapid succession, as in a bus or a crowd. It may be done from the model during the usual one-minute poses if you use all views of the head or if you have a model who is clever enough to change his expression. The study of the gesture of the head — and by that I do not, of course, mean a movement of the head but its character — makes for the best appreciation of the shapes and proportions that you are trying to describe. There is just as much gesture in the features and the sum-total of the features as there is in the body or any of its parts.

You should not be concerned with the shape of the forehead, the eye, the nose, or the mouth, but become aware of it through the sense of movement. For example, one nose may seem to reach forward and turn and go back up under, whereas another may push back and suddenly bob up and stop short. But even that sort of description is inadequate. You are to think of the character of the gesture — that one nose is quick and another slow, one retiring, another quite positive and forward. The hair grows and is arranged with a peculiar gesture. It may move back easily, quietly, or it may be stubborn and resist the effort of the comb and brush. It may grow straight or it may curve and twist and sometimes cascade. Even the eyes glow or droop or penetrate. The ear either tucks back quietly and unobtrusively or flares back aggressively. The chin may square off, move forward with force, or pull back timidly. The eyebrows may be knit together, drooped, or flaring. The principle of gesture applies also to the bone construction of the face, as in the reaching, inquisitive, cutting quality some faces have.

Student Drawing ok Exercise 20
Become aware of the shape of the features through the sense of movement


The words I have used to describe these faces are words suggesting movement. Notice how often writers use terms like those to bring home to the reader the actual look of the person they are attempting to describe. These pictures are more clear and immediate than when the head or any part of it is related to static things.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 7 C.



Begin this exercise by making a ten-minute right-angle drawing as described in Exercise 16. Then spend about five minutes drawing cross contours as you imagine they would appear from the right-angle position. In the check-up notice your errors, but do not try to correct them.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 7 D.


Contour and Line

We think of the contour as composed of the apparent lines around the structural forms of the body. Of course, there are no actual lines on the figure unless you take a piece of crayon and draw some on it. The edge of the figure, which you may heretofore have thought of as a line, is in reality simply the place where the figure ceases to exist. Whenever you think of lines and whenever you use them in drawing, you should realize that the figure is inside your lines and that actually there are no lines on the figure. Lines, if you think of them at all, are caused by the figure.They are not separate from the figure but a part of it.

Student Drawing of Exercise 20
A more advanced study making use of color


A contour drawing means to you now a drawing that is made without looking at the paper. Naturally, you are going to make much use of line in drawing and you will not always refuse to look at the paper while doing so. You don’t have to go through the contour exercise every time you draw a line, but in every line you draw there should be preserved the things you learned from it. One sees ‘line drawings’ everywhere. Many of them are outlines. Think of a line as a contour when it has the quality of contour — the sense of touch, the three-dimensional form, the conviction that the line is caused by the figure. A line in drawing is not meant simply to record how long or how wide a thing is. If it were it might as well be drawn with a rule. The important thing is for the line to say as much as possible of all that you know about the thing.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 7 E.


Selected Pictures to this Section

Frobemus Collection, Frankfurt’am-Main
Photograph by courtesy of the Museum of Modem Art
Facsimile of a Prehistoric Rock Engraving

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Athenian Drinking Cup (circa 480 b.c.) found at Corneto


Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Athenian Drinking Cup (circa 480 b.c.) found at Corneto


Courtesy of the Fogg Museum. Chinese Painting: Kobean Gentleman


Courtesy of the Fogg Museum
The Dwarf of Murad II by a Persian Artist (16th century)


Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
Beatrice Appearing to Dante by Botticelli


Museum Faesch, Basel
Portrait of Frau Burgermeister Dorothea Meyer by Hans Holbein, the Younger


Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Standing Nude by Gaudier-Brzeska


Courtesy of the Fogg Museum
Nude Figure Kneeling on one Knee by Rodin