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Walking the Line

Rebecca Gallion


In Walking the Line, artist/instructor Becky Gallion leads students through the process of contour drawing. Becky defines "contour" as the outline of something, especially something curvy or odd-shaped. She says contour drawings are fun to do because they're fast and kind of funny-looking: "All you have to do is observe very closely the object you're looking at and then draw that object very quickly. You are concentrating on just the shapes you see, not the details."

Lesson Focus

An introduction to basic line drawing, including a definition, examples from art history, and three drawing exercises. Children will focus on drawing what they see rather than on drawing from memory.

Time Requirement

One hour would give enough time for an introduction, discussion, and three drawing exercises.

Skill Development

The cognitive skills developed in Walking the Line include eye/hand coordination, concentration and observation, and-most importantly-risk-taking. In doing contour line drawing, students experience the act of drawing. They see how to take a real object and let a continuous line capture its shape. They learn the concepts of positive and negative space, and they experience the enjoyment of manipulating a line, but only after the experience of having to relinquish control of the product.

Contour drawing helps students learn to draw what they see rather than what they think they see, allowing them an opportunity to observe how each student perceives objects differently.


The purposes of teaching contour line drawing to children are

  • to show them how to observe real objects, people, and landscapes closely, and
  • to teach them basic eye/hand coordination skills.

Artists/Art Works That Reflect Contour Drawing Techniques

  • Milton Avery
  • Berry Flanagan
  • Greek red and black pottery
  • Henri Matisse
  • Pablo Picasso (Three Musicians)
  • Pre-Columbian hieroglyphs
  • William Scott
  • Andy Warhol

Connections to Educational Standards

Walking the Line relates to the following Kentucky Academic Expectations:

  • 2.22: Students create works of art and make presentations to convey a point of view.
  • 2.23: Students analyze their own and others' artistic products.
  • 2.26: Through the arts and humanities, students recognize that although people are different, they share some common experiences and attitudes.

Materials Needed

  • four sheets of white drawing paper (9" x 12") per student
  • black felt-tip pens (markers)
  • one object small enough to hold in one hand: a toy, stuffed animal, kitchen utensil, potted plant, hat, etc. Encourage each student to bring an object from home, and have an assortment of objects on hand to use as needed.
  • students' own shoes (for extension activity)

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. dot: a single point in space.
  2. line: An identifiable path of a point moving in space. Lines may vary in character, width, direction, and length. A line may define contour.
  3. contour line: a continuous line that follows the edge of a form.
  4. positive shape:
  5. negative shape:
  6. abstract lines:
  7. realism: picturing people and things as it is thought they really are.

Lesson Instructions Guide students through the following process.

Exercise 1

  1. Place the hand you write with, marker in hand, at the top of a 9" x 12" sheet of paper.
  2. Make a design on the paper with one long, twisty line. Don't lift up your marker until the design is completely finished. Create a design that fills the whole page.

Exercise 2

  1. Place the hand you don't write with at the bottom of your second piece of paper.
  2. With the hand you draw with, start at the top right corner and, without looking at your paper, try drawing the shape of the whole sheet of paper. Go around the top, the left side, and the bottom of the page until you reach your hand.
  3. When you reach your hand, feel your way around each finger, tracing the shape of your own hand.
  4. Continue on up the right side of the paper to the point where you started.
  5. Now look at your paper. A perfect contour line drawing should be looking back at you!

Exercise 3

Remember the rules! Don't look at your paper, and don't lift up your marker.

  1. Place your object (a toy, a stuffed animal, etc.) on the table or desk in front of you.
  2. Hold your object up in the air in front of you with the hand you don't write with.
  3. Place your other hand at the top of your object and, with your first finger, begin to trace around the outside shape. Go slowly, as if you were an ant crawling along the edges of your object, pulling a stinger behind it.
  4. Fix your eyes on your object (still holding it in front of you)-not on your paper. Begin to draw with your marker in the same direction your eyes are moving along the outside shape of your object.
  5. Don't look down at your paper and don't lift up your marker until you feel as if you have traced all the way around your object.
  6. When you're through drawing, look at what you've done. It will look funny, but also beautiful and realistic.

Response to Art

Have students go around the classroom and show their drawings to one another. They can discuss how different each drawing looks and what they learned about perception and drawing what they see rather than what they think.

Exhibition Suggestion

The contour drawings look best displayed on colorful mats. Construction paper works well. Put glue on the back of the drawing at each corner and center the drawing in the middle of the construction paper mat. Be sure to have the students sign their names at the bottom of the drawings. This is important because it allows students to take pride in their finished products.


There are many ways to conduct this exercise. A student or two can volunteer to pose for a figure drawing, or the interior of the classroom can be used as the subject. Students particularly enjoy drawing one of their shoes or their own hand. Innovative computer applications also abound. (IBM's Paintbox is just one program that works well. Students will learn to use the mouse instead of the pencil or other drawing tools.)


Edwards, Betty. Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951

Last Updated: Monday, 29-Dec-2008 15:23:24 EST