Drawing Eye-drawing Practice-based PhD

3: Eye drawing the hand

This experiment came right after my previous posts, using the same set-up, eye-tracker and calibration. Just as in my previous recordings, my left hand was placed on the table in front of me, and the intention was now to eye-draw it (repeatedly). The scanpaths in my previous posts dealt with eye-tracking other than actual eye-drawing, as both scanpaths are the traces of my eye while drawing with my right hand. This post illustrates six eye-drawings resulting from the set-up mention above, and they lasted approximately 15 seconds each to record.
This is 9 seconds less than the previous blind-contouring exercise, which does not seem to be a great difference until one calculates that they are 37.5% of the (earlier) time spent blind-contouring. I am flagging this up not because I am interested in the mathematical calculation of the act of drawing (or eye-drawing), but because this can lead me to several new questions about my own practice. It can be argued that the blind-contouring exercise took longer due to the hand co-ordination involved while drawing (eye-drawing is more ‘direct’), but I think there can be other variables to consider.
What happens if I try to consciously go slower? Can I actually go slower? The eye movements are quite difficult to control and saccades are always in motion. How can this ‘trace’ relate to the line/mark/contour in drawing, and how does it compare to the notion of ‘reducing’ the mark before it quickly transforms into a defined image? I am not (spatially) aware of the mark while eye-drawing, or rather, the mark is in my head (not on a support). I can only tangibly relate to it during post-processing (virtually).
Does the distance I was eye-drawing my hand from naturally influence the speed (and other factors)? Distance has always been a crucial issue to take into account when drawing; both physically and mentally.
I am also intrigued by the fact that it seems to have automatically taken about 14-16 seconds for every eye-drawing to manifest (six times in a row). Is this an indication of habituality? All six eye-drawings unconsciously started from the back of my hand, moving clockwise through my fingers and ended below the wrist. When hand-drawing I am aware that I make a lot of conscious (and sometimes habitual) decisions; where to start on my page, where to start on the object I am gazing at, etc. What happens if I train myself to be more aware of where to start and how to ‘move’ while eye-drawing (or should I not)?
Another important mention are the fixations. Arguably the fixations in the eye-drawings represent some kind of hesitation in figuring out where I am in the ‘drawing’ (relating directly to somewhere in my mental imagery). It is also interesting to note that the 6th eye-drawing manifests an unconscious ‘inattention’ towards the completion of the drawing, resulting in a ‘misdirection’ of the saccades. These unpredictable registrations can be of most interest when treating the practice of eye drawing in context of its unique perceptive moments in time and space.

Figure 5: Eye-drawing 1 of my left hand

Figure 6: Eye-drawing 2 of my left hand

Figure 7: Eye-drawing 3 of my left hand

Figure 8: Eye-drawing 4 of my left hand

Figure 9: Eye-drawing 5 of my left hand

Figure 10: Eye-drawing 6 of my left hand

Drawing Eye-drawing Practice-based PhD

2: Blind contouring the hand

This experiment came right after Experiment 1, using the same set-up, eye-tracker and calibration. The left hand was again posed on the table in front of me in the same way as in my previous post, and I blind-contoured it with my right hand.
Three mentions need to be noted. Firstly, during my past eye-drawing attempts I associated some experiential aspects of the practice of eye-drawing to blind-contouring (Attard, 2018, pp. 133 – 136). I felt
confident in doing so due to the extensive blind-contouring sessions I did in the past as a drawer myself. I feel that the most important similar characteristics to note are; how the eye behaves like a pencil (with the difference that in blind-contouring it coordinates with the hand), and how the eye experiences ‘synthetic’ contouring while gazing at the subject (in this case – my left hand).
Secondly, I saw that in some cases this technique has been referred to as blind-contouring (Nicolaïdes, 1969; among others), while in others as blind-drawing (Tchalenko and Miall, 2017; Petherbridge, 2010; among others).
Thirdly, blind-contouring is a practice which has been observed to be automatically implied by artists when drawing from life after they gain several experience (Tchalenko and Miall , 2017). Together with the latter point it is important to emphasise that I am not referring to the technique’s automatic induction for unconscious imagery, but to an enhanced seeing-drawing understanding.
Figure 3 shows my blind-contoured hand and Figure 4 illustrates my eye-scanpath while drawing it. The blind-contouring exercise lasted 24 seconds. Unlike in my previous post, the eye-scanpath (my gaze) does not show any reference made to the ongoing drawing on paper, and instead of several ‘traces’ projecting outward from the ‘shape’ of the hand, Figure 4 evidences a more linear/contained/controlled quality. This includes several fixation points along the hand’s ‘outline’. Some agitation occurs at the central area of the hand, which is presumably the area where the eye had to move along the superimposed fingers (therefore needing more perceptual understanding). I also suspect that some fixation occurred at points when my (drawing) right hand was ‘catching-up’ with the eye-movements. How much does this eye-tracking result vary in quality and in representation from an actual eye-drawing of the same hand?

Attard, M. (2018). Datafication as a contemporary artistic process [Unpublished Masters Dissertation]. University of Malta.
Nicolaïdes, K. (1969). The Natural Way to Draw (M. Harmon, Ed.). Houghton Mifflin. (Original work published 1941)
Petherbridge, D. (2010). The Primacy of Drawing. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Tchalenko, J., & Miall, R. (2017). Auguste Rodin Draws Blind: An Art and Psychology Study. Leonardo, 1-17.

Figure 3: My blind-contoured left hand

Figure 4: Eye-scanpath result while blind-drawing Figure 3

Drawing Eye-drawing Practice-based PhD

1: Drawing the hand

This experiment consisted in eye-tracking my eye-movements while drawing my left hand. A monocular Pupil Labs Core eye-tracker was used, tracking the gaze of my left eye. Figure 1 shows my hand-drawing of my left hand and Figure 2 shows my eye scanpath while drawing it. The drawing took 50 seconds to complete (and consequentially Figure 2 is the result of 50 seconds of data).
My practice-based research question consists in the attempt to explore ways of drawing with my eyes, but this exercise visualises my eye movements during my usual hand-drawing practice (which would be useful for future comparisons).
I feel that wearing the eye-tracker does not influence me much due to its unobtrusive nature, and even though at first I am aware and cautious about the fact that I am recording my acts, this immediately wears away as I concentrate on the practice of drawing. My main questions when drawing from life concern the what and where to look at. Many definitions of drawing have been attempted, and the ones I acknowledge most are those which seem to allude to the inconclusive and deliberately attempt a ‘non-definition’ of drawing — perhaps due to the ‘ghostly’ and ‘unfinished’ nature of drawing (and the practice) itself. It is worth noting that I am looking at drawing with my eyes for the sake of the act of drawing per se, and not to regard it as a sketch, as a way to problem-solve or any other possible drawing adaptation.
Figure 2 reminds me of several important points. There is more gazing activity happening around the hand area, which intensifies along its ‘contours’. This evidences the looking and seeing quest of identifying an outline/contour while drawing. Perhaps it is also evident of the induced/habitual ‘rule’ when drawing from life; to draw what you see and not what you know. Drawing from life is both a hesitant and yet, precise activity.

Figure 1: Hand-drawing of my left hand

Figure 2: Eye-tracking result while drawing Figure 1


This section provides regularly updated content about my ongoing practice-based PhD research at the Edinburgh College of Art. I will treat this blog as if it were a sketchbook.
My research explores possible uses of an eye-tracking device as a drawing medium, and I primarily focus on drawing with my eyes from life.
This research is supported by the Malta Arts Scholarship scheme.