Linear or Pure Contour Drawing

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Using Pure Contour in Drawing

pure contour drawing
Pure Contour Drawing. H South, licensed to, Inc.

Pure contour line drawing is the simplest form of linear expression. The line describes visible edges of an object. If the subject is carefully chosen and oriented, a pure contour drawing can have strength, clarity, and simplicity. Surface details such as color, shadow, and highlight are ignored in pure contour drawing. Draw only clearly defined edges, resisting the temptation to color in shadows.

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The Importance of Implied Line

implied line
Implied Line. H South, licensed to, Inc.

Some edges are clear, with a defined start and finish. But when the edge turns a corner or flattens out (such as along the bridge of a nose), the line should not be drawn, but implied. The artist needs to decide where the drawn line ends. The choice shouldn't be arbitrary but should aim to help the viewer make sense of the form.

Be consistent in your handling of similar forms and edges. The transition from edge to plane, or the line along an edge which isn't sharp, may be implied or suggested by making breaks in a line, a dotted line, or some variation between the two. A simple form, such as this apple, might offer little opportunity for use of implied line. Lineweight - pressing more or less heavily - may also be used.

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Signatory or Calligraphic Line

signatory or calligraphic line
Signatory or Calligraphic Line. H South, licensed to, Inc

A calligraphic or signatory line is a more expressive form of drawing, in which the artist allows the flow of line to carry some feeling. Signatory line, like the signature, will be unique to the artist, the product of their individual hand and mind. In this example, we've looked at the form of the apple and tried to capture it in a couple of quick, simple, and flowing calligraphic lines. Your personal style or signatory line will probably be very different, just as you signature is.

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Limitations of Pure Contour Drawing

Drawing forshortening is difficult with pure line
Drawing forshortening is difficult with pure line. H South, licensed to, Inc.

A complex object with many edges may give the appearance of detail, but a simple object will offer no information about its three-dimensional form. For example, a circle may be a flat disk, a ball or a hole. Only the context of the drawing gives clues about the form. Because of this, it can be easy to misinterpret shapes, or for them to look odd or badly drawn. In this example, the fingers look quite misshapen because the lack of information gives the viewer insufficient clues as to the degree of foreshortening.

Some like this drawing and find it simple and elegant. Perhaps because they are looking at it from a more illustrative or design perspective, where these elements can be important. 

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Contour Drawing using Lineweight and Implied Line

Adding detail using lineweight and implied line
Adding detail using lineweight and implied line. H. South, licensed to, Inc.

Adding detail gives the viewer more information about the form. Varied line weight - lighter lines - or implied lines, where a line breaks off and resumes, makes it clear that these are not sharply defined contours, but surface details or softer edges. In this example, these types of the line have been used to describe creases in the hand, and to suggest the planes formed by the bent fingers.