3 Simple Steps to Create an Outline Drawing

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Should you outline your drawing? This is one of the most common questions I get asked in my art classes. If you are wondering what an “outline drawing” is, and how it differs from a sketch or a freehand drawing then this article is for you.

Essentially, an outline drawing is a type of sketch, or form art, where the subject matter is composed solely of an outline. The artwork is defined through the shape or contour of the subject matter.

An outline drawing is a drawing or a sketch that uses a single contour to define the subject. Outline drawings may include any type of subject matter from portraits to still life.

Outline drawing of a fox

Outline Drawing Vs Freehand Drawing or Sketching

The obvious difference between outline drawing and sketching is that outline drawing is more defined than sketching. Sketching is characteristically loose.

Most artists consider sketching as the first step in producing a quality piece of work as it helps them to explore different ideas and concepts.

Once they have sketched out the basic compositional plan then they go over it with a refined line, and outline the objects, in order to develop a contour line or outlined drawing.

A resolved outline drawing is most often drawn with extreme precision and accuracy and each line is very defined and clear.

Overall, this type of drawing differs from a freehand drawing which is more sketchy and often there are multiple lines mapping out a subject.

The outline technique I described above is only one particular way of creating an outline drawing. Art is a form of expression and creation.

Every artist has their own way of producing artwork so there are many different ways to outline a drawing. The most important thing is that you find a technique that feels right and suits your style.

Outline drawing of hands

Why do artists use outlines as their first step in creating artwork?

Artists often start off by drawing the outlines of the objects and shapes in their artworks. This is a very useful technique to help them to establish the correct shape, proportion, and position of objects in their artworks composition.

Drawing the basic outline of shapes and objects in a composition also helps as an important guide for where to place other details in an artwork.

In order for an artwork to be aesthetically successful, it is important for the artist to curate the different elements of art in their artwork.

It is very important for artists to establish the right proportion when creating artworks no matter what type of style they are using.

Illustrative Outline Drawing of Fire

Create Your Own Basic Outine Drawing in 3 Easy Steps

1) Identify Basic Shapes & Patterns

You can create your own basic outline drawings by identifying shapes and patterns in your subject matter. For example, a landscape may be composed of different shapes including squares, ellipses, and circles.

You can create an outline drawing of a landscape by identifying the shapes you want to include in your artwork. This will help you to establish the correct proportion in your own artwork.

2) Sketch the basic shapes and patterns.

Once you know what objects you want to include in your artwork, you can start sketching the basic shapes and patterns within these objects.

It is a good idea to sketch using a 2B lead pencil so that you don’t have to use too much pressure to create a mark.

The first sketch you do is just a draft and a guideline that you will use for an accurate outline drawing.

3) Final Outline Drawing

Using a sharp pencil, or a Fine Liner Pen, go over the sketched drawing of the shapes of the objects in your composition.

You should use enough pressure to create a dark outline.

Repeat this process for all the objects in your composition until you get an accurate outline drawing.

*This page may contain affiliate links to products I have used or recommend. If you purchase something from this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.**

Outline-Drawing-in-3-Easy-Steps

Tips for beginners on how to improve their skills with outlining drawings.

  • Always start off with an outline drawing when creating artworks.
  • Use a 2B lead pencil to sketch out your shapes and patterns.
  • Establish the correct proportion of objects in an artwork. (This can be achieved by looking at earlier sketches you made for inspiration or references from your subject matter.)
  • The outline drawing is just a guide and should be used as the foundation of your artwork so that you can easily add more details later on.
outline drawing of a woman resting her chin on her hand

Best Tools for Creating an Outline Drawing

Drawing Pencils

Kneadable Eraser

Good quality Sharpener

Sketchbook or good quality paper

Fine Liner or Pitt Pen

Drawing Glove

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Types of Visual Outline.

Contour.

Contour is defined as the line formed by a curve or outline of an object or body. Contours are often used to define the shapes of objects and light situations in drawings.

Silhouette.

A silhouette is defined as an object or figure that appears dark against a light background. It essentially means, to be cut out of the background like shapes cut from paper. The outline makes it possible for us to see the main elements of the thing represented (often a person or an animal) against the background.

Linear Outline.

Linear outline is a line that limits and defines the shape and form of figures in art. The linear outlines are much more detailed than silhouette; they define the contours precisely.

Broken outline.

A broken outline is a method of creating the effect of multiple outlines in art. To create this, draw one line for each new outline or separate edge of the shape you want to depict.

