Drawing From Life With Expressive Line

This is the last of a series of five drawing lessons that have taken you from using a viewfinder, to freehand drawing, and finally into fluid and expressive line drawing.

Here are the first four lessons.

Line Drawing Part One – How To Use A Viewfinder
Line Drawing Part Two – Draw From Life With A Viewfinder
Line Drawing Part Three – Draw From Life Using Sight-Size
Line Drawing Part Four – Enlarge Or Reduce While Drawing From Life


I found this great description of expressive line from humanitiesweb.org:

Expressive Line – A kind of line that seems to spring directly from the artist’s emotions or feelings — loose, gestural, and energetic — epitomized by curvi-linear forms; as opposed to analytic or classical line.

I suck at quick expressive drawing that springs directly from my emotions. You know the kind I mean, when you get about five seconds per pose to draw a person as they dance around the room? I love to sketch, but time restrictions make my bipolar brain crackle with angst! I’ve been advised to avoid crackling angst, so let us proceed with caution.

I can talk to you about how to make expressive and varied line, and how I use it to create art. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take away some pointers so YOU can express yourself directly from your raw emotional center, if you want to.

leaves tip of pencil drawing C. Rosinski
This drawing of leaves on a vine was drawn with the tip of a sharp pencil. It has some good things going on, like the rhythm of the leaves as they grow around the stem.

But all the lines are about the same thickness, and that makes each part of the drawing look encapsulated, enclosed, or almost separate from each other part.

This was a good study sketch, but it only was a study of certain qualities of the plant.

Longhair looking out a window. C. RosinskiThis drawing of my cat is less tightly rendered. Her fur is showing some line variation.

I can draw cats fairly quickly, as you can tell I did here, but only because I know their anatomy so very well. And because they completely and utterly could not care less about what I’m doing.

weeds drawing C. Rosinski
Although this drawing is shaded, it was actually drawn with only thick and thin line.

The leaves and seed heads have volume and texture, and it’s even caught the light of the day.

This sketch took a lot less time to draw than the drawing of vine leaves, but it’s expressing many more qualities. And that is the beauty of expressive line, as I try to use it.

overhand pencil sketching grip C. RosinskiHow To Make Simple Expressive Line

You can create expressive thick and thin line simply by varying the angle of the pencil in an overhand grip. Your hand swings from your elbow in this grip, and that gives you freedom of movement both in swing and angle of the pencil. Experiment with this grip on a big sheet of paper. Try writing your name until you get some control. It’s fun!

Light Line Drawing Of Burdock C. Rosinski

Burdock Leaves Line Drawing Expressing Volume

I made this sketch with an HB pencil in a normal writing grip. Everything is in the right place, but it looks flat.

Expressive Line Drawing Of Burdock C. Rosinski

I’ve went over my first drawing with an HB pencil sharpened into a very long point. Combined with the overhand grip, the long point allowed me to draw thick and thin lines quickly by tilting the pencil to different angles.

When you look at this line drawing, your eye “reads” the thin lines as ‘up’ or ‘light’ and thick soft lines as ‘down’ or ‘shadow,’ and this is how our mind creates the illusion of form.

In comparison to the first sketch, these leaves look as if they’re solid and their edges have form that undulates through space.

Daffodill leaves line drawing with accent lines. C. RosinskiDaffodil Leaves Line Drawing With A Point Of Focus

One of my favorite drawing subjects is a grouping of wild plants, or ‘weeds’ as some unenlightened people (like my neighbor) call them.

I found a lovely group growing around my neglected naturalized daffodils.

Measuring daffodil line drawing C. RosinskiSince a patch of wild plants generally covers a lot of square footage in my yard, I have to make a border for a drawing like this. To do that, I choose leaves that create a good looking edge.

Daffodil leaves close-up accent lines. C. RosinskiYou can see here how I used lighter lines for some leaves around the edge, just to make them fade-out a bit. I also darkened some foliage around the daffodil plant’s bottom to indicate shadow.

These two simple line variations unexpectedly, but happily, shifted the focus to center of my drawing. Frankly, I draw for moments like this. Sitting with nature, drawing mindlessly, when art surprises me with a visual gift.

Too bad my neighbor wasn’t watching.

Daylilies line drawing C. Rosinski
Varied Line Used In A Shaded Sketch

Except for the stems, this drawing starts out as a humble and straightforward line drawing.

