a personal art course, but with too many words and not enough drawings

Archive for December 2011

Line Quality, Part 1

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I started a little group project. We’ll be going through exercises aimed at building our drawing (and eventually painting/vectoring/comics whatever it is that people want to accomplish) skills. Hosting my posts here because WordPress is more reliable, and this makes them easier to keep track of.

Line Quality, Part 1

Here is a drawing by Paul Gustave Doré. There are several types of lines here, serving different purposes. For instance, the thin, even and somewhat bland lines suggesting the background make the foreground figures, who are depicted with far more vigorous and bold lines, come forward.

Another example of different line quality, this time by R.O. Blechman. Squiggly, broken, fairly even lines.

Line weight (thickness), shape, etc. is known as line quality. Hopefully you can tell that having some variation in line quality generally makes things look more interesting.

Here’s a drawing – bonus points if you can identify who it is – done with three different types of line. The leftmost is an even line, an effect you can see in the way OOTS figures are outlined or if drawing digitally without pressure sensitivity turned on. Even lines can be used to great effect but they tend to make work look lifeless and coldly precise. Good if you’re a technical illustrator, less so for what we’re trying to achieve here. Even lines are usually caused by pressing down too hard (because it’s harder to maintain even lines with a lighter touch), so lighten up.

In the middle is the infamous fuzzy line. This appears a lot in expressionist art – Kathe Kollwitz, Willem de Kooning etc. – but again, should be avoided unless you are intentionally going for that look.

On the right is my attempt at drawing with variations in line weight. The way I do it is to imagine I’m physically tracing the contour of the subject with my crayon. Where it turns (e.g. the curve of the nose), I generally press harder to get a better ‘feel’ of the form.

I don’t have much more to say so let’s go on to the exercises.


These are really just to get you familiar with your tools, and to give you some practice with controlling your hand and arm.

Get a largish piece of paper (no smaller than A4/letter size) and put it up on a wall if you can. Otherwise just draw on a flat or slightly inclined surface. You could do this with a large tablet, say Intuos4’s medium size or above, but I strongly discourage it if you have little experience controlling your lines traditionally.

I used china marker (trying to use up the stubs of my broken one) on newsprint (because it’s cheap and big). Any support (the surface you’re drawing on) will do, and you can try this exercise with pencil, charcoal/conte, pen (not technical pen/fineliner), brush, digital ink or all of the above.

These three positions apply whether you are standing or sitting. The size of the stroke you want to draw determines which part of the arm you use – keep the highlighted part relatively rigid and pivot from the joint on the other side. For large lines draw from the shoulder, using your back/waist/knees (for really big lines) etc. to help. As the lines get smaller we move to drawing from the wrist and finally the fingers.

Fill up a few pages with line exercises. That just means draw different kinds of strokes, try using different pressure, hold your pencil differently etc. Avoid the even line and fuzzy line – keep strokes as long and smooth as you can. Some examples below:

Lines can convey speed. As something gets slower or heavier the lines get weightier too.

Exercises to practice arm motion. Don’t forget to do these in all directions – left-right, up-down, corner-corner.


Written by krysjez

December 3, 2011 at 12:13 am