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Drawing blind: Students learn confidence in special art project

By LISA WHALEY

General Manager & Editor

[email protected]

School may be out, but it will be a long time before the art students at Providence Academy forget the magic of drawing without sight.

“We’re not allowed to look at the page that we are drawing,” explained Maggie Turbyfield, one of the 75 Providence students who showcased their work at Johnson City’s downtown Tipton Gallery this month.

Maggie, who will be going into the 8th grade this fall, admitted it was difficult at first, but she soon surprised herself with a piece she describes as “the best I’ve ever done.”

That surprise and subsequent satisfaction is one of the main reasons art teacher Bill Bledsoe has been teaching “blind contouring” to his students for 13 years.

Maggie Turbyfield, a rising 8th grader from Providence Academy, stands proudly beside students’ blind contouring artwork at Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City. The show featured, above, a variety of colorful and intricate pieces that showcases the students’ talent.
Maggie Turbyfield, a rising 8th grader from Providence Academy, stands proudly beside students’ blind contouring artwork at Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City. The show featured, above, a variety of colorful and intricate pieces that showcases the students’ talent.

The process, he said, is a fairly simple one.

“Our natural inclination when we draw is to look at the paper, and not at what we’re drawing,” Bledsoe said.

Yet that rarely produces the best art.

“Your supposed to spend the majority of the time looking at the object, not looking down,” he said — a technique illustrated by such great artist as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

“I tell my students, if it’s good enough for Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for them.”

In the beginning, these students like Maggie from Providence’s 7th grade class, as well as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, may struggle with the concept, but Bledsoe believes it is a struggle soon overcome.


The ART OF BLIND CONTOURING
WHAT IT IS: Blind Contour drawing helps develop hand-eye communication. Contour drawing is essentially outline drawing, and blind contour drawing means drawing the outline of the subject without looking at the paper. The end result doesn’t matter - what is important is carefully observing the subject.

To try it: Place the pencil near the bottom of the page, then looking at the edge of the wrist, begin to follow the line, going very slowly and steadily. Try to make your pencil follow every slight curve and bump. Don’t rush. Concentrate on observing every little detail.

“In some ways, it was actually easier,” Maggie admits. “It was much more work, but it was a lot easier then looking at it and drawing it.”

It’s also a process that has become increasingly popular, as shown by his packed freshman class each year.

And in the end, Bledsoe said, these kids are able to draw just about anything.

“Less than 1 percent of students have a natural aptitude for art,” he said. “In my classes, they have to do still life, landscape and figurative and can only use red, yellow and blue, mixing the colors themselves.”

Throughout the process, they work with master examples in the field, gaining a deeper understanding of the topic.

“From the first day (of class) to the end of this exhibit, they can do anything,” Bledsoe said, adding that while blind countouring classes will continue, this will probably be the last year the work is shown at the Tipton Gallery.

He remains very proud of his students, past and present, who have been able to show in this professional gallery.

But still, perhaps the example of the quality of the art is found in the smiles of the students.

“I now feel like I can do this,” said Maggie, who added that she had never felt like she had much artistic talent.

Now, she she said, grinning broadly, “I felt like I accomplished something ‘ginormous.’ Like I climbed a big hill!”