Do You Know All Your Lines?

Pencil Sketch Your Favorite Lines

Two Women with Still Life by Willem de Kooning, pastel and charcoal on paper, 22 1/4 x 18 3/4 in., 1952.
Two Women with Still Life by Willem de Kooning,
pastel and charcoal on paper, 22 1/4 x 18 3/4 in., 1952.

The artifice of line is one of the aspects of drawing that I am most in love with. The fact that we can take line—which doesn’t exist in the natural world—and create a pencil sketch or a formal work of art that looks incredibly real or full of fakery, depending on what we want to do with it, is enthralling.

And artists do so much with it. I mean, just think of all the various types of line that you might use in any given pencil sketch.

Bull Sketch by Pablo Picasso.
Bull Sketch by Pablo Picasso.

You could start with a something elementary like an outline drawing with rectilinear lines that are straight with pointed angles. A cube or an architectural blueprint comes to mind, as does Michelangelo’s design of the Medici Chapel in Florence.

But that’s only the start. Sketching with curvilinear or organic lines that are curving, oftentimes gestural, and free-flowing can produce drawings as various as those of Willem de Kooning or Raphael or Bouguereau.

Michelangelo's design of the Medici Chapel in Florence is based on rectilinear straight lines and clean pointed angles.
Michelangelo’s design of the Medici Chapel
in Florence is based on rectilinear straight
lines and clean pointed angles.

Look inside any artist’s sketchbook and the drawing sketches you find will usually find yet another kind of line—broken line. Quick figure sketches often have short slash marks or hatches that are almost essential in a contour drawing, and when multiplied and layered these broken lines can become crosshatching that gives a sense of volume to a drawn object or figure.

Egon Schiele's contour line drawing, Mother with Child (1910).
Egon Schiele’s contour line drawing,
Mother with Child (1910).

In contrast, a continuous line can be used to great effect in a drawing because the line takes center stage. Schiele was a master with continuous line, making the whole thing look animate and alive—as much as the subject he was depicting!

And then there is implied line, which is tricky to point out because the line is not actually there and the lack is what often animates a drawing. Picasso’s drawing of a bull shows how exceptionally the artist uses line and the implication of line.

Self-portrait by Raphael, c. 1495.
Self-portrait by Raphael, c. 1495.

After talking through these concepts I feel as if I’m seeing lines everywhere, and one place where I know I can further my knowledge and passion for line and the other fundamental stepping stones of drawing is in the new Claudia Nice Bundle, which includes How to See, How to Draw, Texture Drawing Basics, and Landscape Drawing Basics. (It’s also available as a digital bundle!) With these guides, I’ve started to better understand how I can see as a draftsman, create different pencil strokes,and use  so many kinds of line in my drawings. It’s empowering and exciting because I know I am learning how to draw in so many different ways. And options mean power, artists! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “Do You Know All Your Lines?

  1. Dear Courtney, while our media are very different, (mine is art quilts) I had to link this very eloquent essay to my own blog posting..

    http://www.fiberfantasies.com/wordpress/?p=801

    “It’s all in the Lines” that I wrote a few months ago. I often find that I am more inspired by what artists in other media have to say, and this is certainly the case with this posting of yours. You ialso ncluded excellent examples of diverse use of lines by various artists…well done!

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