Art Project: Form Lines Not Outlines

This art project challenges you to draw a scrumpled up bit of paper without doing an outline first. The project is less about the subject and more about the technique and skills development. Though you’ll hopefully be surprised how interesting a scrumpled up piece of paper can become, more importantly it’ll help with brushwork in your painting (with which direction to make brushstrokes).

First, let me explain what I mean by outlines and form lines.

Outlines are the lines we draw of the “outer edge” of an object as we see it. We draw them because it gives us the overall shape of something, where it starts and stops against the background or other objects.

Form lines depict the “inside” of a subject, the lines we draw to show what’s going on inside an outline. These give a drawing depth (3D) and convey other things such as a sense of texture and direction. Form lines are like the slimetrail a snail leaves as it moves across an object, going up and down as the surface it’s moving across changes direction (though for this exercise you don’t want line to be wandering around at random like a snail, it wants purpose and direction like a snail heading for a tasty hosta leaf).

If you find form lines hard to visualise, try taking a length of string and draping it across the surface, then drawing the line of the string. Or run the finger of your hand not holding the pen across the surface of the object, and noticing when the direction changes, when it’s moving up or down rather than smoothly across.

It may feel that if we first draw the outline, it’ll make getting ‘the rest’ easier. But does it? Starting at one spot and working all the way around the object back to this point involves continual decisions about where we’re placing the line in comparison to what’s already drawn. You’re looking from edge to edge, ignoring what’s happening inbetween, whereas this could be helping if you were drawing using mostly form lines.

You will need: a piece of drawing paper, a piece of paper to scrumple up, a pen and/or paint marker, and a pencil.

The first few times you do this, use pen not pencil so you can’t second-guess yourself and rub out parts to redraw, but have to keep going. Give yourself permission to not aim to create a perfect drawing, but to spend time trying and learning.

What to do: Scrumple up a bit of paper and put it where you can see it easily. Pick an area to start drawing from, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on the edge or the ‘inside’ of the sheet. You’re going to use hatched lines (short, parallel lines) to depict the that area, its direction and shape. (Don’t use cross-hatching, only lines in one direction.)

Decide what direction you’re going to hatch and work your way across that shape. Then pick an adjacent area and do the same thing but change the direction of your hatching so it gives a sense of direction change between this and the previous area. Expand out from your first area until the whole scrumpled paper is done. Then add the outline as needed.

Draw in the ridges and shadow edges if you find this helps keep track of where you are as you look back and forth between your drawing and the scrumpled paper, along with lines showing the edge of the sheet. Don’t stress if you get lost, simply pick a point and draw from there. Ultimately the drawing lives by itself, without anything for comparison, so it doesn’t matter.

For areas in shadow, hatch closer together, and for areas in light, make the lines further apart. When using pencil rather than pen, you can also darken the tone of the pencil line as you make it by pressing harder or softer. Stick with pen initially as it’s one less thing to think about as you can focus solely on the form lines.

In my first example I’ve used red acrylic marker pen, which gives a consistent mark in terms of tone. (Red simply because I have a number of these sample paint markers which only came in red.) In my second I’ve used a propelling pencil so I wouldn’t need to stop and sharpen it.

Drawing a scrumpled up piece of paper with pen
Remember: the view of the scrumpled up bit of blue paper is different in this photo from the view I had of it when I was drawing. If you want a photo to compare what you drew to what you were seeing, you’ll need to think very carefully about the position of the camera when you take the photo.
Drawing a scrumpled up piece of paper with pencil and pen
Drawing a scrumpled up piece of paper with pencil

Suggestion: You might find it easier to use a piece of striped paper rather than plain. (For a printable stripey page as in the photo below, click here.)

REMEMBER: If you’d like personal help with creating your project painting and/or a critique on your finished painting, this is available to all my project subscribers via my Patreon site. Have fun, and do send me a photo of your painting for inclusion at the bottom of the project page for us all to enjoy or share it in the Community Section of my Patreon site.

Seven example drawings of scrumpled paper done by an art group
Drawings done by members of a friend’s art group
By Robb McKenzie

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