Lesson 5A: Contour Line

  1. Introduction
  2. Teach It
  3. Dig Deeper


This lesson will strengthen the students’ observational skills through the process of creating a contour line drawing.

Time: one class period


  • Students will use contour line drawing to draw  “toy” reptiles, dinosaur creatures, as an exercise to heighten observation as a research tool in the drawing process, and bring a new comfort level to observational drawing as they contemplate their final dragon creation.

Type of Activity:

  • Students will create a drawing on their own without making corrections.

STEAM Habits of Mind:

  • Students will persevere in creating a contour line drawing of an animal.

Suggested Do Nows:

National Art Standards:

  • Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Enduring Understanding: Artists and designers experiment with forms, structures, materials, concepts, media, and art-making approaches 
  • Essential Question(s): How do artists work? How do artists and designers determine whether a particular direction in their work is effective? How do artists and designers learn from trial and error?
  • 6th– Demonstrate openness in trying new ideas, materials, methods, and approaches in making works of art and design.
  • 7th– Demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art or design.

Word Wall:

  • Contour – an outline representing a shape or figure

Teach It

Materials Needed:

  • 9×12 white drawing paper
  • #2 pencil with no eraser or thin black line markers


Contour line drawing is a continuous line drawing using careful observation.  This means that once the artist places the pencil/marker to the paper s/he does not lift it off the paper. The artist’s eyes dart back and forth from observing the subject to looking at the drawing on the paper. The artist cannot erase or “correct” the drawing because the pencil/marker does not lift off the paper. The objective is not to make a fully accurate drawing, but to sharpen one’s observation skills. In fact, the resulting drawing will likely be distorted, but at the same time, exhibit realistic qualities of the form and dimensionality of the subject. (SAMPLE A – professional artists’ examples)

STEAM Activity:

The teacher presents the concept of Contour Line drawing and views the art samples from SAMPLE A.  Use VTS to elicit student observations of these contour line drawings. Bring students to the conclusions that contour line drawing does not result in a perfect realistic drawing, but rather a more distorted representation of the subject, and this is okay!  The teacher explains that students will “practice” contour line drawing as an exercise in careful observation (make connections to the importance of “observation” as a research tool in the field of science). It is important to emphasize to the students that the resulting drawings should show as much detail as possible, but will likely not be fully realistic.

WARM UP: Before students begin observing the toy creatures. students should do a warm up exercise of a contour line drawing of their own hand.  If time permits they should try taking off their own shoe and doing a contour line drawing of their shoe (SAMPLE B-1 and 2 contour drawings of hand and shoe).  Each drawing should take 2- 3 minutes.

NOTE: It can help to have background music (classical, jazz, instrumental guitar) playing during the drawing time.   Students begin drawing when music starts, and stop drawing when music stops. Teacher gives a 1 minute then a 10 second warning to stop drawing.

Various toy creatures, dinosaurs, reptiles, dragons are distributed to each grouping of desks.  Students choose one creature to draw using contour line drawing only.  Teacher allows limited amount of time for each drawing ( 2 -3 minutes). At the end of the time toy creatures are rotated so students can draw another creature.  Students will draw 3-4 creatures, in a period of 20 minutes. (SAMPLE C -1and 2 shows contour drawing of toy insects )


  • Students do a short gallery walk to view all the creatures. 
  • Then they should pair-share with a shoulder partner:  
    • What distortions do they see? What looks “real”? Are the distortions and real-looking parts both interesting?
    • something new they learned or discovered by doing this exercise. 

Instructor can invite whole group sharing of some of the pair/share discussions.


Possible sources for cheap plastic animals: https://www.dollartree.com/plastic-toy-reptiles/195716

Amazon Dinosaurs


Picasso contour drawing of Igor Stravinsky https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stravinsky_picasso.png

Benny Andrews contour drawings (a Google search “Benny Andrews Contour line” will take you to various examples of Andrews work) i.e.: https://columbusmuseum.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/6B204D34-241A-4DAA-9442-233156730654

or visit: http://www.bennyandrews.com

Children’s book about the Artist Benny Andrews https://www.amazon.com/Draw-What-You-See-Andrews/dp/0544104870/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Benny+Andrews+draw+what+you+see&qid=1574035174&s=books&sr=1-1

Dig Deeper (extension)

Dig Deeper Research

Go to Lesson 5B: Dragon Trait Grid Sampler