Putting Lines to Work for You

“I can’t even draw a straight line!” is a common phrase I hear before beginners start lessons with me. But we soon learn to draw a wide variety of lines, including reasonably straight ones. With practice, even errant and wobbly lines will bend to your command. For students like Dotty, shown above, putting various lines to work is at the heart of learning to draw from observation.

During Wednesday’s Drawing Lab, Jessica learned charcoal techniques for sweeping angled lines and blocking values.

Mapping out the early stages of your drawing should feel a bit like geometry class—an intriguing process of discovering relationships between abstract shapes.

This is where straight lines come into the picture. In her book, Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides writes, “Straight lines are used more frequently than curved lines for drawing because they are easier for the mind to comprehend. The curve is very difficult to copy directly, while straight-line relationships can easily be measured.”

Iterative charcoal studies by Drawing Lab student, Jessica, show her use of angled construction lines to find measurements for the hand and sphere.

This classical method of using straight lines instead of curved lines to measure may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it is essential for building an accurate drawing.

As you progress through corrections and adjustments to your composition, angled lines and abstract shapes gradually give way to sketching curved contour lines and specific details of your subject. Once the final framework is constructed, you can relax into modeling your three-dimensional form with light and dark values.

Lenore uses just about every type of line you can think of, as she makes progress on her drawing of our studio skull, “Bob”. We’re excited to see the finished work!

Adding curved lines is the emotional stage of your drawing—it is what we sketchers live for! Your inner artist lights up as curves bring movement and harmony to the structured framework of angled lines.

Youth student, Faith, loves this stage of doing a drawing. Blocked masses are carved away by her expressive contour lines during Wednesday night’s Drawing Lab. Faith is currently studying George Brigman’s Complete Guide to Drawing From Life to apply formal human anatomy to comic characters she is designing.

“A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”
—Paul Klee, artist

After spending time studying how to use straight and curved lines in the studio, shifting gears and stepping outside to explore spontaneous, expressive lines is definitely a refreshing change of pace.

While traveling with a sketchbook for the first time, Fiona gained confidence in using her Micron pen and watercolors instead of a pencil. Her dancing lines capture the scene at hand.

During Wednesday’s Drawing Lab, Fiona shared her sketches from a recent school trip to Cuba. Her sketches show how she puts her own style of wonky lines to work.

Looks like Fiona is glad to be back in the studio after her adventure in Cuba!
By slowing her line work down just a little, Fiona was able to dial in some exquisite details for this one.
Storey decided to spend her Drawing Lab session sketching trees, one of her favorite things to draw.
Storey practiced emphasizing lines and details to bring a tree to foreground, and used lighter lines and less detail to make other trees recede to the background.
Mom (Zak) and daughter (Scout) just chillin’ and sketchin’ outside.
Scout’s line work does a wonderful job of showing the direction a succulent is growing toward the sun and gravity pulling against it. Notice the light block-in lines for flower shapes.
Zak’s awesome composition shows how the vertical lines of the building contrasts with organic lines of the trunks. She did a great job of sketching swiftly and keeping the whole page light and alive before adding details.
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Rob Court

Founder and drawing coach at the Scribbles Institute, Rob helps adults and kids learn basic drawing skills for work, school, and enjoyment. He is the author of a number of how-to-draw books.