Contour Line Drawing
The First Step in Learning How to Draw
by Jesse Seal

When was your first drawing created?

It was probably when you were younger, around the time you were in grade school. This may have been the start of a long-time hobby and love for drawing. That's not the case for everyone, and although you're looking to learn how to draw now, you never concerned yourself with getting any better up until this point.

Now, do you have any of those early drawings still around?

If you do, then go find them and look at them. What do you see?

When I look at my first kept drawings the first thing I notice is how basic they are. Every single early drawing I ever did was a simple "contour line drawing". These drawings use hard lines to separate the image from the space around it.

There's no shading, no perspective...all that stuff was learned later.

There are three basic types of contour lines; straight, simple curve (C), and compound curve (S). The first step in learning how to draw is learning how to draw basic contour lines. If you can't do this, how will you ever proceed to draw more detailed images that pop off of the page using more advanced drawing techniques?

Contour line drawings have straight lines
Contour line drawings have simple curves
Contour line drawings have compound curves

So what is a contour line drawing exactly?

These are lines that follow the shape of an object. They usually represent the outline of whatever your drawing. As you progress into more realistic drawings, contour lines will begin to disappear (they’ll become soft edges), but they will still play an important role in the early stages of your drawings.

These basic drawings can vary in the amount of detail provided by the artist. They will appear flat, but still accurately represent an image. These drawings are important for any artist, whether drawing an animal in a children's book or drawing the outline for what will be a photo realistic portrait.

Below are some simple contour drawings.

Contour line drawings

Art provided by James Bullock.

Let me know if this tutorial was helpful in the comments below! While you're at it, feel free to ask questions. 


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About The Sketchbook Artist, Jesse Seal

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