Explore the simple beauty of line art drawing.
Learn about the history and fundamentals of line art, and get inspired to create everything from minimalistic cartoons to realistic life drawings.
Line art leaves out the gray area.
Created with pencil, ink, or pixels, line art describes monochromatic illustrations consisting of varying weights or thicknesses of lines. You can make line art with any one color on a solid background, although it’s typically done in black and white. It’s the modern art equivalent of playing a song with a single instrument. And it’s not just for easy doodles. You can depict even the most intricate subjects using nothing but black lines on a solid background.
Create worlds with just a single line.
Line drawings may seem straightforward, but you can achieve a lot with some practice and attention. “You have to evoke the transition from dark to light with either crosshatching or line weight, heavier lines being more in shadow, lighter lines indicating that the light source is hitting that side of the object,” says comic artist Jonathan Case. “Managing light and dark and conveying dimension is important to master,” says Case. “You have to know how to describe an object in detail in order to describe it with very little detail. That’s the main draw of line art. It can help you communicate form in an efficient manner.”
Many great artists over the centuries have experimented with their own styles of line art. Consider the scientific sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci, the abstract line art of Pablo Picasso, and the minimalism of Matisse. In the early 20th century, painter Egon Schiele created contour drawings with little to no shading. Schiele’s drawings focus on the expressiveness of the lines and the outer shape of the subject matter.
Artists use line drawing for still lifes, portraits, book illustrations, and comic books or graphic novels. A good line drawer can use one continuous line of black ink to create hip wall art. In fact, there’s a large market for Scandinavian (often referred to as “Scandi”) line art prints. Other artists use geometric lines to create beautiful patterns. And for decades, tattoo design has featured images made with line art, mimicking retro sailor drawings and iconic catalogue graphics.
Line art drawing tips and inspiration.
Try using contour lines alone to outline different areas of your subject. Or add shading with cross-hatching and varied line weight. Either way, line drawing is an effective way to learn about different elements of art, like light, texture, perspective, and composition. Practice with these line art tips from professional illustrators.
Vary the weight of your lines.
Experiment with varied line weights. You can use differently sized pens or digital brushes: a medium thickness for the main lines, a thicker one for emphasis, and a thinner one to add small details or shading lines. Or, you can simply press harder or softer on your paper or digital tablet to get different weights out of one brush.
A good line art drawing is generally crisp, well-defined, and easy to read. After some sketching, practice committing to the first line you draw rather than drawing it over and over. “Almost every artist starts by making too many lines, and as their competence grows, they learn to commit to the line that they want to make and execute it,” Case says.
Never stop sketching.
Keep a sketchbook on hand to practice. Do some warm-up drawings of random items to get your hand comfortable and feeling steady before you sit down to draw what you actually need to depict. “I’m more confident when I approach my illustrations if I do a warm-up,” says fashion illustrator Josefina Fernandez.
Rotate your paper or tablet as you go.
You’ll create smoother lines by drawing strokes away from your body, not pulling your hand toward yourself as you draw. Case explains, “If you don’t rotate your canvas, your hand is going to get in the way of what your mind wants to put on the paper.”
Be mindful of resolution for digital line art.
It’s important to keep your line drawings crisp and unpixelated. Draw in high resolution, around 1200 to 600 DPI and if you need to size it down for print or the web, use the right interpolation method. For monochromatic art in Adobe Photoshop, using the “Nearest Neighbour” method is best. “It’s not going to add any grey between the white and the black,” says Case.
Get started with digital line art.
Create line sketches to learn how to draw and grow your skills in other styles of art, like graphic design. Plus, line art is a perfect starting point for coloured illustrations and watercolours. With digital watercolour brushes, you can add colour onto a new layer so it flows cleanly over or behind your lines. Adobe Fresco has every tool you need to dive into line drawing on a digital app. Make hundreds of sketches without a single piece of paper and try out different brush weights and textures.
Trace over sketches or photos in Fresco.
Work with layers to easily add line art over a sketch or photo. “You can grab a picture from Pinterest, paste it there, reduce the opacity and start another layer and sketch over it,” says Fernandez.
Try the Smoothing tool to steady your strokes.
Apply the Smoothing tool to your brush in Fresco to have the app autocorrect for a shaky hand. “You don’t need to be as precise with lines,” says Fernandez. “Because the tool guides your line and gives you more control.”
Line drawing is worth practicing for anyone looking to improve their ability to show light and shapes in their art. “It forced me to learn how to describe form with just fields of white and black, and how to balance those,” says Case. “And I think it drew better images out of me as a young artist.” See what you can do with this versatile drawing method.
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