Pattern outline.

Pattern outline is a series of lines that describe the effect of an open or closed shape. A number of broken outlines used together can give the impression of a pattern, such as scales on a fish.

How to create an outline drawing for painting with an expert video.

An outline for painting is an outline and drawing of the objects and shapes in your painting’s composition. Drawing the first outline for painting helps you plan the shapes, composition, and even the colors and values you’ll use in your work.

Here is a great video resource on how to create an outline drawing for a painting.

Should I outline before I paint??

An outline is a fundamental starting point in any form of art when you are trying to convey a sense of realism.

However, art-making is such a personal thing and there are many different ways to go about it. Some artists sketch outlines but some don’t.

An outline drawing for a painting can help you plan the colors, values, and shapes that will be in your artwork.

This is especially helpful if you are trying out painting for the first time, or if you don’t feel very confident yet.

Sunflower outline drawing

Do you sketch on canvas before painting?

You don’t necessarily need to outline drawings before you start painting if you feel uber confident about your art-making skills. However, I think sketching out your composition first always helps set your artwork up for success.

Artists like Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse never outlined their paintings before they painted because they were such skilled artists that it was unnecessary.

However, outlining can be a useful way for beginner artists to learn about perspective and the three-dimensional concepts that are part of creating a realistic artwork.

Line drawing of a busy city street

Possible Uses for Outline Drawings:

An outline drawing can be the perfect way to capture a simple and basic understanding of an object or scene. They can also help you explore ideas and understand the depth and elements of a scene.

An outline drawing is often quite simplified, meaning you might use it to convey simple drawing ideas or to give the sense of an object from a distance.

Outline drawings can be used in comics and graphic novels too!

Famous Artists Who Use Outline

Outlines that Pop!

Pop Art was a movement where artists often used outline drawing to define solid shapes and colors. They used limited color palettes that often included bold, flat colors.

You can see how outlines are used to define objects in this picture by Roy Lichtenstein!

Gary Hume uses outlines in abstracted paintings and prints of people, plants, and other natural subjects.

Patrick Caulfield created brightly colored rooms with smooth edges with flat colors.

Jasper Johns combines number series highlighted in bright colors with expressive mark making to create this painting.

The early graphic skills and its use of basic lines influenced later art by Andy Warhol which displays bold lines and bright colors, influenced through his earlier work.

Abstract Outline

Keith Coventry based his abstract illustrations on maps found on the entrances to estate estates at City Hall.

Sol LeWitt used a simple type such as open or closed cubes as a basic module to create more complex outlines in space.

Sarah Morris’s lattice of geometric lines filled with bright gloss colors echoes the lines and surfaces of modern cityscapes.

Bernard Cohen starts with a random shape and then draws its contours again to create an outline pattern.

When Paul Klee first published a drawing of a place he called it walking.

A Pencil Drawing a single line

Frequently Asked Questions about Outline Drawing:

What are outline drawings called?

Outline drawings are also called contour drawings, which means lines around an object or shape.

Why do cartoonists use outlines?

Cartoonists use outline drawings to define the three-dimensional aspects of objects and characters with flat two dimensional features

How do you draw an outline of a drawing?

Outline drawing can be done with either a soft graphite pencil or a pen.

Should you outline drawings?

Outlining an artwork is not necessary, but it might help beginner artists understand how to work with perspective and three-dimensionality in their artworks. You don’t need to rely on outlines forever though!

How do I turn a picture into an outline?

You can take a picture of your subject and edit the photo in Adobe Photoshop. Then you could outline it with the pencil tool.

You can also use other apps like Autodesk Sketchbook or Procreate to create digital outline drawings.

What is the best app for creating outline drawings?

Autodesk Sketchbook has a variety of tools for creating outline drawings.

Procreate is another app that helps you create hand-drawn outline drawings.

What are the benefits of digital outline drawing?

Outline drawings can be challenging to create well because it’s so easy to erase or leave mistakes in your artwork. Digital outlines can be edited easily, giving you more freedom to get your outlines just right.

Outline drawing of flowers

Conclusion

An outline drawing is a type of artwork where the subject matter is composed solely of an outline. The artist defines their drawing through lines, shapes, and contours.

An example would be to draw a tree by simply using its shape as opposed to shading it in with pencils or adding other details such as leaves.

I hope this post on outline drawing has given you a clear idea of this style of art-making and how to go about creating your own!

Outline-Drawing-in-3-Easy-Steps

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