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?