Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seeing with the hands


A century ago, a British museum curator named John Alfred Carlton Deas organized sessions where blind children could handle objects in the Sunderland museum collection.


The event was so successful that he expanded the program to include blind adults.


The idea makes sense not just for blind people, but also for visual artists. If you know how a form feels, you can definitely draw it better.


An interesting drawing exercise is to confront a novel object blindfolded and then, without looking at it, figure out how to draw it. The experience gives you a whole new understanding of shading and contours.

These photographs come from the Public Domain Review.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe ted seth jacobs recommened it. Naturally not many models wish to comply! :)

James Gurney said...

Anon -- Of course I wasn't suggesting human models, but rather casts, bones, shells, and (some) animals. When I conducted a class on creature design, and brought in Billy, live goat to model, I invited people to feel his horns and his shoulder blades and pelvis beneath his fur. Billy loved the attention.

Eric Scales said...

A while back I tried to help my daughter with a drawing that she was doing, and I really took for granted that she would be able to imagine the form she was drawing in 3 dimensions, which being only 8, she couldn't. It really made me think about how long I must have worked at that skill.

Glenn Keelan said...

Great Blog James. I recently started to draw with my eyes closed to visualize an image to draw. This really helps to trust and tap into your imagination. It is amazing when you open your eyes to see what you have drawn. Thanks for today's blog. Glenn

K. W. Broad said...

I did a similar assignment to this in college. The teacher passed out brown paper bags to the students, each containing a random object. The students were not allowed to look in the bag, but had to put their hand in and feel the object and try to draw it.
Definitely a good exercise, but I know I could certainly use more practice :P

Janet Oliver said...

I'm convinced that the reason I've always been able to draw animals, especially horses, is because I had hands-on access to them. I grew up on my grandparents' farm and my best friend was their retired Tennessee Walker horse. There was no part of her I didn't know just by touching her. I can still feel her under my hands when I try. Love the last suggestion, gonna try it.

William R. Moore said...

The second exercise "Defining The Form Of An Object" in Charles Sovek's book: "Oil Painting-Develop Your Natural Ability" was My first exposure to the drawing by feel approach. Sovek's book is an excellent book with 30 really good exercises and excellent information on painting.

Ciana Pullen said...

I ran across this museum accessibility idea when I was researching blind artists; apparently it's still done in major museums and the events are always extraordinarily popular. I hope it's ok to post links to my own blog in your comments, but here's a post that has videos of several blind artists working completely by feel and showing their different processes: http://cianapullen.blogspot.com/2011/07/blind-artists.html

Liz Mooney said...

This something we practice at RISD. The Nature Lab is full of objects meant to be handled. Incidentally, I just found out that you'll be returning to RISD in a few days and I am thrilled!
Dan was my kindergarten teacher at Dunham and I loved it when you would come to visit. I'm excited to see you speak again.

Anonymous said...

My drawing teacher suggested that we learn to sculpt as well - at least make a skull /head from clay to understand the planes.

Side note, but I think artist magazine had an article about a blind artist who liked to draw.

scott davidson said...

Some pretty designs alright. Doing the painting yourselves is more fun but a good place for ideas for more design is this site of wahooart.com, that I use to help with my wall decorations.
You can browse for a painting like this The tree, by 20th century Czech artist, Frantisek Kupka, for example, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LHUQV , that can be ordered on line and delivered to you.