Should You Outline Drawings?

Ever wondered why outlining your drawings improves them? If you want to understand how outlining can improve or affect your artwork? Then you need to understand the basics of outline drawing as a technique.

So, let's begin with the question.

What is an outline drawing? In a basic sense, an outline drawing is an image, drawing or sketch which employs a single indivisible or contour to describe or suggest its subject. The subject can vary from a portrait, to still life, abstract or interior viewpoint.

We can now turn to the question should you outline your drawing? This is quite simply yes in some cases and definitely no in others. To answer this question in more depth

Should You Draw Outlines or Add Tone First? 

Should You Outline Drawings?
Should You Outline Drawings?

For the artist who is seeking a simple form of expression through their drawing. Drawing a basic outline around your subject in many senses is an entirely appropriate way to draw and work. Consider, for example, the aesthetic phrase ‘less is more.'

If you are looking to create a simple minimalist approach in your drawing, then outlines or simple flowing contours are entirely appropriate for the drawing you are trying to create.

‘Less is More', Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

The phrase is associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, a founder of modern architecture and an advocate of the simplicity of style.

Some drawings by their very nature are produced using an outline. Geometrical drawings and engineering plans require clear outlines in order to communicate information between designers or architects in different fields.

Adding Tone Before an Outline

One technique I discovered early in my education was to draw without an outline. Instead, I was taught to apply tone and value with the side of the pencil. This method, in particular, is in contrast to drawing outlines and can create very subtle drawings. To learn more read my post, Understanding value, and tone

How Can You Make Outlines Better?

One accepted way to improve the quality of the outline you can draw and produce when dawing is to vary the strength of the line you draw with. This can be achieved by varying the pressure on the pencil you are drawing.

Why is Outlining Important?

Artist pencil sets often are supplied with a range of varying grades of graphite. This hepls you to achieve a wide variety of thicknesses and strengths of the line when drawing. Draw using a variety of pencils creates better outlines in your drawings.

As an artist, you can also hold the pencil in different positions; this allows you to orchestrate a variety of outline appropriate to the drawing you are attempting to draw. Consider how the amount of pressure you place on the pencil and the strength of the outline you can produce. 

For example, in technical drawing, you may need to a faint construction line in order to project lines across the page orographically from one shape to another. 

Should you Outline Your Drawing Before Coloring?

Many artists opt to draw faint outlines and progress on drawing outlines over the initial sketches they have drawn. Brush pens, in particular, are available in a variety of sizes enabling you to outline the various sections of your drawing in a number of ways.

Drawing Without Black Outlines in Pen

Artists when drawing with brush pens often opt to draw with a thicker pen when outlining larger, more prominent sections of their drawings and illustrations. They then switch to drawing with a finer line pen to draw and add more delicate more detailed parts of their drawing.

If you want to coney a variety of outlines in your drawing, you need to opt for drawing them using a range of nib sizes. This also has the added benefit of introduces a variety of visual elements into your drawing and make them more aesthetically pleasing.

Depending on your preference, you can also add thick bold outlines to your drawing. A bold line which is five times the thickness of the outlines surrounding it have a substantial visual impact, and for drawing which contains much detail, this is an excellent way of adding contrast.

Pay Attention When Outling Your Drawings

This is especially true if you are outlining and a large amount of fine detail drawing in pen. A loss of concentration results in mistakes and depending on the type of work in question may result in difficulties and a later stage.

Easy Outline Drawing You Can Try

Drawing and Outlining a Tree 

Many artists enjoy drawing natural forms as it is particularly suited to the technique of drawing outlines in pen.

Due to there network of branches, trees can make excellent subjects to draw. The drawing of the trunk, bark, branches, and leaves are suited to the technique of drawing a variety of different thickness of line in pen.

The shape and the texture of the trunk can also be outlined in pen in contrast to the bare branches of a winter tree. If you are seeking a variation of different types of trees to draw this is a good idea.

The compact shape and beauty of the trunk can also be drawn and then outlined in pen. This is also an ideal way to create contrast with the more delicate areas of the tree, such as the branches and leaves.

Winter trees also make excellent subjects to draw if you are looking for unusual subjects to draw apart from the conventional drawing of a summer tree.

Tips for Creating Outline Drawings: Science Fiction Character

As discussed earlier in this post. Outline drawings in pen can incorporate a wide variety of different thicknesses and strengths of line.

Robotic creatures can be created using the simple method of drawing basic shapes first and progressing onto adding and drawing more intricate details.

Once the main shapes have been carefully drawn onto the paper, take a fine line pen and begin to outline the details in pen. A bolder line can be added to the outline shapes using a brush. The variety of lines added to create a drawing that is visually more appealing.

Don't Obsess Over Drawing Outlines

As a general rule, if you are a beginner, I would suggest although outlines, when added to your drawing, will enable them to stand out and have more of an impact. I would advise you to focus on understanding the form of the subject you are drawing.

Through the drawing and studying of the primary underlying forms and proportions of the subject, you become a much more complete artist. This is why many artists draw the human form, as a rule, it contains many of the basics forms and shapes that you need to understand in order to be able to draw correctly.

So draw form and shapes not outlines. For more information on how to improve your drawing read my post, Drawing Tips That Every Artist Wish They Had Learned Earlier.

Additional Questions

What Type of Pencil is Best for Drawing Outlines?

This is really dependant on the type of line you want to create in your drawings.

If your aim is to create a softer line that smudges and adds value, then the softer 4B pencil or 5B or above is a right choice.

Harder pencils such as the 2H pencil produce a crisp, clear quality of line.

If for practical purposes, you are tracing using a standard HB pencil helps you achieve the task to a reasonable standard. However, some artist grade pencil sets are equipped with an F grade pencil; this pencil is also suitable for tracing and sketching work.

Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I like Udemy if you want to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques. Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounts for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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