In early August, I wrote a short story called “Modica” which included an idea for a new art style: “In a modica painting, you only had nine lines. Nine lines, none of which could touch each other or extend for more than half the length of the canvas or touch each other.”
This idea for an art style was mostly inspired by the fact that most of my “How To Draw” guides usually begin with simple lines and I often deliberately don’t quite join the lines together. When I wrote “Modica”, the concept of using a few simple lines for a drawing seemed like a neat idea for something to add to a short story.
Not to mention that it’s just about possible to actually make a modica drawing too:
However, when I was writing my recent article about Hokusai, I mentioned that he pretty much just used a single line for the entire background of one of his prints. This got me thinking about the importance of simple lines in art and why it is useful to learn how to draw simple lines in an expressive way.
Not only does learning how to use simple lines effectively allow you to draw more quickly, but it makes things stand out a lot more in your drawings too.
If you’ve been drawing for a while, then you probably already know how to use simple lines effectively – it’s one of the easiest skills to learn. If you’re new to drawing, then it just takes a bit of practice, but if you’re not sure where to start, then try copying a few drawings which express a lot using just a few simple lines.
The trick to using simple lines on their own is to just draw a simplified outline of the thing that you’re drawing. You can also sketch one or two of it’s most important features in a fairly simple way if you want to. Remember, you are not trying to copy something exactly, but to only give a general impression of what it is – your audience’s imaginations will fill in the gaps.
However, if you are drawing something slightly more complicated, then simple lines are probably the best way to start your drawing. Generally, it is a good idea to draw these in pencil, but if you are quite confident in your abilities and you can incorporate the simple lines into your final drawing, then you can draw them in pen too. In many ways, these are the “skeleton” of your drawing.
This whole subject, when it comes to drawing people, is covered in pretty much any book on drawing that you can find. Although there is a formal way of doing this for more “realistic” drawings, I’ve kind of come up with my own way of doing it for my more stylised drawings.
However, if you are new to drawing, then it is probably best to use the more formal technique until you can work out your own shortcuts.
Plus, using simple lines can be a good way to show the texture of something without drawing it in detail. Whether it’s a few horizontal wavy lines to show that a field is covered in grass (or covered with water) or a few diagonal vertical lines to show the rough surface of a mountain, you can express a lot with just a few simple lines. Most of these techniques can be learnt fairly easily from looking at other drawings (old comic book art can be especially useful in this respect).
Likewise, simple lines can also be a great way to draw 3D landscapes quickly. I’ve mentioned mountains earlier, but the most simple way to draw a basic 3D landscape is to draw a line for the horizon and two diagonal lines to represent a road or a path. Once you’ve drawn these three simple lines (in pen or pencil), you can add whatever other details you want to.
Just remember that everything gets smaller and narrower when it gets closer to the horizon. Plus, the upper and lower edges of buildings and doors should run parallel to the nearest diagonal line.
Although this article was fairly basic and rather short, I hope that it was useful 🙂
And, yes, if you want a challenge, then try to produce a “modica” drawing (using only nine lines which must be less than half the width of the page) – they’re a lot more difficult than they look, but they will teach you a fair amount about using basic lines in your drawings.