Line Drawing Techniques and Exercises
I know. Drawing can be very frustrating.
You compare yourself with all great artists out there and think that you will never draw like that. Your emotions prevent you from identifying the problem and eliminating it.
Think over every issue you have in your drawing:
Is it something wrong with perspective?
Is there a problem with line weight?
Any issues with proportions?
As soon as you identify the problems, split them into manageable parts and get down to work. Suddenly you will realize that it’s not a mystical ‘talent’ that you don’t have.
These are particular drawing skills you CAN develop.
For now, we are focusing on line drawing.
Whatever your ultimate interest is: landscape painting, character concepts, industrial design or other work of art, linear drawing is your primary weapon. By the way, painting is also drawing. You just fill paint between your lines.
My approach is based predominantly on exercises, and each one has its purpose. They are here not accidentally or randomly. The more you work on them, the easier it will be for you to draw different subjects during later lessons.
Some techniques I stole from great teachers (without any regret), others I invented myself. What is most important for you, they will make your linework more confident.
Apart from increasing the quality of your sketches and drawings, you will start to take pleasure from the process.
Controlling the Line
Every line has direction and length. It starts at one point, goes along a particular trajectory and then ends at another point.
The common mistake in line drawing is a so-called ‘chicken-scratch line’ when you go over your marks back and forth.
Don’t do this.
If you want your lines to have a meaning, you must control each of them.
Ghosting the Line
It is a comprehensive technique that will help you to develop a clean line work and predetermine the position of your lines.
Holding your pen over a paper, go along an imaginative trajectory several times. Try to feel the motion.
Put the pen on a paper and draw a line with the same motion.
One single and consistent line.
Draw from Your Elbow
Primarily it refers to sketching continuous long lines. Circles and ellipses are also done best by circular movements from the elbow.
You should hold your wrist and fingers locked. Move the whole arm while drawing flowing/long line.
Use movement of your wrist for short lines and use your fingers to draw finest details.
With this approach, you will draw lines confidently foreseeing the exact position of each one. It takes a lot of practice, don’t get me wrong. You can’t become a great draughtsman overnight.
To speed up this process, you should draw without erasing.
Exactly! No erasing at all.
Draw freehand with ballpoint pen or a felt-tip pen (this is the best).
What is a line? It’s a point which travels along a certain trajectory.
The line can be straight or curved.
We’re starting from a simple straight line and move up to tricky and composite curves.
Exercise 1. A straight Line Through 2 Points
Put two points on paper.
Ghost a straight line from one point to another, feel the trajectory.
Then drop a pen on paper and draw a line with the same motion.
Here you have two options: you can either draw eight lines over this one or put several lines parallel to it.
I recommend you to vary your drawing practice.
It’s like training in the gym. Comprehensive training approach includes working on different muscle groups. The same principle applies to a drawing workout.
Exercise 2. Finding the Missing Angle of a Rectangle
Now we raise the bar.
Using the same ghosting technique draw two perpendicular lines, just as a corner of a rectangle.
Your goal is to find the missing corner and complete the rectangle.
Ghost back and forth along the trajectory of an imaginary angle. When you feel the position of the angle, put a dot right there.
Now find two missing lines, intersecting at this dot. Draw them one by one, using a familiar ghost technique.
Repeat this exercise sketching rectangles of different proportions and in various positions.
All techniques offered in the lesson are perfect warm-ups before a sketching session.
Exercise 3. A Straight Line Through 3 Points
This exercise will improve your ability to visualize your lines.
The goal is to align three dots on a straight line, maintaining equal distances between them.
- Put two dots.
- Ghost a straight line between these dots. Your goal is to find the middle. Move your arm back and forth. Look at the area of the desirable midpoint.
- When you feel the direction of a line and visualize the midpoint, put a dot at this point.
- Draw a straight line through all three points.
Exercise 4. Rails With Converging Ledges
This exercise is a piece of training for drawing in perspective.
- Draw a horizontal line 5-7 inches long.
- Put a dot A somewhere in the distance.
- Ghost a straight line from a dot to that horizontal.
- Put a dot B somewhere along that trajectory. Draw a straight line from the horizontal to the point B.
- Fill in the whole horizontal.
Try to make ending points B, C, D, E aligned parallel to your horizontal. Then, the whole construction will look like rails with converging ledges.
It is the second type of lines.
Like straight lines, curves also have the direction and length.
But it’s tricky.
If you try to draw a very specific irregular curve with one motion, the result will probably be not very good.
