Isolated Moments – Anti-Drawing Drawing

We’ve asked some of our staff and artists to provide online workshops, prompts and tutorials for our series Isolated Moments, to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 global social isolating and quarantining measures. Our first online workshop is for people who think they can’t draw, courtesy of Jessica Harby, artist and Assistant Director of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.

Two images from a 2018 Anti-Drawing workshop Jessica Harby led for CE Academy teachers, making blind contour drawings over drawings of sounds.

Too often as an artist I hear people tell me they cannot draw. What they mean, I think, is that they cannot draw a sufficiently accurate representation of a real life thing or person, which is not the same thing. Drawing realistically does not equal drawing! Drawing equals drawing! For those of us who do it a lot, we know drawing includes listening, feeling, intuiting, and looking at the world in a new way.

For years, I’ve been running workshops for adults and children where the goal is to draw “badly”. These prompts are adapted from these Anti-Drawing drawing workshops.

(I’ve written pencil in all the descriptions, but feel free to use whatever you have to hand – pens, markers, highlighters, lipsticks, kitchen ingredients, etc.)


  1. Position your pencil above paper.
  2. Press play and close your eyes.
  3. Draw the shape of the sounds. Be quick, move your hand before you think too much about what you’re hearing.
  4. There are eight sounds in the clip, but why stop there? Turn on music, make noises at each other with your mouths, listen to a conversation in a language you don’t understand, and draw what you hear with your eyes closed.


This exercise requires more than one person.

  1. Someone volunteers to be the leader. They gather objects with a variety of textures, without letting the drawer(s) see what they are. The weirder and more unidentifiable they are, the better. Examples: uninflated balloons, bits of fabric, spices (star anise, any kind of seeds), leaves or flower petals, hardware bits (not too sharp!), ice cubes, jewellery, decorative items in the house that are often seen but not touched, etc.
  2. The drawer(s) position their pencil over paper, close their eyes, and place their hand out.
  3. The leader places an object in each drawer’s hand and they draw what they feel.
  4. Without opening their eyes, the drawer(s) receive and draw as many objects as they like.


This exercise is the only one where you can keep your eyes open and look directly at what you’re drawing. It is best executed with a variety of colours if you have them. Be prepared with a mad selection, and be sure to include colours you normally dislike.

  1. Press play and draw what is being described.
  2. Use your first impulse. Don’t overthink it and don’t try to anticipate what might be said next.
  3. Feel free to pause after each small description, and press play once you’re happy you’ve captured your vision of each detail.


This is the only exercise that involves drawing what you see in front of you. Blind contour drawing is a way of drawing an object or person that removes the mean, judgemental inner critic from its place between you and your paper. Not only do you not have to worry about this drawing being perfect – if your drawing ends up looking perfect you’re doing it wrong! The finished drawing is not a representation of the subject, but a representation of the time you took to look at the subject. And isn’t it nice to recognise time?

I recommend starting with objects and working up to drawing someone else while they draw you (or drawing yourself in a mirror). It is weird and intense to stare at someone while they’re staring at you, but isn’t everything kind of weird and intense now?

  1. Find your subject.
  2. Position your pencil above paper.
  3. The key to this technique is to match the speed and focus of your eyes to the speed of your hand. Move your eye over and around your subject slowly and deliberately, while moving your pencil at the exact same speed. Imagine that you’re drawing a line with both your hand and your eye together.
  4. Keep your pencil on the paper at all times! If you lift your pencil up to reposition it you are cheating and have to start over!
  5. Keep your eyes on your subject at all times! If you glance down at your paper to see how you’re doing, you are cheating and have to start over!
  6. Breathe.

Jessica Harby

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