The Etsy Blog

Noted: The Blind Self Portrait Machine

chaps676

If you’ve ever taken a basic art class, you’ve probably created a blind contour drawing. Pencil in hand, you press graphite to paper with your eyes firmly focused on the model or object to draw. The urge to look down at your paper is overwhelming, but that’s the whole point: by focusing upon the drawing subject, your eyes won’t miss a single curve or detail. Kimon Nicolaïdes popularized blind counter drawing in his book, The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study, in 1941. For Nicolaïdes, the whole point was teaching the eye to see better. “A contour drawing is like climbing a mountain, as contrasted with flying over it in an airplane,” he wrote. “It is not a quick glance at the mountain from far away, but a slow, painstaking climb over it, step by step.

In contrast, the Blind Self Portrait Machine might just be the lazy man’s version of blind contour drawing. Created by Kyle McDonald and Matt Metts, a computer analyzes the user’s face while he or she holds a pen in hand and is guided by an automated, moving platform. With pen-to-paper and eyes closed, the result is a digitally-assisted, blind self portrait. Though the machine might not be up to Nicolaïdes’s rigorous standards, it uses a playful human-computer interface to create a unique portrait that the artist could not achieve alone. The project raises an interesting question: if a computer guides your hand, are you still the artist?

Art Category | Portrait Category

Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.

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  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    Judith and Raymond from AnnaOliveDesigns says: Featured

    Interesting question. It is a matter of opinion as to whether or not a composition is actually being drawn by the artist if a computer is the guiding force behind what is being drawn. Myself, I would prefer to see a drawing done by an artist free hand as every line, shade, curve and subtle detail within is from the heart as opposed to being from a machine designed to showcase precision.

    2 years ago

  • sweetnaturedesigns

    Beth Tobey from SweetnatureDesigns says: Featured

    I remember doing the contour drawing for the first time in my 6th grade art class. An awesome exercise! What a great way to challenge our minds to look at what is really in front of us, rather than what we "think" or expect to see.

    2 years ago

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery says: Featured

    This is so cool! It's really amazing what technology is doing. I think that if the computer is guiding your hand, of course you are still the artist, but a lazy artist at best. I think something like this would serve better as a technique building or training tool for those that want to develop this skill organically. But who knows? Maybe by the singularity, as Kurzweil calls it, the robots will be the only artists left :)

    2 years ago

  • ElisabethSpace

    Elisabeth Percival from ElisabethSpace says: Featured

    As a wretched 2D artist, blind contours are the only way I would ever attempt to draw anyone. You never know what you're going to get! Creating blind contours of things is a very apt bar table activity, too.

    2 years ago

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie says:

    Love this!!!

    2 years ago

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    Judith and Raymond from AnnaOliveDesigns says: Featured

    Interesting question. It is a matter of opinion as to whether or not a composition is actually being drawn by the artist if a computer is the guiding force behind what is being drawn. Myself, I would prefer to see a drawing done by an artist free hand as every line, shade, curve and subtle detail within is from the heart as opposed to being from a machine designed to showcase precision.

    2 years ago

  • sweetnaturedesigns

    Beth Tobey from SweetnatureDesigns says: Featured

    I remember doing the contour drawing for the first time in my 6th grade art class. An awesome exercise! What a great way to challenge our minds to look at what is really in front of us, rather than what we "think" or expect to see.

    2 years ago

  • GoldenSpiralDesigns

    Lola Ocian from GoldenSpiralDesigns says:

    Wow, this is super interesting. I've seen many fine artists whose work is based on the style of a blind contour, but without the help of a machine. It's such a cool effect - reducing images down to lines and shapes. I love how freeform it comes out. I could have a lot of fun with a gadget like this! Of course, everyone is curious - what would I look like as a digitized blind contour drawing?

    2 years ago

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie says:

    Interesting!

    2 years ago

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery says: Featured

    This is so cool! It's really amazing what technology is doing. I think that if the computer is guiding your hand, of course you are still the artist, but a lazy artist at best. I think something like this would serve better as a technique building or training tool for those that want to develop this skill organically. But who knows? Maybe by the singularity, as Kurzweil calls it, the robots will be the only artists left :)

    2 years ago

  • TheNorthWayStudio

    Maria S. from TheNorthWayStudio says:

    Incredibly interesting! I remember when I was taking private art lessons and my teacher made me do this--a wonderful exercise. Really, all she was teaching me was to truly see, that and making sure I draw proportionally. She always kept telling me to draw how big her thighs actually were, that I wasn't going to hurt her feelings XD

    2 years ago

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering says:

    Love it!

    2 years ago

  • ElisabethSpace

    Elisabeth Percival from ElisabethSpace says: Featured

    As a wretched 2D artist, blind contours are the only way I would ever attempt to draw anyone. You never know what you're going to get! Creating blind contours of things is a very apt bar table activity, too.

    2 years ago

  • RonsJewelry

    RonsJewelry from RonsJewelry says:

    Interesting story. Would love to try it.

