Drawing Tutorial | Pencil Portrait | Art Blog | London
Black lines will kill your drawing
An art teacher at university once told me during a life drawing class "blacks lines will kill your drawing." I listened to his words at the time, thought I understood him and didn't really think about it after that.
Last year whilst I was making the colouring book it forced me to really think about black lines again. You see I do really love great line work, curving beautifully drawn lines really excite me and I love outlined sketches. I've never really thought of black lines as an enemy.
However about 4 drawings in to making the colouring book I started to think about what black lines meant and then the words "black lines will kill your drawing" came back to me.
I kept the words in my mind and continued drawing the book. After a while I started to look at the colouring book pages and they just looked so flat and lifeless. I had become numb to the style and I was yearning for depth and colour. In my eyes nothing beats something drawn and shaded beautifully.
I suddenly realised what "black lines will kill your drawings" actually meant its not about style its about creating depth. Its creating an illusion of faking a 3D object on a 2D piece of paper. Its a basic drawing technique which once you learn you can then add your own style to it afterwards.
I have used an example of my thumb on my left hand to explain what I mean and demonstrate shading it with no black lines anywhere.
Before I start a drawing I always spend a few minutes observing my subject. Get your eyes familiar with the shape, texture and lighting. When I look at my thumb there is a lot of very subtle things which are happening. Firstly there is no black out line around the edge. If you create one, you instantly kill it, and it stays forever flat on the page.
Secondly, the light is moving across in a gentle gradient from left to right. The big areas which catch the light are the top of the knuckles, the index finger and then the left edge of my thumb. There is no hard edge anywhere even in the sharper transitions its moves from light to dark gradually.
I have quite veiny hands and there is quite a prominent vein running down the middle of my thumb. The vein is not a dark line. It is rounded as it protrudes out of my skin like a tube, on one side its darker and on the other side its lighter, there is a soft transition from dark to right to show the shape of the curve.
On the skin indents across the knuckles they look like dark lines but when you look at them closer they are small gradients going from light to dark to light. There is not one black line anywhere on the thumb.
Once you have this concept under way and you eliminate all your black lines from your drawings then there is this sudden magic as your drawings start popping out from the page looking so much more sophisticated.
I am always guilty of adding black lines because I really enjoy drawing them and I always work into the edge of line to get the very subtle indents of the shape. As soon as I add a black line its instantly kills the depth. The drawing looses its 3D. The trick is to shade out any lines into the texture. If I have drawn a line too heavy I will just subtly rub it out to make it blend in to the background.
So in response to my art teacher, yes he was right “black lines will kill your drawing” when you are adding depth and wanting to create a well drawn object.