If it helps you then by all means outline your drawings. Not everyone uses an outline, and for some drawings it doesn’t work. However, if it helps you achieve what you want or suits the drawing that you are doing then draw an outline.
As the name implies, a line drawing will naturally have an outline of some sort. However this may not be a single line outlining the whole piece. Different sections may have separate outlines that fit together to form the whole picture.
I have known other artists that hardly use an outline at all. They gradually build up the image with shading. This can be really striking if done well but is a hard skill to master. It is worth spending some time trying it to see if it suits your style.
Another style of drawing that has become popular is single line drawings. We have some great examples of tattoos that are done in a single line style here. The line is used not only to create the overall shape but also to create the internal shapes. Like the eyes and lips on a face or head.
As with any kind of drawing, practice will improve your ability. Try the different styles you see other people use and see which suits your style best. We all approach art differently and the more different approaches you try the more likely you are to find the style that suits you best and you find easiest.
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Why is Outlining Important In Drawing?
Outlining can be important in a drawing because it is a way to create the overall shape you want. They can also help you get the proportions right. They give you a guide to follow as you add more details to the initial sketch.
Remember that all important rule. Draw what you see not what you think you should see. Use the initial outline sketch to map out the rest of your drawing. Time spent getting this right at the start will make the final stages of the drawing much easier.
In our Lion drawing tutorial you wills see how the proportion of the rear legs to the front ones is really important when making the Lion look in proportion. In our Fish drawing tutorial you can see how the size and shape of the fins in proportion to the fishes body makes a huge difference to the final form.
Every drawing you do will benefit from learning how to get your initial outline sketches more accurate. Keeping things in proportion and understanding the perspective you are viewing the subject from will help you get those initial sketches right.
What Should You Use To outline Drawings?
Initially I always use a HB pencil and very light lines to draw the outline of a drawing. A HB pencil will lift off with a good eraser without leaving a trace of the original line. This means you can remove and adjust any lines you need to.
If you are using the outline drawing for a painting, pencil can discolour the paint quite a lot and I personally tend to use charcoal. Whatever you use try to make the lines as light and clear as possible. Heavy lines may show through translucent paint like oil paint and grooved lines where you press on too hard with a pencil can ruin the effect of a painting, especially on watercolour paper.
If you are painting with watercolours then the drawn lines can be left to form sharp definitive lines within the painting. Some artists make this more obvious than others. Do some searches to find different examples of how watercolour artists use outlines within their paintings.
Colourfast Ink Is Needed For Certain Drawings
If you are drawing for an Ink sketch then you will want a permanent fine liner to draw the final outline. Pens like the fine liners from our article on Bullet Journal Pens are perfect. You want colour-fast ink that dries quickly to avoid any nasty smudges you don’t want.
Any pencil or marker can be used for outlining as long as the paper isn’t too absorbent. If the paper is absorbent or the ink has a tendency to spread then the outline can quickly look less defined than you want.
A light wash of acrylic primer can make a great surface to paint on. Just be careful not to apply the paint too thick or you will feel the brush strokes as you draw. This will make it much harder to keep your lines free flowing or straight.
Is It Bad To Trace Your Drawings?
No, its not bad to trace your drawings or basic outlines. Some people may call it a cheat but it is a valid way to learn. In time, as you practice, you should simply find you need to do it less. It may be for some that it helps them learn in an easier way. I still sometimes trace a complicated outline draw a grid over it and then scale it up or down for the drawing or painting I am working on.
Personally I would say every tool you can use to help improve the final results is great. Some puritans may argue it can hinder the learning process, but unless you rely on it completely I see no harm in it whatsoever. You will never get the tracing perfect so there will always be lines to adjust. Spotting the ways you can improve will always help you learn and progress.
Outlining your drawings, whether it is for a painting or for a drawing, can help you understand the many aspects of a picture that make it look good. From developing your perspective skills to getting the proportions right there are numerous things it can help. Learning to see what you are drawing rather than what you think should be there is a great skill many artists never get past.
For some art like tattoo designs the outline will make a definitive part of the final drawing. For other pieces the outline you draw at the sketching phase may well be obscured as you finish the piece. Either way, learning how to use your outline to improve your art is something well worth spending time on.