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Daily Deviation
November 13, 2013
Nsio explains: Line Dynamics by ~Nsio
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Nsio explains: Line Dynamics

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Sixth tutorial in my "Nsio explains" series. Going with the very basics of drawing a line.

The basic idea of a line:
Most people perceive the world as if there were lines around objects. In reality, there are no lines at all. It's actually just an illusion our brain shows us. We just perceive the contrast or difference between two objects, materials and colors as if there were lines between them. How can you draw reality with lines, if they don't even exist in the first place? An average Joe can't do that, but an artist can.

So, since there are no lines in reality, you need to treat the drawn lines the same way. They aren't really lines as we would rationally think. A line in illustration has a lot wider meaning than just showing the borders of things. A line convoys your artistic mind on canvas. They are the very basic building elements of your drawing and their execution has big impact on the final product. The feel and atmosphere can be read from those lines. If you are drawing something aggressive, draw aggressive lines. If you are drawing something calm, draw it with calm lines. Thus, if you want to draw a dynamic drawing, you need to draw dynamic lines as well.

Very often I see people drawing their lines really slowly with wobbly results or quickly with short hasty strokes that have no meaning at all, other than giving really messy look. You can't just draw some random lines and say it's art. All lines need to contribute to the piece. One way to draw meaningful lines is to use dynamism as a basic concept (see the line of action in my "Dynamism" tutorial). Think a plane doing a bombing run. Start pressing the pen gently and then apply more pressure as the plane gains velocity. The most impacting part is where the bomb is released and hitting the target. After that, you lift your pen, leaving a nice tapering end. All this done with one quick stroke.

Laying the stroke:
When I draw a line, I hardly ever look at the pen itself (or the cursor on the screen). Instead, I'm looking at the point I want to end my line. I may also look at another line somewhere else in the drawing if I need to make it look the same, for instance. Then I start moving my pen between the starting and the ending points in air, hovering just above the paper. This allows my hand to do some "practice" runs before the real thing. I can also try different alternatives to see which way I should draw the line. Then, when I'm somewhat confident, I draw just one quick stroke. If it's good, then great! If not, then I erase it (Ctrl+Z is so convenient!) and try again. That said, I hardly never know how I need to draw the line beforehand. It's just thanks to my experience and "muscle memory" that I can draw the lines pretty much the way I want them.

It's also important to hold the pencil the right way for optimal ergonomics and results. Don't press the pen too much on the surface, it will just strain your hand. When I'm drawing with a pigment liner, technical pen or tablet pen, I hold the pen pretty much in vertical position. I support the pen with my ring finger to keep it from getting pressed too much on the surface. This isn't very natural way to hold the pen, but it allows great control over the pressure.

Some basic thing about lines:
I have compiled some things here in order to explain why my lines look like they do.
1. I always apply some sort of variety in the line thickness for more natural and dynamic feel.
2. Make it quick and simple. The line can be short or long, but it should be drawn with one dynamic stroke.
3. The way you draw the lines can spice up your style and add feeling to your pieces. I tend to draw my lines both curvy and angular, pretty much like the left one.
4. It's good to mind line hierarchy. Usually thicker lines are considered to be closer that thinner lines. Thus, it's often good to draw the characters with thick outlines and the background with thinner lines.
5. This is pretty basic way to think the line weight. The line is thinner towards the light and bulkier in shadow. You could think the line as a shadow as well.
6. This is pretty basic thing too. Thinner lines give more lighter feeling and bulky lines heavier. Thus it's pretty straightforward to draw a feather with thin lines for example.
7. Some black in line intersections makes a huge difference. Just be reasonable with it.
8. An illusion of overlapping lines add three dimensional feel. Also pay attention how the panties sink into skin ;)
9. The line thickness can also add the contrast between two objects. For example, if you draw an arm on a surface, it's natural to draw the lines towards the surface bulkier (as if they were shadows).
10. "Lost and found" refers to a broken line that we can read as a solid line. Very often it's better to draw things with broken lines rather than solid lines. Of course it depends on the image you want to gain.
11. Number 10. principle can be applied on corners. If the surfaces are part of the same object, it's often better to draw the line between them thin or broken. If there is a gap or two separate surfaces, the line is solid. Note that curvy surfaces don't really have corners (duh!), so you need to give the impression with contrast instead or mind the surfaces later in coloring.
12. This just illustrates the fact that there are no lines in reality, but it can be still represented with lines.
13. Hatching should be drawn with quick and parallel lines, with equal thickness and gap between lines.
14. You can make quite a bunch of textures with lines.
15. You can also draw many patterns with lines. However, it's often better to draw only small patches there and there and leave the rest to the imagination. Not only you save a lot of effort, the drawing will be a lot easier to look also.

