Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing with Line

Nutmeg © Barbara Weeks

A line drawing is like a solo piano. It can express everything from the even cadence of practicing scales, to the emotion of a concerto, to the novel rhythm of a jazz improvisation, and all with just a single instrument! A 2B pencil is usually my instrument of choice but a ballpoint, a fountain pen, a fiber-tipped pen or even a stick can bring its own distinct qualities to a sketch. 

There are many reasons to explore line as a drawing technique. Here's just a few:
  1. It comes naturally to us. Watch a child draw with abandon using line. We all unconsciously doodle with line. We should stretch and develop this natural tendency.
  2. Line emphasizes shape and helps us see structure. 
  3. It can be a quick way to get fleeting impressions of our surroundings down on paper.
  4. A single line can be slow and sensitive describing the attitude of a shoulder or the roll of a hilly landscape.
  5. Line can show the erratic movement of a crowd or the scratchy texture of a piece of toast.
  6. A confident and varied line can give even the most mundane subject character.
Starbucks © Barbara Weeks
Toast © Barbara Weeks

A few tricks:
  1. Vary the pressure on your line from heavy to light to disappearing to show volume and distance. 
  2. Restate a line when searching for a shape or form. Don’t erase the old line. It will add life and energy to the drawing.
  3. Practice making lines that describe different textures such as smooth, hard, soft, hairy.
  4. Practice freehand drawing straight (well, straightish) lines on the paper varying the  thickness. When I practice I usually make two dots at least three inches apart and then connect the dots. and work down the page. It will give you a sure hand and a confident line. It’s like practicing the scales on the piano.

Ouch! © Barbara Weeks
African Ape © Barbara Weeks
A beautiful painting is a wonder to behold but there is much to be said for the simple power of a line drawing. It’s like a full orchestra and a solo piano.


  1. Great post! I really like the musical analogy Barbara. I think this post is a great reminder not to over complicate our sketches and a reminder of what can be done with something so straightforward. I think it's a pretty powerful pair of posts if you take what Alex talked about in her post about talent and what you are getting at here. While you can quickly achieve some pretty powerful drawings with line, even as a beginner, it's inspiring to see what the masters were able to do with line and something to strive for. (I am always inspired after spending time in the drawings and prints section of the Art Institute where you tend to see tons of great examples of the use of line).

  2. Thanks, Andrew! I agree, this post does reinforce what Alex said. Practice, practice, practice and draw, draw, draw! But most of all – Enjoy it!


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