What Is Implied Line in Drawing?

The Absence of a Line Can Still Define an Edge

Implied Line Feather
kyla.elise/Flickr

In art, an implied line is defined as a line that suggests the edge of an object or a plane within an object. The line may be broken by intermittent marks, it may be defined by value, color, or texture, or it may not be visible at all. With any implied line, our brain interprets that the line must exist, so this is a powerful tool that any artist can use.

Why Do We Use Implied Line?

Think back to your very first art lessons.

Your teachers taught you that lines are used to define the object that you're drawing. It can be something as simple as a contour drawing of an apple, so you might draw a basic outline to define the shape. This is how we were taught to draw and as we progress, we learn that an actual line is not always necessary.

In its most basic form, an implied line is created when the artist lifts the pen or pencil from the paper, continues its direction of travel, and then applies pressure again and draws another section of the line. Across the gap in the line is the "implied line," and your mind fills in the gaps.

An implied line usually describes a subtle change of plane. For example, in a portrait drawing, we often use implied line across the bridge of the nose or along the jaw. A full line drawn for either facial feature would suggest too sharp of an angle and appear more like the line found along the edge of a box.

Instead, we want to merely suggest to the viewer that there is a change of plane, so we use implied line.

How to Suggest an Implied Line

An implied line works best across short distances. Sometimes lightly drawn broken lines—or even just a slight dash here or there—can be used to increase the strength of the implied line, especially across a longer distance.

Beyond the line itself, we can also use other techniques to imply the edge of or a line within the object we're drawing. For instance, when sketching in pencil, you might use cross-contour shading to suggest the softer lines of an object. It's a great way to make objects look more realistic. If you're using colored pencils or paint, you might also use changes of color to imply the lines and edges of objects. 

Similarly, an implied line can often be used in areas of subtle contrast between different objects. Think of a still life drawing in which the shadow area of your object stretches into the shadow it places on the table it's sitting on. In these darker areas, the outline of your subject may not be defined because it blends into the shadow behind it. Yet, you know that the object does have an edge, even in that dark area.

Practicing Your Use of Implied Line

As you practice drawing, it's important to develop your skills with all types of lines and implied line is no different. You can do this by sketching simple objects or landscapes.

As you work, think about where you can employ an implied line to define a contour or a change of plane. Which lines are the most important and which can be broken up?

Try it with a few dashes along your secondary lines, then do the same drawing again using shading to imply these lines. You can even try to draw that basic apple without any outline, using instead, values with shading to define the edges of the object.

With time and practice, you'll be using implied line without even knowing it.