Contour lines are simply edge lines of an object. Whether you are drawing a still life or a landscape, contour lines can be very helpful at the onset of your illustration. Think of your contour lines as the blueprint of your drawing. Before you begin building in shadows, dimension, or texture, it is best to have all of your objects in proportion and as close to where you want them on your drawing paper as possible. There are basically two approaches to drawing contour lines - the "Ruler Method" and the "Sight-Size Method". The Ruler Method is used when drawing from a photograph, while the Sight-Size Method is used when illustrating real life objects. Because we are just getting started, I recommend drawing from a photograph. A photograph is two-dimensional, making it easier to measure the contour lines. We will draw contour lines from real life in a later blog post.

I took a photograph of a leaf for this demonstration. It is best to keep your object simple as you get started.


MATERIALS: object, No. 2 pencil (or HB graphite pencil), drawing paper, ruler, eraser (I use a kneaded eraser while sketching contour lines. Kneaded erasers let you lighten your lines by gently pressing the eraser down onto the lines).

STEP 1: Using a ruler, measure the outside edges of your photograph and transfer those dimensions to your drawing paper. Likewise, hold your photo up to a window and trace the outside edge of your photo onto the paper.

Step 1

STEP 2: Select a starting point on your object and measure the distance from that point to the top and side edges of your photo. Using your pencil, create that same point onto the drawing paper.

Step 2

STEP 3: Measure other key points of the object onto your drawing paper.

Step 3a

STEP 4: Begin connecting the dots. Take your time and keep referring back to the photo. Sketch lightly in case you need to erase your lines. You can always darken the contour line when finished.

Step 4

Take your time and remember to have fun! Like any other discipline, practice makes the task easier.