Andy Warhol, Portrait of James Wyeth

When viewing art, allow a few minutes just to observe. Careful observation allows time to use all the senses, become engaged, and notice things missed at first glance. Make a list of everything observed: objects, colors, shapes, patterns or textures, the quality of the line, as well as the feelings that the work conveys to you.

Andy Warhol, Portrait of James Wyeth


Andy Warhol, Portrait of James Wyeth, 1976. Drawing on paper. Accession No. 2012.16.2 

Guiding Questions:

  • How did the artist use line to help viewers move around the image?
  • How did the artist frame the subject? Notice how the top of the head is cut off and how the line of the hand trails off the page
  • What feelings does this image convey?
  • Why might an artist use only pencil?

Create a contour line portrait!

All we’ll need is a pencil, eraser and paper. And a subject! Perhaps a self-portrait? If so, you’ll need a mirror. Or can you find someone willing to sit for you?

First step:

Determine your point of view. Do you want to have your portrait looking directly at the viewer or looking away? Perhaps you might want to follow the right gazing example of the portrait sister in the drawing above. Contour drawings take time, even though they look like they might have been done very quickly. Only move your pencil when you feel sure of your line, inching along.

Second step:

Contour drawing is looking only at the edges of the shapes of your subject. There is no use of tone or shading. Starting with any edge, use your pencil to define the contour edge of the shapes you see. Lift your pencil when you come to another part of your portrait, for example when the neck transitions to the chin or the forehead transitions to the hair. How does the direction of the line change? Follow the next contour within your subject. Keep building the drawing looking for the contours of the shapes that you see. You can move from larger areas of working the drawing to more detailed areas like the eyes or hair. As in the drawing above, watch for areas where the lines within the shapes change direction; i.e. in the hair or eyes for example.

Third step:

Erase to restate where you need to. And keep going. Remove any lines that are extra. Use a sure and steady hand. Take your time! 

Fourth step:

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For more information on this artwork visit this page on the Farnsworth Art Museum website:

Andy Warhol, Portrait of James Wyeth, 1976. Drawing on paper. Accession No. 2012.16.2 

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