Taking a line for a walk

(1) outline drawing; (2) accented outline combined with broken outline. Notice how the accent and broken line in drawing 2 give it more interest.

     The act of drawing has been described as “Taking a line for a walk.”  Outline drawing is the best example of this description. 

      We all know that in real life, objects don’t have lines around them.  Light, shadows, and color let us see objects and detach them from their surroundings.  If you look closely at objects that appear to have outlines, you’ll discover that these are really extremely narrow areas of tone, either light, shade, shadow or perhaps color.

     Even so, we tend to think of objects as being bounded by definite lines.  If you look at an object and draw these imaginary boundary lines to show the separation of one part, tone or color from another, you have created an outline drawing.  Outline drawing is the easiest and most natural kind of drawing.  It is the kind of drawing used by very young children to express their view of the world. 

     When a young child uses outline, not much thought is given to the nature of the line.  Small children don’t care if the line is thick or thin; they will use a fine pencil or a broad marker with equal enthusiasm.  Artists, however, know that if they want to express themselves well, they must use different kinds of outlines ranging from strong to subtle depending on the subject and the effect they want.

     The simplest outline uses a line of uniform thickness, entirely bounding each object depicted and with additional line work inside the forms to make the drawing understandable (for example, veins on a leaf).  This kind of line is good for showing extremely simple objects, flat objects, or objects that everyone will immediately recognize.  For a good example of this kind of outline work, look at a coloring book.  Each drawing is made up of simple shapes, and the lines are usually the same width.  The drawing is simple but objects are easily recognized.

     Another kind of outline work is called “accented outline.”  These lines will vary in width and character.  For example, imagine a picture of a bunch of grapes done in coloring-book style, with all lines of equal width.  Now imagine that the right side of each grape has a slightly thicker line.  This immediately gives more depth and interest to the picture, by suggesting that there is a light source on the left that causes a shadow on the right.  The shadow is not actually shown — it’s all done with thicker lines on the side where a shadow would fall.

     Broken line work is also more interesting than continuous uniform line work.  With broken line work, the lines are not continuous.  Enough line is used to show what the object is, but there are occasional “breaks” in the line.   The viewer’s imagination fills in the breaks. 

     If you would like to try outline drawing, you’ll need a pencil, paper, and a felt-tip drawing pen of whatever thickness you are comfortable with.   You’ll need to have some experience with freehand pencil sketching.  Lightly sketch your subject with pencil.  Don’t worry about light or shadow; you are concerned with both the outside shape of the object (its silhouette) and the shapes within it that make it “readable” to the viewer. 

     Once your simple sketch is done, use the felt-tip pen to ink the lines.  Don’t use sketchy or “feathery” lines, but follow the line in your pencil sketch that you feel is best.  When the ink is dry, gently erase the pencil lines.

     When you have completed this simple outline drawing, use your pencil to lightly sketch an arrow in one corner of the page to help you remember where the light is coming from.  Now use your pen to accent (make heavier) every line on object that is OPPOSITE this arrow.  If the light is coming from the left, your heavier lines will be on the right. and vice versa.  You might want to repeat this exercise using the same object but with different light sources.

    Try another outline drawing, but this time break the line here and there.  Combine this with accented lines to make an even more interesting drawing. 

     If you really enjoy outline drawing, you may want to purchase a dip pen holder, some nibs (pen points), and India ink at an art supply store.  By applying gentle pressure to a split nib, you can create accented lines at the first go-round on your drawing.  Classic dip pen drawing is challenging — you occasionally have to deal with drips and splatters — but with practice it becomes very expressive and extremely rewarding for the artist.

     Take a line for a walk, and have fun!

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Archives, HowDoit PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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