Mastering Line Quality in Drawing


Have you ever thought about the importance of line quality in drawing?

Did you realize that line quality in drawing is one of the major determining factors in the overall success of a drawing.

Yes, line quality in drawing is essential to the overall success of your completed drawing or painting.

As you finish a drawing or painting, you need to be very aware of Line Quality.  Line Quality will greatly affect how successful the finished drawing will be.  Even if your drawing is absolutely accurate, the finished result could be a failure if the line quality is lacking.

A Line is Like a Melody

Think of a line as a melody.  Let’s imagine for a moment that I am playing a melody on the piano.

I play Middle C once or twice.  Okay, that’s a good start, right?

But what if I just keep playing Middle C over and over in the same way for 10 minutes?  Not good.

Now the melody is boring because I just keep playing the same note over and over and over in the same way.  You quickly become bored with my melody and lose interest.  Right?

A line is exactly the same as a melody. If your line is exactly the same all over the drawing, your eye quickly becomes bored with the effect. And you will lose interest in the drawing.

So you must vary your line throughout the drawing. This is also called “Lost and Found” lines. Let some lines be very strong and pronounced.  And let other lines be soft and fade out, just like in a song melody.

Your drawing will be more interesting and successful as a result.

Take a look at some Old Masters to see how they used line quality in their drawings.

Line quality in drawing

Pencil study of a young woman by Leonardo da Vinci

Pay close attention to the line quality in this drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

Notice that the line is strongest and more pronounced near areas of importance, such as the eyes, nose and mouth.

And that the line fades out and is weaker in the hair, shoulders and other areas.

Notice that some lines fade out completely, especially in the hair, and then come back a short space later.

This design element of “Suggestion” allows your mind to complete the drawing for you.

Suggestion is more powerful in design than literal renderingDa Vinci knew this well.


The drawing below of Libyan is by Michelangelo. It is a red chalk study on parchment paper for the painting in the Sistine Chapel.

Again, notice how line quality adds to the character of the drawings as a whole. Lines are especially dark and pronounced near bone, such as in the ankle of the foot study.

Lost and Found lines occur throughout these studies and help add to the suggestion of form.

Line quality in drawing

Libyan by Michelangelo. Red chalk study for the painting in the Sistine Chapel.

French impressionist painter Edgar Degas was considered a master draftsman. His skill at both painting and drawing is unmatched in art history.

Degas is famous for his drawings, paintings and sculptures of ballerinas. The drawing below shows one of his pencil studies of a dancer.

Notice how the lines in the dress are very subtle and fade out while the lines in the figure are more complete and literally rendered.

Line quality in drawing

Pencil study of a ballerina by Edgar Degas

 Drawing Exercise

Spend 15 minutes each day for the next 7 days just focusing on line quality in your finished drawings. You can take some of the unfinished drawings from your daily drawings and make sure the line quality is good.

Use Lost and Found Lines and other techniques learned from this blog post to improve the line quality into a finished drawing.

Study Old Master drawings as much as possible to learn and emulate how they used line in their drawings.

Spend a few minutes each day for the next 7 days looking at Old Master line drawings. Many books on art history are available at your local library and you can, of course, always view your favorite artists online.

Let us know how you are improving your line quality of your drawings in the comments below.

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