Yesterday I started teaching at Clark University in Worcester. It was my first day of school in a new place. A new studio, new colleagues, new students, heck…I even bought a new pair of jeans. I arranged 18 chairs in a circle and slowly they started to trickle in. My students. How cool to suddenly meet 17 new humans you have never seen before. Each of them with their own walk, their own energy and their own story. So there we were, sitting in a circle all staring at each other. 9:03am. “Let the wild rumpus start!” (Where the Wild Things Are)
On my way in to work early that morning, I was finalizing my plan for a new ice-breaker for the first day. I wanted to have them work with LINE. So, after some introductions, I took my circle of 18 and made 2 circles. The inner circle faced outwards. The outer circle faced inwards. Each person had someone sitting across from them.
Each student was given a Post-It pad and a Sharpie marker. I demonstrated what a “blind contour” drawing was and we proceeded to create 162 blind contour portraits. The inner circle started by drawing a portrait of the person facing them. When I said switch, it was the outer circle’s turn to draw. After completing the first pair of drawings, the inner circle rotated one seat and we repeated the process until all 9 facing pairs of artists had drawn each other.
The most beautiful thing about this experience was that in a blind contour drawing you aren’t allowed to look down at your paper. You just keep your eye on your subject the whole time. As your eye moves slowly across your model, your pen moves simultaneously and never lifts up. This meant that a roomful of strangers was asked to just BE together and SEE each other.
Some students looked me straight in the eye when they were the model and giggled. One girl closed her eyes. One gazed downwards and watched as I drew her. When we were finished, I had everyone hang their Post-Its on the wall in a big grid. It was a powerful record of our process that day which included the vulnerability of seeing and being seen.
Until next time, try a doing a blind contour drawing of someone you know. Then have them do one of you. You will never forget their face. CREATE.
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