Blind Contour Drawing Experiment with Open Focus Seeing

December 14, 2010

Last week I started to read a book called The Open Focus Brain. The author, Les Fehmi maintains that the way we pay attention influences our attitudes, feelings and behavior. Fair enough but I like quantifiable results so I decided to use myself as a guinea pig and experiment with the ideas in the book and look for measurable changes in myself.

For my first experiment I chose open focus seeing. As an artist I often struggle with spontaneity and control; in my mind a successful painting or drawing has a balance between those two aspects. Could open focus seeing help me to feel that balance and would it be noticeable in the drawings I produced? The only way to find out was to do it.

I set up my experiment in my art studio. I chose to use blind contour drawing as the baseline. A blind contour drawing is done without looking at your drawing. Your eyes stay focused on the object your drawing and your pen never leaves the paper. The idea is not to produce a perfect replica of what you see but to allow your pen and your eyes to move together spontaneously. The results are always interesting.

The experiment consisted of a 5 minute blind contour drawing before and another 5 minute contour drawing after listening to the open focus seeing experience for 30 minutes. (The transcript for the open focus seeing experience is from Les Fehmi’s book The Open Focus Brain.)

Blind Contour Drawing
I had my pad in a paper bag so that I wouldn’t be tempted to look at it. I noticed that as I was drawing I focused more on the lines of the figure rather than the edge of the negative space (for those of you who aren’t artists, negative space is the area around the figure; if you had a picture of yourself and you cut out your figure, everything that was left would be considered negative space.) My eyes and my pen moved very slowly and I could hear my inner critics “advising” me as I went along.

Open Focus Seeing Experience
The open focus instructions for this experience suggest that you look at a painting or at a picture window so that your attention can go from within the painting to the area surrounding the painting having a clear line of demarcation (the frame) between the two. Rather than look at a painting I was going to look at the object I had been drawing. This didn’t quite fit the criterion so I put a frame around the object.

As I began to listen to the recording and look at the framed object I was able to accept the instructions and easily move my attention from foreground to background. As more sensations and feelings were called into awareness it became increasingly challenging to stay present and not resist; my mind wanted to focus on my discomfort but when I was able to defuse my attention it would change and the discomfort would drop away. In the end I did wonder if my struggle would have a negative effect on my second blind contour drawing; in fact I found the opposite to be true, it was effortless.

Second Blind Contour Drawing
When I drew for the second time I was aware of my pen and my eyes moving much faster around the edges of the object. There was a confidence that I hadn’t felt the first time through. I was more aware of my eyes changing their focus between the positive and negative spaces and a feeling of interest rather than anxiety as I travelled through the experience. My critical mind which is always right there telling me what I should and shouldn’t do was quiet and I was feeling playful and joyful. After moving around the perimeter of the object I was drawing the timer hadn’t yet gone off so I started filling in the contours in the interior of the object, noticing the positive and negative spaces in these areas. When the five minutes were up and I looked at the drawing it was completely different from the first experience. The second drawing possessed a confidence that was missing in the first one.

I love what happened and I’m looking forward to doing more experiments of this kind.


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