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Humans perceive reality in terms of relationships between shapes of tone. The junction where one shape of tone meets another is evident as the edge of an object meeting another edge. Early humans perceived this and in their desire to give representation to this phenomenon of the edge of one object meeting another edge, visually, they drew a line. With a leap of creativity, early humans invented a language for a visual shorthand, which to this day is still practiced by artists in a multitude of ways. It remains one of the most expressive, varied, and disciplined ways of drawing.

There are so many ways that artists have used line drawing that an entire book could be devoted to displaying examples of them, yet the book would only scratch the surface of the subject. In this chapter, you will find a number of examples that are quite different from each other and that are intended to start you working with and thinking about line drawing.

The more you practice to develop your skills and experiment with different methods of line drawing as an artist, the more you will be able to see your own personal drawing "signature" begin to emerge in your drawing. This is a natural process and shouldn't be forced; otherwise, you run the risk of hindering the learning process and developing a contrived style in your work. If you work diligently, with an open mind and a spirit of exploration of study, you will find that new surprises will materialize in your work as you evolve technically and artistically. This is what it means to work as an artist.

Leonardo da Vinci's great technical skills are evident in this copy of "The Head of Saint Philip". He has achieved the illusion of a human head in profile with sparse shading and one dominant line. The majority of the drawing consists of this single line of varying thickness that describes the profile of the young man. The minimal amount of shading gives volume to the head, but the accuracy and control of line are responsible for this very natural and lifelike portrait.

Example Line Portrait Drawing

Copy after Leonardo da Vinci's Head of Saint Philip, by Dean Fisher

In this section, you can view examples of line drawings. Each drawing has an explanation that describes just some of the qualities of line that are possible. A close-up on a portion of each image is also provided. The quality of line that is achieved is the result of many factors that came together to create an image that is a unified drawing representing a focus of artistic intent. This artistic intent is the blending of what feeling or idea the artist wanted to communicate originally, with the technical means to clearly convey it.

Aside from the personality of the artist and what the artist wanted to say about the subject, there are other factors that helped to determine the outcome of the work. One of them was how much time the artist had to complete the work. For example, an artist has to work much faster when drawing a horse, which is in continuous motion, compared to a tree, which is planted firmly in the ground. The amount of time a drawing takes to complete greatly affects the energy and strength of the line. If you look closely at a drawing, you can get a sense of the speed with which the line was created.

Another factor that determines a drawing's outcome is what materials were used in its creation. Chapter 2 introduced examples of a variety of types of marks, and showed how the texture of the paper and the type of drawing medium used determine the quality of the mark that is made.

Over time, as you experiment with different materials and develop your drawing skills, you will find yourself gravitating toward the drawing media and papers that best suit your personality as an artist.

Children on a bus, detail

Children on a bus, by Dean Fisher


This is an example of a continuous line drawn with a black ball-point pen. In this type of drawing exercise, the pen (or pencil) is never lifted off the paper, and the goal is to capture the feeling of the pose rather than the details. A close-up of the drawing on the right shows how even the smaller shapes of the figure are drawn to indicate expression more than accurate representation.

As an exercise, create a continuous line drawing—first a still life and then, as you gain confidence, try to draw a landscape or figure.

Continuous Line Drawing Robot
Figure Study, by Dean Fisher Figure Study, detail

These are rapid pencil drawings of a horse in motion. The artist had to work quickly as the horse changed its position every few seconds; as a result, the line is forceful and fast. The line changes from thin and light to heavier and dark, creating a sense of energy and movement. As you draw moving objects, you may notice similarities appearing in your lines.

In this example, notice how this heavier "searching" line imparts a completely different feeling from the two previous examples. It appears that, after establishing the gesture of the pose, The artist worked around the figure gradually, in short segments, refining the marks to make them more descriptive of the model. Also notice how the repeated double or triple line conveys the illusion of a figure in motion.

