To Inspire, Transform & Heal

Linda Wiggen Kraft
Creativity for the Soul

Creativity Journey #3 – Dance Along the Edge – Contour Drawing

Creativity Journey #3
Dancing on the Edges  – Contour Drawing

This Creativity Journey is about seeing and forming a new language that speaks of the connection between the seer and the seen. This language is spoken and read in the marks made on paper. This language is drawing. Drawing in a way that reveals the essence of an object with simple lines.


Contour Drawing – Rudbeckia Mandala – Pilot Parallel Pen – by me

This way of drawing is called contour drawing. An imaginary outline is drawn in contour drawing.  That line looks like the edge of something when in reality there often is no edge.  What appears to be an edge is the line that is drawn. In contour drawing there are only lines, no shading. Most often there is one continuous line that exposes the essence of the object.


Ellsworth Kelly – Green Bean Leaves – Lithograph – 1960s


Contour drawing is almost an abstraction. It is mostly the outline of a shape. In its simplicity it captures completeness.  It is a meditation of spending time getting to know the beingness of something you see with your eyes, mind and heart.


Caladium Leaf – 6B Pencil – by me


Looking outward and seeing with eyes, mind and heart creates a line of connection between the seer and the seen. That connection is energetic and alive. That which is seen then shares its essence with the artist interpreter and recorder. That essence comes into being as marks on paper.

This Creativity Journey blog post (like the others)  is organized into five parts. Enjoy the Journey
* The why, or big picture of creativity, what is our deep longing to connect with our creativity.
* A guided meditation to relax into a mind, body and heart space opening to creativity flow.
* Prompts for Dancing on Paper, mark making with words and images.
* Examples and how-to of mark making through the prompts.
* Closing Poem or Prayer.

(All Creativity Journey blog post lessons are found by clicking”#CreativityJourneys” in the categories section shown on the right side column of blog posts)

“A drawing is the result of seeing. When I draw the tree, I am faced with a mystery. I must enter into this mystery or fail. Whatever I draw confronts me with the mystery of Being”
Frederick Franck author of Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing

Frederick Franck (1909-2006) was an artist who came up with the term “Zen of Seeing”. His way of drawing touched many who felt they truly became one with what they saw and drew using his approach.

“Making art has first of all to do with honesty. My first lesson was to see objectively, to erase all ‘meaning’ of the thing seen. Then only could the real meaning of it be understood and felt.”

“You must not copy nature. You must let nature instruct you and then let the eye and hand collaborate”
Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly  (1923 -2015) was a painter, sculptor and print maker. His abstract bright color field paintings hang is art museums around the world. His pure line contour drawings capture the essence of each nature object he drew with lithograph crayon onto lithograph stones for prints. Here is a book about his elegant simple contour drawings.

Drawn from Nature, The Plant Lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly
72 contour drawings


Ellsworth Kelly – Magnolia Lithograph – 1960s


Interbeing meditation – 9 minutes, 55 seconds


Prompts are nudges that offer suggestions on where to begin. They let creativity flow. Mark making becomes a dance on paper.

Often the blank paper used to write on, paint on, or draw on is the scary big unknown.  The first step is often the hardest.  That first mark made helps opens the flood gates and lets creativity flow.

The prompt word to think about is “Interbeing”.  Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn uses the word interbeing to explain a way of knowing the connections of life.  Here are a few of his thoughts from a longer essay.

“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.…”
    Thich Nhat Hahn

When you are drawing and seeing that which is in front of you, think of its interbeing. Today it is a flower, but it was a seed. Think of the soil and rain, think of the bees that drank its nectar. Think of the sun that feed it so it could eat that light through photosynthesis. Keep all the interbeing connections in mind when drawing. Let the word be an inspiration for writing on one of the pages in your folder of papers.

Seeing and drawing starts with choosing something to draw.  A single form that stays still is the easiest to draw.  A walk around your home, or outside, will usually reveal something to see and draw.  A leaf from a houseplant, a flower, a fallen leaf outside, a stick or branch on the ground, an acorn, seeds from trees and plants, a stone, a shell; these are all nature forms ready to connect with and draw.



This way of seeing and making marks uses a pencil, pen, marker and other materials that can create a line on paper.  Contour drawing is a meditation where the eye and mind move along the “edge” of an object. At the same time the hand interprets and records that dance along the edge.  It requires a way to looking that really “sees” what is being draw.  It is slow and deep.


Our usual way of “seeing” is short and incomplete.  Our mind creates an image that we think is what is before us, but it is an illusion.  Taking time to really see and connect gives an entirely different experience. Go slowly as you look at the edge and move your hand.


Gather art supplies and paper. Start with a pencil or marker.  Place the object in front of you.  Take a couple of minutes to look at it.  Notice the shapes, the colors and especially the edges.

Graphite Pencils 6B, 5B and 2B


Derwent Graphitint Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Choose a starting point and slowly move your hand in one long line as you keep looking at the edge. Let your eyes dances along it.

Caladium – Pilot Parallel Pen – by me

Keep your eyes on what is being drawn and don’t look at the paper most of the time. Draw with one continuous line, not taking the pencil or pen off the paper. Keep looking at what is being drawn, letting your eyes and hand move together


This is a meditative way of drawing done for the experience, not some final product drawing. It is a practice like yoga, sports or music. Think of it as a warm up to creative connection. The purpose of contour drawing is not to make an exact copy of what you are seeing but to caress the edges and record that dance in a way that is uniquely your expression. Do several contour drawings, increasing the time of looking at the edge only and not your hand on the paper.  This will prepare you for blind contour drawing


What this means is that you are only looking at the edges with your eyes. You are not looking at your hand at all.  It is done with one continuous line. It takes practice to only look at the object. Your drawings will not be “perfect”. In fact they may look strange, but the essence of what is being drawn will be there.


Blind Contour Drawings – Caladium & Rudbeckia – by me


Contour drawing can become something beyond traditional.  The art materials used can alter the traditional lines with line variation and color.

Caladium – Puple Ink Pilot Parallel Pen – Water on brush lets ink bleed

Colors can be added by using water soluble colored pencils and pens with colored inks.

Caladium first drawn with Derwent Graphitint pencils – water added to half of drawing


Caladium drawn with Derwent Graphitint pencils – water added to entire piece


Watercolors can be painted onto contour drawings. Pencil will not bleed with water.

Rudbeckia contour drawing – Watercolors made with natural pigments


Rudbeckia contour drawing with watercolor

Papers that have been colored before can be drawn upon. This paper was colored as part of my Creativity Container folder.

Rudbeckia on water colored paper – Derwent Graphitint waters oluble pencils

I like to keep my finished drawings together in their folder. It is a safe and sacred creative space.

I can take all the drawings out and lay them together to see their connections. This is why I like folders, not journals.




This poem by Li-Young Lee beautifully illustrates Interbeing.

From blossoms
By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward

signs painted Peaches.


From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.


O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.


There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.



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