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A Sense of Place - Contour Drawing Project


Austin Peay State University



Course Level

Beginning Drawing, Foundations


Conversation points for instructors

I always start beginning drawing with contour drawing and a conversation about the value of observation. One of my goals as a teacher is to teach my students how to look thoughtfully, embrace curiosity, and be present in their everyday lives. Intense observation of the world is a focus of my courses, both as a way of strengthening and refining perceptual drawing abilities, and as a means of teaching students how to grow ideas, which begin with looking, thinking, and reflecting. 


This project gets students looking around campus for moments they might not normally notice. Through drawing them they explore them even more. I start the assignment by talking about the importance of observation. Then we go on a group walk and talk about what we notice and what might be interesting objects/buildings/etc. to draw.


At the end of this assignment, I compiled 1-2 drawings from every student into a zine. Students wrote where they completed their drawing, so conceivably someone could use the zine as an alternative tour of our campus. Students were so excited to see their drawing in a zine and were excited to hand them out to friends and family. They were also free for people to take in the Art + Design building.


Taking place outside, this would work well for an in-person class offering less risk of COVID-19 transmission. It would also be great for an online course, as a prompt for students to explore the space around where they live.



Project Prompt / Challenge

For this project, you will create 8 small drawings of different interesting scenes around APSU’s campus – from observation. No use of photos is allowed. Fill the page with visual information and continue lines all the way to the edge. Each drawing should take 30-60 minutes.



Your first step will be choosing what to draw. Spend some time looking. Look for interesting objects, places, etc. that other people might not notice. Noticing our environment and tuning into things that other people may not tune into can be an important source of ideas and inspiration in our art. Look up, down, behind, under. Go places you haven’t gone before on campus. You can draw outside or go into buildings. For some drawings you might choose to zoom into some little moment you notice. For others, you might zoom out to include more.


Be sure to make a note in pencil on the back of your drawing of where you are drawing. Be as descriptive and specific as possible, so I can find your spot when I start grading. I will also be compiling each person’s strongest drawings into a zine that will be available to other students, faculty, visitors on campus. Your directions will help them find where you were drawing.


Draw with one long (mostly) continuous line. Your line should be a rich, descriptive line that shows important visual information, texture, the outlines of shadows, forms, etc. Make sure to include interior and exterior information. Fill the entire page. Think carefully about what to include in your drawing. Remember, as an artist, all your choices can be intentional and thoughtful. Think about how far to zoom in, what angle to draw from, etc.


•Look more at what you are drawing and less at your paper.

•Make sure your drawing hand is moving in sync with what your eye is seeing.

•Focus & concentrate. Move slowly.

•Do not erase.

•Draw one continuous smooth line vs. a sketchy back and forth line.

•Move from outlines of forms to interior details, to shadows, surfaces, and contact points between objects. Your goal is to capture specific details about the specific thing you are drawing.

•Look for relationships between the different things you are drawing to help you proportionally map out your drawing. Proportion isn’t our main focus, but is something you should begin thinking about.

•Don’t draw the “idea” of what you are drawing. For example, if drawing grass, don’t just draw straight little lines at the bottom of the paper. Instead, pick and choose what information to include and look for specific pieces of grass to inform your drawing.

•Filter. You are in charge of your drawing and thinking about what to include/not include. Decide what you want to emphasize in your drawing and use that to guide your choices. Stop frequently as you draw to look at how your overall drawing is coming together.

•Start thinking about line variation. If there are spots that are closer to you, in shadow, heavier, use a darker line. For things that are farther away, have a highlight, look delicate use a lighter line.





2 weeks

Students had a couple class periods to work on this and were expected to work outside of class as well. We talked at the end of each in-class session about their drawings and what was working well/what to keep thinking about. Composition, subject, and line variation were topics I focused on.


Student Examples:

Additional Tips: 

I have the students read the beginning part of the book The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, as well as chapter 2, Seeing, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

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