Lines are where most people begin when first starting to draw. By themselves, lines are powerful drawing tools! They have shape, texture, and weight, all of which can add up to a very expressive drawing if you’re thoughtful about their creation.
When beginning a drawing, people often carefully inspect an object’s outside edge, or silhouette, as a starting point. They render each line representing an edge or contour. Next, people usually fill in those contours with value.
However, so much can happen using just line alone! A line by itself is capable of conveying all sorts of emotions. In your drawings, lines can and should have life.
In your sketchbook, take five minutes to draw as many different kinds of lines as you can imagine. Try different movements with your hand, drawing lines from your wrist, your elbow, and then your whole arm. Try different amounts of hand pressure, creating straight lines, parallel lines, curves, and spirals. There’s no wrong or right answer here! This freeing exercise will help open up your expressive drawing skills, warming you up to this medium.
German expressionist Egon Schiele is a master of the living line. In these images note how he uses nothing but varying kinds of line in order to imbue these portraits with interest and emotion.
Part of what we see creating the sense of liveliness and emotion in Schiele’s lines is an incredible understanding of line weight.
Line weight is an important drawing concept. Different tools create different kinds of lines, and allow us different methods of varying line weight. A line’s weight, meaning how dark or thick it is, will make that line either move forward in an image (if it’s a strong, dark line) or sink farther back (if it’s light or thin). This is useful when trying to give the impression of something being closer or further away. A heavier line weight will also create emphasis on a particular area of a drawing, which is of course useful in creating our focal points.
In the two images shown here, note how the image on the left is logical. The closest block is also the one with the thickest contour line, which makes visual sense. However, in the image on the right, the line weights of the blocks don’t follow the correct hierarchy, as they don’t recede in space logically.
David Mack, contemporary comic book illustrator and creator, is known for his linear figure drawing style. In the next series of drawings, notice how Mack uses only contour lines in order to describe the body. It’s useful to note that he cites Schiele as an influence to his work. His expert use of line weight is especially obvious in the implied shadows that convey a feeling of gravity entirely though varying thickness of line.