Our hand tends to flatten things.
So, instead of an expressive line:
You get something like this:
It’s uniform and less interesting.
How to solve this problem?
Divide your curves into segments.
Exercise 5. Flowing Line Through Multiple Points
- Put 3-7 random dots on paper.
- Visualize a curving line going through these points.
- Ghost your curve. Remember, that a line has a direction. It’s your own choice which direction to use. Just be consistent with it.
- Start to draw a curve from the first point to the second one.
- Stop. You have the first segment.
- Start ghosting from the beginning. Put the pen on paper before the beginning of the second segment. In such a manner you continue the original flow of the line.
If you start a new segment right at the ending point of the previous one, there will be an unwanted interruption of the flow. Of course, if you need that, you can do it.
Continue this process for the rest of the segments.
When the flowing line is done, you have two options:
- go over it eight times: draw continuous lines without segmentation;
- draw parallel curves (also continuous lines).
Draw them without segmentation. One line = one motion.
Exercise 6. Mirroring Curves
- Draw a curve using the technique from the previous exercise. You can vary the length and curvedness/straightness of each segment. This will make your lines more appealing.
- Put a vertical line near your curve. It is mirroring axis (MA) for your curve.
- Mirror a point A to the other side. To do this, ghost a line from an A perpendicular to the mirror axis. Go through it to the point A1.
- Measure the equal distances between A – MA and MA – A1. Ghost back and forth along an imaginable line. Make sure to keep its direction perpendicular to a mirroring axis.
- When you’re comfortable with the motion, put a dot A1.
- Mirror the remaining points.
- When you have all points in place, check them drawing lines from A to A1, B to B1 and so on.
Checking your mistakes is very important. You can fix them only if you find and acknowledge them.
Correct the position of the point, if needed. Then draw your mirrored curve.
Ellipses are used to draw circles in perspective, construct symmetrical objects, measure distance in perspective, check the position of your surfaces in space, and more.
Therefore, concept artists and industrial designers use ellipses all the time.
If you want to draw anything from your imagination, it is crucial to be able to sketch confident freehand ellipses.
Minor, Major Axes
Every ellipse has two important dimensions:
- Major axis – the biggest diameter which divides ellipse into symmetrical halves;
- Minor axis – the smallest diameter that divides ellipse into two symmetrical parts. For our drawing purposes, the minor axis is crucial. You should consider this line as a guide for positioning your ellipses.
Another thing that you are to remember about ellipses is called ‘the degree of an ellipse’.
Completely opened ellipse (circle) is called 90° ellipse.
Completely closed one is called 0° ellipse.
All other degrees fall in-between.
45° ellipse is often used.
You may think that 45° ellipse has a half width comparatively to 90° ellipse.
But it’s not.
45° ellipse is actually wider than a half of a circle.
We will get to it in the lesson about perspective.
So, two most important things to keep in mind when drawing ellipses:
- the minor axis of an ellipse;
- the degree of an ellipse.
Do the following drawing exercises to train your eye to see a minor axis and train your hand to establish different degrees of ellipses.
Exercise 7. Finding a Minor Axis
- Ghost technique is handy for drawing confident ellipses and circles. It’s hard to make a smooth and consistent circular line without ghosting it several times.
- Hover pen, go through the motion a few times in a row, feel it. Then, without interruption, drop a pen on a paper and draw an ellipse. Go over it a few times, without lifting a pen.
- Fill the page with different ellipses. Vary their size and degrees.
Now, draw a minor axis for each ellipse. The minor axis is an imaginary line, which divides an ellipse symmetrically along the smallest diameter.
Practice this as much as you can.
Exercise 8. Matching Minor Axis to an Existing Line
In the previous exercise, you drew ellipses and then found a minor axis for them.
Now, we will do the opposite.
- Draw three straight lines from a single point. Lines A and B are margins for your ellipses. Line C represents the direction of a minor axis. It should be in the middle between A and B.
- Fill in the space between A and B with ellipses. They should touch each other. A minor axis of each ellipse is aligned with the line C.
Try this exercise in two ways:
- Preserve consistent degree of ellipses. In other words, they should stay proportionally the same when they get bigger or smaller.
- Vary the degree. Make ellipses more opened or closed.
So, here you have eight exercises.
If you feel frustrated or don’t know what to draw today, sit down, take a piece of paper and a pen.
Start with these warm-ups. It’s like a meditation through action practice. You don’t have to worry about the perfectness of your lines. You need to concentrate on doing exercises and perfectness will come by itself.