    2 years ago

  • metalmorphoz

    Nur Cirakoglu from metalmorphoz says:

    I am impressed ! So maybe we should think again what is the border line between creativity of man and the machine?.. it seems like man wins the game at the moment since the creator of that machine is a man.. Hah maybe I might buy one and then give that machine to my hubby as a gift who thinks himself as a non-creative pearson..:P

    2 years ago

  • silvertique

    silvertique from silvertique says:

    that is soo interesting, never seen something like this before

    2 years ago

  • ArtigianoJewelBox

    ArtigianoJewelBox from ArtigianoJewelBox says:

    this makes me a little sad actually. learning to draw opens doors for the balance of a lifetime.

    2 years ago

  • BrotherWorks

    Cristina from BrotherWorks says:

    I have to try it. Never have art classes, maybe it's time?

    2 years ago

  • LeasaMarie

    Leasa from LeasaDesigns says:

    Oh - I'm going to have to try that again! Did it in Jr college, drawing & comp class, with a fruit and I was actually amazed at the results! (although faces are much harder!) I'm going to go back to the basics of drawing and try that today!! Thanx for the memory and challange!

    2 years ago

  • cathydarling

    Catherine Darling Hostetter from CathyDarling says:

    My thought is that since your eyes are closed and all that the person has to do is hold the pencil, then I would say this does not make them an artist. My definition of art is it is a mental process and interpretation of the world around us or using our imagination. Not to say you can't use the wonderful technology now available to bring forth your ideas, but this is a bit to much tech for me. I think the person's brain has to be involved for this to make the pencil holder an artist. If a person sat in front of the computer camera and a clamp held the pencil instead of the person does that make the clamp an artist? It's a fun machine anyhow.

    2 years ago

  • tomsgrossmami
  • sarahknight

    Sarah from sarahknight says:

    You know what the ubiquitous thing is about virtually all drawing? The actual drawing is intended to be viewed. As in: you look at it. So, drawing something without looking at it? Yeah, it's an exercise. And the next exercise in the course is usually to spend a lot of time developing hand-eye coordination in order to better master the art of translating a visual 3-dimensional object onto a 2-dimensional plane. It's all abstract, computer-aided or not, because it's still a human hand with an inflected angle holding the pencil. The slightest twitch or changed in wrist position — and it's no longer a direct translation of an exact computation. There's variety in everything, even if on the surface it looks like most of the elements have been factored out.

    2 years ago

  • HMDesignStudio

    Hannah from HMDesignStudio says:

    Wow, that so strange yet so cool. It would be fun to try!

    2 years ago

  • uniquefabricgifts
  • RetroStock

    Marley from vetabartholomew says:

    Blind Contours are my FAVORITE-I would say this machine cannot possibly be considered true art. Thank you for posting this!!!

    2 years ago

  • martinclaybold

    Martin Claybold says:

    The machine should be very helpful to the blind, who miss out to see the beautiful world. Long Term Food Storage

    2 years ago

  • kaffeekatze

    Kannis from KaffeeKatze says:

    so interesting!

    2 years ago

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat says:

    I don't think this program makes you an artist, your hand could easily be replaced by a clamp to hold the pen & there is no personal input. Artistic ability has to do with personal skill & interpretation, the way YOUR eyes translate what they see to YOUR hand. Maybe a good gimmick & a pleasing game for a few minutes, but I don't think you'd get any of the satisfaction of producing art by using this.

    2 years ago

  • FreshRetroGallery

    Elizabeth Knaus from FreshRetroGallery says:

    Whoever designed the machine is the artist. Switch it up a bit and let your mind control the mouse (or Wacam pen)… then you are the artist.

    2 years ago

  • Earendil7

    Shiloh Lenz from EarendilCollectibles says:

    It isn't really art, but it is cool. The drawing the computer makes is WAY better than what a human could make (well, me anyway....I tried and the eyes don't even line up with the head...at all. LOL). It's a really neat toy, but any two people (for example, a great artist and someone who can't draw to save their life) could make an image that looks exactly the same.

    2 years ago

  • ArtsyFlair

    Michaela Bowles from ArtsyFlair says:

    That is very interesting!

    2 years ago

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage says:

    Interesting!

    2 years ago

  • CougarTShirtCompany

    Cougar T-Shirt Company from CougarTShirtCompany says:

    This is do hard, mine never turned out. Plus, I always peeked! I'd love to try it with the computer assist!

    2 years ago

  • BrittneyWest

    Brittney West from BrittneyWest says:

    Wow! So glad to have seen this. Very interesting!

    2 years ago

  • Steampunkitis

    Susan Jane from Steampunkitis says:

    Good grief, just suck all the life out of art now. There are far more creative things that could and can be done with a computer. Artistic things, unimaginable things. Next, people will be wanting computers to live for them. Just lay in a dormant state, and watch a T.V. screen of some robot living your life. Whooo, to scarey for me.

