Art Therapy Modalities | Blind Contour

Blind Contour Self-Portrait.
Blind Contour Self-Portrait.
Blind Contour
Psychological Self-portraits

Historical Context: This modality emerged from the personal process of Elizabeth Layton, who began drawing at age 68, while depressed over the death of her alcoholic son. For most of her life she had been in and out of psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder for most of her life with poor results. This time, at her sister’s urging, she took a drawing class. She studied a blind contour drawing technique and intuitively incorporated a form of free association, a technique used by Freud. By focusing on her sorrow and loss, her depression lessened within six months. Her depression never returned and she ultimately exhibited her artwork and her story at the Smithsonian Museum.

This is a very powerful technique and works well for people with no art background. I have used it with men and women who experience distorted body image, including people with profound eating disorders. I have marveled at their spontaneous awareness, such as in the case of a person with anorexia, "I need to gain weight!" or "Is this me? What have I done to myself?" and in another case, "I am in proportion! I never knew that! I am not going to let anyone ever tell me again that my body isn't beautiful!"

It is also a great technique for adolescents as they struggle with establishing their identities. Blind contour may also be incorporated to process autobiographical history, which is how Elizabeth Layton used the technique.

I have come to believe that this technique helps the brain bilaterally process emotionally laden material in a similar way as the therapeutic technique EMDR, a process developed by Francine Shapiro.

Blind Contour Self-Portrait.
Blind Contour Self-Portrait.
Items Needed for the Exercise.
  1. A face mirror on a stand, or a mirror may be held up or propped up so the artist can see his or her face
  2. A lead pencil, a charcoal pencil or a very soft dark pencil is best.
  3. Large drawing paper (about 22" by 28"); acid free is preferred. Taping the paper to a drawing board or table top prevents distraction. Remember that the goal of the exercise is to focus on the image in the mirror, not the paper. This helps one bypass known information that may be "stereotypical symbols of reality." (Seminar, Bob Ault, ATR, 1989). It is important to draw only what you see and not what you think.
  4. A full set of colored pencils. (no eraser)

The initial directives given to Elizabeth Layton by Pal Wright, Ottawa University, art teacher.

  1. Draw honest and definite lines
  2. Don't erase; if you make a mistake, if your line strays a bit too far, make it work for you, and
  3. Make your drawing fill the sheet of paper, go to the edge

Relationship to God
Relationship to God
Elizabeth suggested that:
  1. you draw the edges or the outlines that you see
  2. you draw slowly and creep along those edges with your eyes (in your mind)
  3. draw every little jiggle

Begin with your eyes, then nose, then mouth. Next fill in the outline of your face and the details that you missed. Last, fill in the background. Shade with a back and forth motion.



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