Figure Repeated Pencil Sketches

Figure Study, by J. S. Robinson


In this drawing, there is a combination of long fluid lines that accentuate the slightly elongated proportions of the subject, and shorter hatched lines that often follow the direction of the form to indicate the shadows. There is a range from very thin, crisp lines drawn with the sharpened tip of a pencil, to lines that are broader and softly drawn with the side of the pencil point. This softer line quality can be seen mostly in the hair, and helps to convey its soft texture (see the close-up image on the right).

How Draw Using Light And Dark Figure

This figure is drawn using sepia conté crayon. The drawing has a beautiful, light fluid line that is punctuated by a number of carefully placed darker accents. These dark accents serve two functions: First, they indicate deeper recesses of the form and in contrast allow other forms to emerge. Second, they help to create a rhythm in the drawing, based on their spacing from each other and the variety of sizes leading the viewer's eye around the drawing in an orchestrated fashion. The orange-brown color of the conté crayon imparts a feeling of warmth and light to the drawing.

Horizontal, by J. S. Robinson

Horizontal, detail

Horizontal, by J. S. Robinson

In this charcoal drawing, the figure has a visual impact, and its dynamism is created through the use of decisively placed heavy lines and marks. In some instances, the point of the charcoal is used, and in others, the line is drawn with the edge of the point of the charcoal stick. To indicate shadow, the side of the piece of charcoal, or charcoal stick, is used to different degrees of lightness or darkness, depending on how softly or firmly the charcoal stick is pressed against the paper. Of course, all of these confident marks have an effect because they are placed on a sound armature. Consequent upon this, the gesture is very believable and natural looking.

Horizontal, detail

Figure Study, detail

Figure Study, by Frank Bruckmann, courtesy of the artist

Figure Study, detail

In the previous chapters, the objects used for drawing exercises were not overly complex forms. In this chapter, you will be introduced to irregular shapes, often referred to as organic forms. These are objects that possess shapes that don't conform to the geometric forms (spheres, cylinders, and cubes), and that have a more random appearance.

As you can see, a beautiful palm was chosen as the main subject. It has very elegant, graceful lines and shapes, and perfectly lends itself to a line drawing exercise (see pages 132-137). The other objects in the still life setup—the Christmas cactus, seashell, and broken pot—are other examples of organic forms.

As you can see, a beautiful palm was chosen as the main subject. It has very elegant, graceful lines and shapes, and perfectly lends itself to a line drawing exercise (see pages 132-137). The other objects in the still life setup—the Christmas cactus, seashell, and broken pot—are other examples of organic forms.

Seashell Arrangements

You can consider this still-life arrangement as organic by nature because each object doesn't outwardly conform to a large geometric form. However, when you look closely, there are a number of unifying rhythms to be found in the setup, which then tie all of the objects together.

Once the drawing exercise begins on page 132, you should attempt to create a rhythm in your own drawing, based on what you find in your still life.

As well as a rhythm that links the objects together, it is also possible to impose some geometric forms on the arrangement as a whole. In the diagram on the right, a triangle and some rectangles (few shapes) have been placed over the still life setup to indicate some geometric forms. When attempting to create a unified composition, it is useful to break the subject down into its basic geometric forms. It is also helpful, when establishing the proportion of one object to another, to simplify what you're observing into basic squares, rectangles, triangles, and circles.

Good Proportion Drawing Images

Because of the complexity of accurately drawing the objects in this still life setup (see page 126) and their relationship to each other, this would be a good time to introduce the grid as a tool to assist you.

This is a great system for beginners, or for those individuals who struggle with proportions, to achieve a very high level of accuracy in their work. The grid is a great way to initially "map out" the forms of your subject. You can also use the grid throughout the entire drawing process to help you find even the smallest of shapes and their relationship to each other.

While this may seem to be an overly mechanical method of drawing for some, it is a great way to begin training your eye to see shapes. As you become a more trained artist, you most likely won't feel the need to use the grid the entire time, or you can just use it as a way to check for errors in your drawing.

How Draw Star Wars Characters

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Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

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