Skating practice:
Skating is a good term for this little practice. The purpose of this practice is to be able to draw the very same shape many times as accurately as possible. You can do this kind of skating practice with any kind of shape, but I find that "pringles shape" is the most natural and challenging enough. When I draw that shape very quickly, it's my hand's "muscle memory" doing the job. The moment I start thinking, I make mistake.

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Comments233
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LunnaHage's avatar

Thank you so much <3

SkullDox's avatar

Thank you so much for this. I've become obsessed with trying to get the perfect lines because they seriously impact the entire image. I don't have many resources for it but this explanation is simply beautiful. I can't wait to drill these concepts into my head.

TheVexingFox's avatar

Thank you, this was very helpful. could never tell where to put lines.

MoltenMolybdene's avatar
Hey NSIO, thanks a lot for you god tier tutorials ;) 

I have a question though : where is your 5th NSIO Explains ? I can't find it anywhere, I think it's lost in the cold and microb filled depth of deviantart ^^' 
Nsio's avatar
You're welcome :D

Ah right. Technically Nsio explains: Dynamism is the 5th tutorial. Nsio explains: Facial Proportions is the 4th, but I regarded it as a continuation to the 3rd tutorial, so I called the dynamism tutorial as the 4th tutorial at the time.
EroPencil's avatar
Wow this is it
SlickLikeNinja's avatar
I really love your tutorials. Of all the teaching implements I've read, you seemed to pick out some of my worst habits in these that I have always been aware of but never knew how to correct. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge :)
Lady-Pixel's avatar
very cool, thankyouCURSE YOU! 
ExudeArt's avatar
nexgencn's avatar
[insert joke about it being over 9000] [insert additional joke about this being posted too many years later]
Ikarooz's avatar
This is, hands down, the best lineart tutorial on the internet so far
skotve's avatar
wow! this is really useful. thanks for the information, i'll try it ! :)
Gabrianne's avatar
I learned those exercises at the end last year, and almost every day since I've been making them. It helped A LOT. Thank you very much!
Insane-And-Loving-It's avatar
The issue for me is I need to know where I'm going with my lines. Do you lay down a test sketch of your drawing first? Then trace your line art around that?
JellyBX's avatar
Thanks for your effort in making this tutorial Nsio! :) (Smile)

Actually i has done this kind of training when i started to draw by using pencil.
I just get myself a drawing tab in order to bring my skill into digital art.
Using a pencil and drawing tab is a whole different matter (this hand-eye coordinate is really frustating at first Stare )

Honestly im almost given up my drawing tab Sweating a little... , thankfully i found this tutorial and i just realized that all i have to do is making myself getting used on making a good line by using drawing tab :) (Smile)
After some weeks trying that skating practice, i had started to get used in using this drawing tab! Yay!!!:D (Big Grin) 

Thank you for making this tutorial!
Actually not only this one, im feeling gratitude for your effort in making all of your tutorial in addition a detailed explanation for each of them :) (Smile) 
AnavaeRu's avatar
You are incredibly useful. I'm learning so much from all of your art tutorials! :D
Now to put them into practice and stay motivated. Thank you for all you do ^_^
Sad-Magic's avatar
This is so helpful, thank you!! A problem I seem to run into is my hold on the pen. I was trying the pringle exercise and my hand slides down the pen, making it difficult to continue the loops. Is this because my pressure is too much or the hold I have on my pen is wrong?
Nsio's avatar
You're most welcome :).

I have had that issue only when my fingers have been sweaty. It sounds like you are applying too much pressure on the pen. If this is a tendency, you can try to draw so that you keep the pen slanted and apply the pressure under you hand rather than the pen. That way there will be hardly any pressure on pen even if you press your hand down hard. It's not recommended for extended periods of time, because that will cause unnecessary muscle tension.

You can also buy those tubes for pens that give a better grip on the pen. I have one on my technical pen because it's so narrow.
Sad-Magic's avatar
Oh alright, I'll try this!! Thank you SO much!! I appreciate the help (:
Devu7's avatar
I'll try learning how to draw from these tutorials of yours!
JMilkyway's avatar
I love it! I'd like to try this for sure, I always feel like mine are too stiff looking
whoviananddrawing's avatar
You are a very good inker :)
DolphinChild's avatar
dude i did those loops and designs without thinking dooddling in class never thought it would help me in line dynamics!
aktikon1's avatar
Perfect thing to help with my sketches, thanks.
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