Line Drawing Basics

When most people think of fine art, I think they see great and glorious paintings, full color drawings, or exquisite sculptures. They don’t usually think “simple line drawings,” but you know what? You can do a lot with lines just by making use of a few line drawing basics.

Line Drawing Basics

September 1 marked the beginning of this year’s colored pencil plein air drawing challenge. I set aside time last year to draw outside at least once a week, just because it was something I’d never done before, and because I wanted an excuse to enjoy cooler autumn temperatures.

I enjoyed it so much, I decided to do it again this year.

But just because it was designed for fun doesn’t mean it’s not also a learning experience.

Or maybe a reminding experience would be a better way to put it. The first drawing I did (on Labor Day, no less) was one of those drawings that started out basic, but reminded me of something wonderful.

You can do a lot with nothing but lines!

A Basic Line Drawing

This is my first plein air drawing for September.

Line Drawing Basics - Labor Day Drawing

It’s pretty simple really. One color—Prismacolor Chocolate—and a small piece of Stonehenge in Fawn. It took about an hour to draw.

No, the trees aren’t really bare, not yet. But I could see enough of the branches through the foliage to be intrigued by the pattern of criss-crossing branches.

What makes this drawing work for me is the way line can be used to create pictorial depth.

3 Line Drawing Basics

Interestingly enough, there are very few lines in nature. Take a look around you. Whatever you see, you’re unlikely to see lines. The lamp across the room, the view through the window, even the cat or dog sleeping nearby. They all have shape, but there are no lines defining their shape.

In drawing, however, lines are the most basic tool at your disposal. Lines mark the edges of things. You use them to indicate the shape of the lamp, window, cat or dog you’re drawing. The line marks where the lamp ends and something else begins. Knowing how to use them makes drawing what you see easier, quicker, and more fun.

Once you master these three line drawing basics, you can make your line drawings come to life!

Line Value

Line value refers to the darkness of the line you draw. A simple rule of thumb is that darker lines look closer than lighter lines. This also applies to colors. Lighter colors look more distant than darker (or brighter) colors.

Line Drawing Basics - Line Value

Line Weight

The weight of a line is its thickness. The thicker a line the “heavier” it is.

The lines that are thinner in this illustration appear to be further away, while the heavier lines come forward in the drawing.

Line Drawing Basics - Line Weight

It doesn’t hurt that the lighter weight lines are also lighter in value, but even if they weren’t they would still look further away than their thicker counterparts.

Overlapping Lines

Of course, the best and easiest way to draw the illusion of space is to overlap lines and shapes. Even if the line value and line weight is the same for every line, the lines that overlap the other lines will appear to be closer.

Line Drawing Basics - Overlapping Lines

Putting it All Together

The best drawings are those that put all the line drawing basics together  in a solid composition.

The basics work with any drawing, large or small, simple or complicated. Even if you know nothing else about line drawing, mastering these line drawing basics can help you map out compositions more quickly and easily than almost any other art skill or tool you may possess.

10 Replies to “Line Drawing Basics”

  1. A really fantastic guide, really. I love that simple line drawing. And you are correct, those basics make EVERYTHING. If you’re going to draw, you have to see things like an artist, see trees through the leaves, see lines through the blur, and see nature how others don’t: in a way that we can actually express as artists.

  2. I am a 78 year old retired nurse, small time author of 2 books, a simple sewer, knitter, crocheter and Learning more about drawing and watercolor. Google vickey stamps. Author to learn more. Thanks so much for this tutorial. Have a wonderful time with special upcoming holidays. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOURS. VICKEY

  3. Thank you for this. In retirement I have returned to drawing and taking some lessons in various drawing and painting techniques but have learned drawing simply is my favourite. Your article provides a beautifully understandable approach to drawing.

  4. As a”sporatic” draftsman, I have been envious of those who could “embellish” their work with vegetation. The old guy has learned new trick. Thank you

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