2. Draw contours, blind.
If you've ever taken a life drawing or other drawing class, the teacher probably had you work this way -- it's a classic drawing exercise, popularized by Kimon Nicolaïdes in his book The Natural Way to Draw (1941) and there are many examples and instructions on other web sites. If you haven't had formal drawing training, well, all's the better and no time like the present. Explore your own sense of line by spending at least 15 minutes (even better, 30) drawing the contours you find in a tree, a photograph of a person, your face in the mirror, your non-dominant hand, a shell or piece of driftwood, any slightly complex natural object is more interesting I think than a manufactured something. Do so without looking at the paper, only at the object.
Use a large sketch pad or newsprint pad (you DO have one of these, right?). Choose a drawing medium that you like the feel of: charcoal stick, graphite, soft pencil, marker brush or pen. Something that doesn't have to be replenished or dipped in paint is best for this exercise.
Put your drawing tool on the paper and your eye on the subject of your drawing. SLOWLY trace the edges and internal contours with your pen (etc.). As your eye traces the subtle and intriguing "edges" keep your drawing tool moving ever so slowly on the paper. Do not look at your paper. If you come to the end of a "line, (or the page)" briefly look down and replace your pen on the paper to trace another line. NO JUDGEMENTS about whether this drawing "looks like" the subject. If you slowly embrace the lines, you will discover something new about the object, your hand, your impatience, and about line itself.
What I like about this exercise is the meditative place that it engenders. This is a good jumpstart for those days when everything is frantic, when you are off the edge of your chair and multitasking like mad. Seems a bit counterintuitive to slow down, right? But after even 15 minutes of blind contour drawing you will return to the task (forget taskS) at hand with a steady hand and eye, focus and discipline.
The photos here are from my Jumpstart workshop last weekend. The drawings were actually faster versions of this exercise, and I hope everyone who was present will try the slowed down classic sometime soon. Look on this link to see some examples of blind contour drawing by article author Helen South.
P.S. The Natural Way to Draw and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain are two of the best drawing courses you can give yourself. Both take discipline and steady work, but together you will find that you do learn to draw -- though you may not have an innate talent for drawing. Essentially drawing is a SKILL that helps one to connect one's eye to the page, not some magical gift that you were born with or not. As kids, we quickly assigned the label "artist" to the kids in the class who were "good drawers," (and most art teachers did the same). Unfortunately this meant that many of us with different innate visual and creative skills -- for color or shape or texture -- ended up deciding we weren't artists or at least not very good ones. After several drawing classes, I'm still not very good at it. And drawing realistically --contours and values and perspective and all that stuff -- just doesn't interest me very much and isn't a large part of my process. BUT, I also don't let it scare me anymore, and I enjoy the occassional side trip into its world of line.