OCAD Studio: Basic Line Drawing

Straight Lines

When working from life, using straight lines will help you to be accurate when drawing your subject. Lines are used to measure the distances and angles between shapes. In a more general sense, they suggest a certain strength and rigidity. Straight lines make us think of geometry, architecture and man-made forms.




Curved Lines

In contrast to straight lines, curved lines are more flowing and natural, giving artworks a sense of movement and unreleased energy. As a result, they are a great way to make an artwork more emotional. When working from life, they help you to capture the overall gesture of your subject. Unfortunately, they also tend to be less accurate than straight lines, so make sure not to overuse them in the early stages of a representational piece.




Establishing the Primary Lines

1) When beginning a drawing, you need to decide which primary lines will best capture the overall feeling of you subject. Think to yourself, if I was only allowed to use one line to make this image, what would that line be?

a) In the case of a figurative artwork, your primary lines will be determined by the shape and mood of your subject.

b) In an abstracted artwork the overall direction of your primary lines will be up to you, depending on the feeling you hope to evoke with the piece.

c) It is also possible to have an idea for the primary lines before adding a figurative subject, in this case, you would try to fit the subject to the shape made by these lines.

2) These lines determine the basic impression that your artwork will make. They do not need to be perfect, they simply provide a framework as you add more smaller lines and shapes.

3) Don’t make all of your primary lines the same shape and direction. An interesting composition will use a variety of different lines. It often helps to use both straight and curved lines together in your artwork.

4) You can also add counter curves and angles to achieve this sense of variety and balance. A counter curve goes in the opposite direction to an existing curve and angled lines cross over the existing straight lines.

5) Feel free to play around with the placement, shape and relationship of the primary lines until you feel that you have got the overall effect and sense of balance that you are after.

6) Don’t get too detailed too quickly. Make the drawing more complicated slowly, as though you are sculptor chiselling away at a block of stone. By making sure that you are happy with the primary lines before adding detail, you will be able to make sure that all the parts of your composition work well together at each stage of the drawing.


Here are several technical pointers that should help you to produce confident drawings using primary lines:

1) Hold your your drawing instrument (pen or pencil etc.) at the base rather than at the tip when beginning a drawing. You only need to hold it at the tip for details.

2) Try to pivot from your elbow instead of your wrist when you draw lines (if you are working at a larger scale you can even pivot from your shoulder). This helps to keep your lines straight and stop you from adding detail too quickly.

3) Keep the primary lines light and sketchy, as they only show the overall gesture and feel of the piece. When your drawing is nearly done you will be able to erase any lines that are not needed.








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