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While galleries may be full of brightly painted artwork and elaborately crafted sketches, understanding how to master simple line drawings is one of the most important lessons as a developing artist. Some of the world’s most admired creators are known for using this technique—we’ve all seen at least one of the famous Picasso line drawings.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to create your own line drawings, whether they’re one-line drawings or involve something more complex like turning photos into line drawings. You’ll find that there’s so much you can do without paint or any kind of shading, regardless of where you are in your artistic journey.
First, let’s talk about what line art actually is. Line art is one of the oldest forms of artistic expression, going all the way back to prehistoric communities. A line is one of the seven main elements of art (the others are color, shape, form, texture, value, and space) and you may hear people refer to the five types of lines:
- Vertical lines
- Horizontal lines
- Diagonal lines
- Zigzag lines
- Curved lines
Every line drawing is made up of at least one of these components, with distinctions and variations made by changing the length, width, weight, texture, and style of the lines to create your unique line drawings. For example, a thicker line will be used to indicate an area of shadow rather than shading a gradient like you may see in other forms of drawing.
Line art is about blending the light and the dark to create the final image. You’re showing the subject in a detailed but uncomplicated way and taking it back to its most basic form. You may have seen some of the scientific sketches made famous by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of these were created using the same techniques for simple line drawings that you’re learning today.
In most cases, artists starting out with this technique will stick to a monochromatic look, creating black line drawings with varying levels of detail. Getting the basics right can be a great starting point before moving onto other forms of art like painting or digital illustration, where lines will often form the base layer of what you’re working on.
As you begin to feel more confident, you can start experimenting with other methods such as one-line drawings, also known as single-line drawings, where you make one complete image from a single connected line. They have no break from beginning to end and can turn even the most complicated subject matter into something simple and refined.
Pablo Picasso is arguably the most famous artist to focus on continuous line drawings, but this visual style has recently seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the modern minimalist interior design movement. These simple abstract line drawings are usually what people think of when getting started with this technique, but you can take any subject matter and turn it into a complicated design with tiny details, like floral patterns and human faces, just as easily.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, so get working on your own cool line drawings and see what you can come up with!
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Step 1: Start With Straight Line Drawings
As you’re learning how to create line art, start with the most basic element: the straight line. Practice holding your pen or pencil at different angles and pushing into your paper with varying degrees of firmness to see how the weight can alter the thickness of the line you’re creating. This will come in handy later as you develop full images, as you can use these skills to create areas of shadow or highlights, all while using the same drawing tool.
Once you have perfected your straight lines, you can move on to practicing different shapes that will likely form the foundation of your drawings and cover all five main line types. When you feel confident that you can work on some cool line drawings of your own, leaves and floral designs are a good place to start as these are easy to break down into specific shapes rather than trying to conceptualize and draw the entire finished subject at once.
Step 2: Practice Different Levels of Complexity
There’s a reason that the minimalist design world loves line art: its beauty is in its simplicity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add details to bring your final piece to life. Practice using different weights and perspectives, changing from minimal straight line drawings and continuous line drawings to intricately crafted black line drawings until you find the style that suits you best.
Step 3: Adapt to Your Interests
If simple abstract line drawings aren’t the right fit for your creative style, take your newly developed skills and put them to use by drawing objects or people that interest you most. Anime cartoons and dragon line drawing are great examples of how line art can be adapted into other styles, using the same foundational techniques you’ve already been practicing.
Step 4: Be Bold and Go Digital
If you’re more digitally minded, it’s easy to create line art using Photoshop, Procreate, and other online tools. This is one of the best techniques for turning photographs into line drawings. Start with tracing paper on top of your photo and carefully draw all of the details that you can see coming through. You’ll end up with a line drawing of your photo that can then be scanned into your computer to add those final digitized details.
1. Simple Botanical Line Art
Botanical and floral designs are some of the most common drawings using the line art style. It’s flexible enough to allow for a focus on a more minimal approach or to work in as many details as you’d like.
2. Continuous Line Drawings
Single line drawings are a good way for beginner artists to gain confidence in using a pen or pencil for drawing and practice different skills that you may have already learned using other techniques.
3. Minimalist Portraits
Portraits don’t have to be incredibly detailed to convey expression and tone. Line art is the perfect way to create minimalist portraits that work with any decor style and help new artists learn the basics of drawing a human face.
Whether you’re working on basic floral designs or something that looks more like Picasso line drawings, let your artistic energy flow to create drawings that you love!
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