I drew the flowers lightly, with the tip of a HB lead. The stems were drawn with the side of the HB lead.

Daylilies line drawing with shadow lines C. Rosinski

Using the side of the HB pencil, I sketched over the composition with varied line to show where the shadows were, and I let the pencil meander a little to embellish the most interesting areas of each element.

I tried to distribute the dark details evenly to create a sense of balance, and I drew some of them darker and larger than they really were to do that.

Daylilies line drawing with shading C. RosinskiI used the side of a 2H pencil to shade the flowers and buds.

I darkened edges and shadows with a hatch made with a flattened pencil tip so that the hatch blended in with the side of pencil lines. I didn’t use a lot of pressure. I simply hatched over the areas several times until they darkened and blended.

I shaded around some of the highlights. In watercolor that’s called ‘saving the whites,’ and it keeps the paper clean so that the highlights are as bright as possible.

Daylilies line drawing with highlights C. Rosinski

To finish, I erased the smaller detail highlights, and then I drew the stamens.

This isn’t a complete drawing lesson because my aim is simply to show you how I’ve used varied and expressive line to expand my sketching style.

This video is of me making a very slow expressive line drawing. You’ll see that I made lots of cuts. If I didn’t make those cuts, it’d be much much longer and you’d all fall asleep before it was over. Oh, and sorry about the bird. He was such an harsh critic! I added photos and text below.

Dogwood Leaves With Expressive Line

Composing expressive line drawing C. RosinskiI lightly drew a rough composition so that I’d have a map to follow. Then I could draw from life and compose as I wanted to.

You can just skip this step if you want to jump right and draw ‘in the raw,’ so to speak.

Look for edges in expressive line drawing demo C. Rosinski

To draw with a varied line in a way that suggests reality, pay attention to how the edges appear in shaded, lighted, and mid-range value areas. Some edges may be hard to see as they blend into the background, draw those with very light pressure to make a line that almost disappears.

Vary Line Expressive Line Drawing Demo C. RosinskiSome edges might be clearly defined but in shadow, draw them with a firmer pressure to create a darker crisp line. Other edges may be shadowed and blurred, drop the pencil low and draw a wide soft line to express them.

Create your own version of reality expressive line drawing demo C. RosinskiThe overhand grip allows for great freedom of movement, so take advantage of that by allowing yourself to add new qualities to the composition as they occur to you. Let the pencil explore the shape and find even better angles and curves than nature provided.

So, there you have it my dear pencil friends. I’ve covered sight-size from every angle I can think of and I’m ready to move on. In the coming year, I’d like to make more videos, and I’ll make more short how-to lessons that everyone seems to enjoy too. Of course, I’ll be showing more of my own art. It’s taking a turn back toward realism I believe, so you’ll be seeing signs of that soon. Until we meet again,

Draw well, draw courageously, and never stop!

Supplies for happy drawing:

Here are the supplies you need for this whole series of lessons, plus a few others I added to make your drawing life happier. I’m Blick affiliate and get some money when buy from my links, so thank you very much if you do.

Derwent Graphic 2B
Derwent Graphic HB

Derwent Graphic 2H

(If one is out of stock, get the next softer grade.) – Derwent Graphic Pencils are good inexpensive art-grade graphite pencils to start with.

Canson Classic Cream Drawing Pad
– This inexpensive Canson paper has a good tooth for graphite and it holds up to erasing fairly well too. It does dent, so don’t press too hard when you draw or you’ll ruin the grain.

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser
– This is the brand of kneaded eraser I use. It’s not too sticky or oily. It’s just right.

Alvin Vinyl Eraser
– The vinyl eraser is good to have for erasing marks the kneaded eraser won’t remove, and for general clean-up around the edges of the paper.

Helix Electric Cordless Eraser – A tapered ergonomic shape that stays out of your way and inexpensive. Sharpen it’s nib by spinning it on rough paper or sandpaper, then you can ‘draw’ extraordinarily delicate lines and textures in graphite gradations, along with dozens of other things that you’ll invent to do with it. You’ll go through a lot of nibs, so pick up extras.

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener –  The only pencil sharpener I use. Two holes: one hole sharpens the wood, and the other sharpens the graphite. Makes a very long sharp point and hardly ever breaks lead. There are extra blades in the back.

Posted in Drawing From Life, Drawing Inspiration, Drawing Technique, Expressive Line Drawing, Line Drawing, Sketching Skills | 4 Comments