Smart Art Tutorials- The Basics of Design part 1- Line

by David Finley


 In today's Smart Art Tutorial we are going to discuss line as a design element, and just some of the ways you can apply line to your drawing and illustration.

 I've made some examples of various line types here:

The quality of line you choose when drawing can greatly affect the character and tone you are trying to achieve.

 For example, a rough line like the one on the far right lends a primitive appeal, and is ideal for making work that is gritty and raw, or even simple and childlike. By contrast, the dotted line on the far left is reminiscent of stitching patterns from a sewing machine and has a very precise feel. While I wouldn't recommend making an entire drawing with the dotted line, it is very useful for creating areas of contrast and interest apart from your other lines.

 You'll notice some lines have tapered ends, while others end bluntly.Tapered lines can suggest elegance flowing from one line to the next, while blunt tip lines make good stopping points for the eye.

Line Styles

 Consider your line application carefully, because it can subtly alter the tone you are presenting to your audience. Let me illustrate this point further with two drawings featuring my character, Finnigan the Duck.

cartoon duck and donkey, A cartoon duck and donkey
 As you can see, the drawing above is loose and primitive, with a raw and spontaneous feel. There are lots of jagged and frayed lines. It's almost like a sketch. It can be a great drawing style if you're wanting to add a rudimentary simplicity to your illustration. Comic strips like Zits, Bloom County, Mutts, and even the last decade of two of The Peanuts make/ made great use of a looser, less polished, line.

 Now, let's look at good 'ole Finnigan drawn another way. This time with a more sophisticated, tapered, and flowing line.
Cartoon duck, a smooth line drawing featuring a cartoon duck and orange.
In contrast to the first drawing, this one has smooth flowing curves with tapered ends like those created with brush inking. The line work will eventually be colored digitally and placed on a painted background, much like an animated cartoon.

The line quality is crisp, easy to read, and professional looking. This type of line is typically made either digitally in a program like Adobe Illustrator, or traditionally, with ink and a brush. It takes lot's of practice to get it right either way. For great examples, look toward Hank Ketcham's early Dennis the Menace, Walt Kelly's Pogo, and Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest.

Line Weight

 The thickness of your line, also called line weight, is also an important tool as you make your own drawings. Thicker, heavier lines, will attract the eye more than thinner lines. We can see a practical application of line weight below. Fortunately, Finnigan the Duck has once again graciously volunteered to assist us in this lesson.

Line comparison, Two line renderings of the same cartoon duck.
 As you can see, the first version of the illustration has a much lower line weight. Additionally, the lines are all of the same density. Because the lines are all the same thickness, the eye has trouble finding a focal point or a place to rest except the black shapes of Finnigan's eyes and brows. This would still be a problem even if all the lines were really thick, but of the same thickness.

 But, you want your viewer's eye to move around your drawing, not stuck in one small spot, right? The second version of the drawing has a varied line weight  creating better eye flow and movement around the figure. Our friend here has a bit more dimension because the lines that make up his form are reaching our eyes in varied ways, which gives him a bit more life.

Your Homework

 Now that you know a bit more about making lines, your assignment is to experiment with the ideas I've shown you here. Practice making lines with different object, like pens, brushes, charcoal, or even more unconventional tools. In college, I made a drawing with a used charcoal briquette I found on the ground.. You can dip leaves, twigs, and even rocks in ink to make interesting marks. Then, start making lines of different thickness.

More importantly, see what works best for the art you want to make.

 Thanks for reading, Scofflaws!

-Dave, Grand Poobah of all Scofflaws

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