On contour line drawing

One of the great things about teaching is that you never cease to learn. As an artist, I can choose to focus on the drawing and painting processes I enjoy the most. As an instructor however, I teach for specific course outcomes and encourage my students to gain a better understanding of the broad scope of drawing.

Over the years, I have grown to love the contour line drawing process. This is an approach in which the artist slowly records the inner and outer edges of an observed subject with a pure deliberate line. Many drawings by David Hockney, Henry Matisse, Egon Schiele, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Ellsworth Kelly, are great examples of contour line drawings.

It is the end of the second week of Fall quarter, and we have been working on contour line drawings from complex still lives in my Drawing I class. Although the emphasis of this unit has been on form and space, the question about drawing texture came up. I decided I would do some studies from textural forms myself to make handouts. Looking around for good subjects, I thought it would be fun to draw the pineapple that had been sitting on my kitchen counter and this was the result.

pineapple demo

Pineapple study, Adriana Burgos 2014, from the sketchbook

It was fun to interpret the texture and the radiating patterns of the leaves. I wanted to make sure the drawing did not look flat, so I relied on line variation to show the pineapple’s three-dimensional form.

To me, the beauty of contour drawing lies in the purity of line and its expressive potential. Great results can be achieved early on, from simply observing intently. The best subjects for contour drawings (even for beginners) are complex forms or setups. Botanicals, the human form, bones, urban-scapes, drapery, shells, shoes are ideal to work from. Complexity will allow the artist to get lost in the observation process and focus on developing keen perceptual skills. Over time, the practice of a variety of drawing methods and a deeper understanding of form has a positive effect on how much can be expressed with a single line.

I prefer working in a gestural manner for my large drawings, but enjoy exploring many approaches in my sketchbook. Below is a selection of contour studies from my sketchbooks.