Capture the Figure in a Single Line

Whenever I’m having a difficult time embracing the drawing mode, it’s a good idea for me to go back to basics. Using a simple contour line to draw the figure is one of best exercises to snap the brain from the left side to the right. I can always count on this technique to make me stop and look. If I’m not drawing the way I want, I’m not seeing, and sometimes I just need to slow down and really look at what is in front of me. Since seeing is the key to drawing, this simple change of course improves my results.

When using contour line I always start with the most complicated part of the subject, in this case the face. Then I slowly work my way to the outer edges of the figure, looking for the basic lines that make up the composition. Once I get into this mode of drawing, I become more relaxed and am able to focus on the simple shapes, the twisting of the form and the direction of the limbs. I allow my lines to overlap, tracing the shapes until I get them just right.

Aside from opening up my eyes, the thing I like most about contour drawing is the challenge it brings. Creating art is a lot like solving a puzzle. You have to figure out how to arrange the line, shape, form and values. How do you place the figure on page? How dark or how light, how thick or how thin to make the lines? Where is the focal point? And how do you fit it all in without removing the charcoal from the paper? It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure.

We had a great model this session, and her amazing poses created some very interesting compositions. She also had this great, curly hair that bounced around her head. By keeping the face simple, I was able to balance the active lines of her hair and create the focal point for the drawing. The face almost always becomes the focal point anyway, so it’s a good idea to plan your drawing with that in mind. The proportions are fairly accurate, which is just fine with me. The drawing is large (24×18), which let me to capture the smaller features like the hands more easily. After I completed the contour line, I punctuated the drawing with some strong darks. This really increased the contrast and gives the drawing some extra punch.

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