Cross Contour Lines
An Easy Way to Add Depth
by Jesse Seal

Dimension is the best way to represent a 3D object on a piece of paper that only gives us height and width (2D). It's difficult to allude to dimension without the use of shading and principles of perspective. If you're still in the beginning process of learning how to draw, however, you may not be ready to learn these basic drawing techniques.

A simpler way to create dimension is with cross contour lines.

We've previously talked about contour line drawings, which represent a flat object with no depth or perspective. While these simple drawings can represent an object using a varying degree of detail, it is almost impossible to make the object look three dimensional.

When you look at a globe, you'll probably notice the lines of longitude and latitude. If you were to take a picture of the same globe (that is, make it two dimensional), you would notice that the lines are not straight up/down, left/right; they will follow the "contour" of the shape of the globe.

Notice, though, how the line representing the equator appears to be the straightest (that is if you're looking at the globe from a straight angle), while the lines above it bow upwards, and the lines below it bow downwards. Likewise, the line following along the axis (north to south) is the straightest, while the lines to the left bow left, and the lines to the right bow right.

This is how crossing contour lines create that third dimension. You don't need to draw a contoured grid on your drawn object just to get the point across that it's three dimensional. Often times, a much subtler approach works best. Your lines don't even need to "cross" each other.

This minimal approach allows you to take one step closer to drawing a realistic looking image. By allowing your brain to fill in the gaps it'll accept the illusion that the image you're drawing has depth...and so will everyone else's brain.

If you want to practice cross contour line drawings, start as simple as possible. Draw a sphere or a cylinder. Once you've achieved the basic look you're going for, move on to more detailed images such as an apple (spherical) or a pen (cylindrical). Eventually you'll be applying this knowledge to even more complex drawings.

Jesse Seal

"The Sketchbook Artist"


Once you start learning how to shade, you can use contour hatching to create dimensions as well. This is a more advanced drawing technique, so I recommend you take your time practicing basic cross contour line drawings before moving on to this shading technique.


A pumpkin, although spherical, is not perfectly round. How would you draw a pumpkin using crossing contour lines? Let me know in the comments below!

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About The Sketchbook Artist, Jesse Seal

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