    2 years ago

  • ryanwhyte2

    Ryan Whyte says:

    Actually, this is an updated version of the physionotrace, and 18th-century invention: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physionotrace

    2 years ago

  • SheCountsCrows

    melissa saint from SheCountsCrows says:

    While a fun party game kind of thing, and a very neat invention, this negates most of the educational value of blind contour drawing. It won't teach you to "see".

    2 years ago

  • elleestpetite

    Donna Thai from PetiteCuisine says:

    This is so cool.

    2 years ago

  • edmarion

    Ed Marion from edmarion says:

    to me it seems there's really no need for the hand at all with this machine, but then again, I'm overly critical on this, being a self-portrait artist who uses his eyes and his hands to make art, and lots of self-portraits

    2 years ago

  • windycitynovelties

    Windy City Novelties says:

    I remember taking drawing classes in school and the first project we always had to do was a blind self portrait. Needless to say, mine was always dreadful looking. It was always fun to see what people come up with however.

    2 years ago

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop says:

    I can not draw, nor have I ever taken a drawing class. It is a state of being that I accept because I can fabricate, just with out the benefit of a sketch. I have to skip that step and so I think and then I do. ( I am openly in awe of artists who can capture what I can only see). So when I read the question, are you still the artist, I would have to say no. I am no more an artist after rendering my self portrait through computer guidance than I would be a race car driver in any computer game. But I would be thrilled for a chance to use that machine myself. It looks like fun.

    2 years ago

  • alisann105

    Alisann Abee from AbeesArtStudio says:

    I have been doing "continuous line drawings" since I began to draw as a child. It requires you to focus on the subject and really become involved with it. This is a wonderful way to learn. Thank you for sharing this and reminding us there is an artist in all of us.

    2 years ago

  • joekane4

    Joe Kane from kanestudio says:

    Dear Chappall Can it really matter what tool we use to create, a child's first stab of pencil on paper tries to recreate the world he or she knows.I send you this poem as I think it sums up this need for both children and adults alike . The Boy Who Nearly Won the Texaco Art Competition he took a large sheet of white paper and on this he made the world an african world of flat topped trees and dried grasses and he painted an elephant in the middle and a lion with a big mane and several giraffes stood over the elephant and some small animals to fill in the gaps he worked all day had a bath this was saturday on sunday he put six jackals in the world and a great big snake and buzzards in the sky and ticks birds on the elephants back he drew down blue from the sky to make a river and got the elephants legs all wet and smudged and one of the jackals got drowned he put red flowers in the front of the picture and daffodils in the bottom corners and his dog major chewing a bone and mrs murphys two cats tom and jerry and milo the milkman with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and his merville dairy float pulled by his wonder horse trigger that would walk when he said click click and the holy family in the top right corner with the donkey and cow and sheep and baby jesus and got the 40A bus on monday morning in to abbey street to hand it in and the man on the door said thats a sure winner Winner of the Arvon Foundation International Poetry Prize

    2 years ago

  • Gosyma

    Lisa Harling from Gosyma says:

    I agree with Elizabeth from FreshRetroGallery. I think the creator of the blind portrait machine has made us think about and discuss this topic, and reinspired many of us to draw, and so, perhaps, is the actual artist. I like it.

    2 years ago

  • PersistentImpulse

    PersistentImpulse from PersistentImpulse says:

    I'm not sure the participant is still the artist when they just rest their hand on a moving ledge. It seems to me that the machine would still create the portrait if the pen were mounted on the moving tray. I expect there would be some differences from the two resulting images. It seems the machine doesn't need the person--it needs the participant only for the image it uses... Interesting.

    2 years ago

  • PinwheelStudio

    Whitney from PinwheelStudio says:

    It is such the tricky question -- who is the artist in this scenario - I say it is the those who built the machine! The concept and programming behind the machine's movements is theirs; and through the process of a portrait being drawn, the person whose hand is guided by the machine is becomes merely another component of the mechanical process.

    2 years ago

  • PinwheelStudio

    Whitney from PinwheelStudio says:

    For just like in some instances of installation art, the concept presented is the art and the artist is the one who dreamed up the idea, even if other people are involved in interacting with the art work itself (like viewers/participators in an interactive exhibit).

    2 years ago

  • imogenskyefreeman

    Imogen Skye Freeman from InkPaintings says:

    Hm, creative developers whose product uses the *human* as the *tool*. An ironic twist, and one that, no doubt, some under-appreciated developers probably find very humourous. ;) Imagine designing a hammer that makes the the human strike *her* head against the nail, lol. Clever. And an interesting concept for an Etsy shop for sure! ;)

    2 years ago

  • kellyqld

    kellyqld says:

    I would like to have a go at this for fun. but i would never consider myself to be an artist because of it. i actually think that thought is absurd to be honest. i buy from etsy to buy handmade from humans. if i wanted it made by machines i'd be buying junk from the $2 shop or ebay.

    2 years ago