The Elements of Line Drawing

By Hugh Quentinand Jon Mumford

Lines and their characteristics make or break a drawing–therefore you either have a masterpiece or a doodle.

The basic purpose of a line drawing is to describe the form with the use of varied lines in thickness, lost and found edges, to give direction, flow, volume and space as well as hatching or shading effects to give depth (values – lightness or darkness.)

When viewing an object to draw, we do not see lines but the edges of 3D forms separating each space and volume whilst uniformly projecting a unified whole.

In drawing or sketching one must develop the skill of hand-eye coordination to expose an exact line BEFORE the pencil touches the paper!

Failing that, it becomes a meaningless doodle.

In drawing and object, landscape or the human figure, the artist should look and observe these subjects about 80-90 percent of the time and only a small percentage at his or her drawing. Why? Your eye movement should be following along the line before otherwise you lose contact and “feel” with the form with the resultant doodle.

There is an excellent exercise for students to observe an object with feeling, then draw it from memory. This should be followed by drawing it again by closing your eyes. I think you will be surprised by the results! By doing this exercise regularly, your observations will improve and your drawings will become accurate. There’s a corollary to this; always observe your subject by holding it in your mind’s eye and not in your drawing.

If you draw without variation in line width, or pressure from your pencil to achieve a lighter to darker line–your drawing will look boring and lifeless. With variable lines, your drawings will appear as if they are going into a “deeper space” or receding into nothing thereby giving your drawing more 3D volume.

With line variations you can describe roundness of the form, softness, weight, volume, movement and tension. If your drawing looks a little static with little variation in your line, try erasing some of them in a few places especially where forms overlap–now take a look and see the difference.

This takes us into “lost and found edges.” Sometimes lighting can be a factor in how you perceive edges. A disappearing form can be blurred by soft lights on contoured surfaces–so practice with a medium HB pencil of pressing firmly across your paper starting with an almost black line and gradually easing the pressure until you obtain a very faint line.

With these exercises you will soon train your eye to actually ‘feel’ the surface while varying the pressure to obtain a distinction which will make a difference in the overall effect.

Hugh Quentin is a webmaster for his drawing and sketching website who provides tips and guidance to anyone wanting to learn how to draw using a pencil, charcoal, or pen and ink. Find examples of how to draw animals, people, angels, Gothic art, landscapes, and more.

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