Second Saturday Studio: No Peeking!

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Education

Minna Wright Citron, American, 1896-1991. Flight to Tomorrow. Engraving, etching, and aquatint on paper, 1948. Loan from Dolan/Maxwell. Phot courtesy of FWMoA.

What do you see in the print above? Currently on view in Miró in New York, 1947: Miró, Hayter, and Atelier 17, for me, Flight to Tomorrow evokes airplane propellers and wind (especially given the title!). While it is abstract, there is a sense of depth and space, and the shapes are reminiscent of different objects, but you might see something different than me! Miró held that his work was never fully abstract: everything always comes from somewhere, and his works often tell stories. Many of the artists he worked alongside at the Atelier had a similar approach. During their time there, even the artists who we may not consider to be Surrealists embraced automatism and improvisation in their work.

Perle Fine, American 1908-1988. Calm After the Storm. Etching and aquatint on paper, 1944. Loan from Dolan/Maxwell. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Surrealist automatic drawing is an attempt to tap into the subconscious, allowing the hand to move unguided by any plans or conscious thought. Today, we’re trying a different, but somewhat related, drawing technique: blind contour. Minna Citron and Perle Fine, two of the artists featured in Miró in New York, were certainly familiar with the technique. One of their instructors at the Art Students League, Kimon Nicolaїdes, was a proponent of the exercise, and it appears in his influential book on drawing, The Natural Way to Draw. Blind contour is just what it sounds like, drawing without looking at your paper. But how will you know what your work looks like?! In this case, that’s not the point! It’s intended as practice, helping to hone skills of observation and hand-eye coordination, training artists to draw what they actually see, not what they think is there. Nicolaїdes instructs to imagine the tip of your pencil (or other drawing implement) tracing the edges of your subject. 

While blind contour is not a technique explicitly employed by the Surrealists, it’s another means to a strange, dreamlike end. Since you’re not allowed to look at your paper as you draw, the finished rendering is often a surprise! With enough practice, as your hand and eyes sync up, it can also start to feel automatic, and the results tend to verge on the surreal. Today in the studio, we will embrace these qualities to create a finished drawing from our blind contour exercises!


  • Markers or felt-tip pens for drawing
  • Paper
  • Other drawing or painting implements of choice
  • Still life objects, a friend, and/or a mirror

First, arrange your subject! Instruct a friend to sit still, sit in front of a mirror for a self-portrait, or procure a few interesting vases (I chose a single vase of very wilted flowers). You can also draw your (non-dominant) hand! Lay a sheet of paper on your table (you may want to tape it down if you’re drawing your hand) and ready your marker.

Now, observe your subject, choose a starting point on both the object and your paper, and draw! Follow the edges with your eyes and move your marker accordingly. “Edges” can include shadows and other color shifts, wrinkles, and other details but you cannot lift your marker from the page in order to reach them. You can also include background details to really fill the page. Keep the marker and your eyes moving slowly (but don’t look down at your paper!) until you reach your starting point again, then you can lift your pen and look down.

Now, choose a different subject, pose, or vantage point and do it again, starting in a different spot on your paper with a different color of pen or marker. I did a self-portrait for round two. Note: If you find yourself rushing and leaving out details, consider setting a timer to make yourself slow down, drawing until the time runs out.

Check out your results! If you have time, repeat the entire process again–this gets more fun with more practice. Now, pick one of your drawings to edit and complete! Choose interesting shapes to emphasize with a thicker outline or fill in with color. If you only like a certain portion of your drawing, you can cut and paste or redraw it on a new sheet of paper. 

Join the FWMoA Education department every Second Saturday for a family tour at 10:30 am.

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