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Learn to Draw > Drawing a perfectly straight line

Grossmann, Oswald Spengler (detail). The rhythmical lines heighten perspective and plasticity, and also add shadows

The man who protests "I cannot draw a straight line" naturally implies having to draw a relatively long line. Experience teaches that the longer the line, the wavier it becomes, and the humble protester thinks he should be able to draw a continuous, uninterrupted line by hand right across the surface of the picture. This is a task which no one can perform to perfection.

It is a different matter to lay the edge of your hand down on the drawing board and draw only part of the line with a movement of the fingers, then move the hand and start a new bit. The junction of the bits requires a sure aim, which is always hazardous; thus, it is better to leave the joints frankly visible. Such a composite line is drawn with greater control, and besides being straighter in fact, it looks straighter, which is the most important factor in freehand drawing. Furthermore, it looks easy and sure.



The little imperfections at the breaks are attractive in themselves. Anything unfinished encourages co-operation and creative activity. This may sound somewhat high-flown, but the creative fantasy is fundamental to all men, and it is always satisfying to give it an outlet.

Most children are much more quickly tired by a technically perfect toy than by one which does no more than stimulate them to imagine technical perfection. The imagination, too, is constantly changing its ground.

Left: Freehand drawing of building over plan drawn with ruler. The lines project at the edges. Right: Constructive treatment of continuous and projecting vanishing and proportion lines

The ruler-straight line is only an ideal; the single-stroke straight line drawn freehand is a natural copy. Only the broken, composite, or repeated line can convey form. The idea of form can sometimes be heightened by letting the line extend beyond the outline of the figure. The artist can take his cue here from the technical drawing, in which it is practical to fix angles more precisely by letting lines cross, for measurements, for instance, or to use compasses. This approach gives even technical drawings an indefinable charm, making them seem easy, almost sketchy. This charm is even more apparent in freehand drawings.

The artistic draftsman can carry the practice of working with overshot lines further, for in his first blocking out of the planes and masses he likes to find consistent combinations of lines which help in establishing and checking correct proportions. They are primarily guide lines, sections of which are then thickened where they form the outline of the surface to be depicted. This use of the line (drawn quick as lightning, not slowly and gropingly) comes from that positive attitude to the surrounding world and that manner of seeing it which may be called "constructive vision." Its opposite is naive impressionism, and between the two extremes there are innumerable intermediate stages and styles.

Left: Preliminary drawing given additional detail by means of, superficial sectional treatment. Right: Use of geometric figures to reproduce the proportions of a restless model

The analytical, constructive way of seeing is directed primarily by knowledge and thought and a desire to see and understand the nature of things from the inside, to grasp reaity from within. Impressionistic vision, on the other hand, is entirely concerned with external form and surfaces, the inner structure is unimportant. It is essentially a painter's way of seeing. This does not mean that only painting results from it; a drawing, too, can be made in which every form is naively rendered.

The impressionistic painter or draftsman is not concerned with understanding what he is representing at the moment, but only with catching the exact shapes of the various surfaces which compose the picture on the retina of his eye. From this may arise a mosaic of surfaces which need looking at for some time before the represented object emerges.

1. Impressionistic division of main surface, with little detail. 2. Effect of solidity obtained by means of tinted surfaces, while shadows and individual shapes are outlined with restraint. 3. The structural effect intensified and shadow heightened (chalk-medium and soft)

1. Preliminary drawing of constructive type, taking the shape of the tree trunk and branches as its starting point. Directional lines. 2. Sketch showing which way the needles grow and the structural development of the bark. 3. Final version, in which the shadows are lightly stressed by means of denser lines. (Pen; the preliminary sketch might be made with an erasable lead pencil)

1. Preliminary constructive drawing with perpendicular and vanishing lines as starting point. (The building's horizontal lines all lead to vanishing points on the horizon at sea) 2. and 3. Elaboration (Pen)

1. I mpressionistic outline treatment of main areas of the background detail and architecture 2. and 3. Elaboration. The iarge areas already drawn serve as support for the elaboration of further proportions (Chalk-medium and soft)

1. Outline areas and proportion points
2. Outline with shadows and flair lightly hatched in 3. Darker areas treated as a whole using a combination of broad stroke, modeling, and detailed working

1. Here the posture and plasticity of the subject are set down by means of perspective and directional lines 2. and 3. Detailed work built up on Stage 1 (Pen)



Next: Creating textures with lines





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