In his 1941 book The Natural Way to Draw: A Working plan for Art Study, Nicolaïdes mapped out a variety of the exercises he used while teaching at the Art Students’ League in New York in the 1920s and ’30s. The first exercise he explained is what we now know as blind contour drawing (though he called it simply “contour drawing”).
“Focus your eye on some point––any point will do––along the contour of the model,” Nicolaïdes wrote. “Place the point of your pencil on the paper. Imagine that your pencil point is touching the model instead of the paper.” Once you’re convinced that the tip of the pencil is synonymous with the sight of the eye, Nicolaïdes told artists to begin to slowly follow the contour of the model across the surface of the page. “Be guided more by the sense of touch than by sight,” he instructed.
If you follow Nicolaïdes’s instructions, the chances of making a realistic drawing are slim. Instead, you’ll likely create a complicated mix of scribbles, lines, and suggested forms. “Everyone worries that [their drawing is] going to look silly or goofy or funny––but they will, and they’re hilarious,” said Sarah Sager, an alumnus of NYAA, who frequently practices blind contour drawing. In order to reap the maximum amount of benefits from the exercise, it’s best to remember that the technique is more about learning from the process than about producing a finished artwork. “As long as you’re really concerned about how beautiful it looks, or how correct it looks, you’re never going to make anything that has that ‘something’ about it,” Sager added.