Sunday, 3 February 2013


Many years ago, I visited an artist friend.  I had not begun to explore being an artist myself at that point and was fascinated by everything she produced........but in particular, I remember a small charcoal drawing she did as an exercise at college.  She was told to use NO LINE AT ALL.  The result was a memorable and beautifully atmospheric drawing of the nude model.

When I began to learn to draw, I found that my natural inclination was to use line.  I felt a need to draw the EDGES of my subject, and once that was established to my satisfaction, I would begin to render the form.  I find this is still my natural first approach when out sketching - I suspect it is a fear of getting the proportions wrong, so the "outside line" makes me feel more secure!  However, I am always conscious of the fact that objects,and figures, DON'T HAVE LINES AROUND.  There is no "edge" with most three dimensional forms...particularly curved forms.  Sure, a box has edges.  But what about an egg?  Where is the "edge" of an egg???

Artists who are able to overcome the need to draw "outside edges", are able to produce works of such power and beauty.  That is not to say that they do not measure carefully to ensure good proportions, I realise that now.  But they simply do not rely on LINE at all.  As a result, what happens in their work is that they appear to be almost drawing with light - the light areas reveal the form, the darker areas support the light.  There is no chance of a hard line in the wrong place, or perhaps rendered with too heavy a stroke, destroying the illusion of three dimensional depth.   I am not suggesting, incidentally, that it is "wrong" to use line.....contour lines are obviously important in a line drawing, but sometimes, line says more about flat shape than form.  To prove this point, when teaching, I draw a circle on a sheet of paper, and I the circle a beer mat?  A plate? a flat piece of cardboard?   Or is it a ball?  If it is meant to be a ball, we need more information, don't we, to explain its 3 dimensions.

So  - drawing with light.  

George Seurat was an artist able to do just this.  He used waxy conte crayons, allowing the surface of the paper to play a part in that the texture of the paper becomes important, although it is hard to see in this reproduction or the one at the top of the post.  However....  Take a look:

I still find myself fascinated by this approach to drawing.  I am spellbound with admiration.  I today found the work of an American contemporary artist , a talented lady called Susan Lyon, and would like to show you some of her beautiful drawings, which continue to support the idea of drawing more with light than with line.  They also support the concept of "less is more" - even though I read that they are slow, careful drawings.  Clearly this lady looks jolly hard before she touches the paper.

To see more of Susan's works: - two artists sharing a website.

I believe that if we linear-ly inclined artists stick with our natural inclinations, we might well hone our skills in that particular direction....but forcing ourselves to step outside our comfort zone is always a good thing.  I recommend you try the idea of working WITHOUT ANY HARD LINES ANYWHERE AT ALL.  Forget that your charcoal, or conte stick, has a pointed end.  Work with the side only.  
See if you can bring your subject to life without the use of line at all.  You may surprise yourself.

Here is one of mine:

Admittedly, I did use a bit of line here and there in this image, but it really does not depend on linear marks as much as my usual work...I was using Pan Pastels, which are cakes of pastel, rather than sticks (no pointed ends!), so I used sponge applicators, which made the use of line quite difficult.

And by way of total contrast, here is a line drawing by Egon Schiele........marvellous indeed, but light and atmosphere plays little or no part at all.  It is not better or worse to work in this way...just very different in both intent and resolution.


Here is a lovely quote from someone called Daniel Maidman:

Beauty and truth are fine things, and they live on a high mountain. Sometimes, in the dreams of talent and prodigy, we fly up and touch them. But it is only by climbing a little bit every day that we can hope to make a home with them, and share their company for an extended time. Some people are born with talent, but nobody is born with skill. Skill is the mastery of materials and techniques, learning the basics of your art form, and there is no way to get to that level of expertise except by practicing, by showing persistent rigor.


Just to let you know that I now have a small stock of my original pastels DVD's - 
Learn to Paint Gardens - 60 mins;  
Pastels Workout 130mins (2 DVD's - part one, first steps - part two, capturing light and colour) and 
Learn to Paint Flowers  60 mins.
I am happy to release these at half price, so if interested, do drop me a line to and I will give you a price including postage to your part of the world.


  1. What an interesting post. I am a beginner at drawing still, but always start with the "line" - maybe a useful exercise would be to draw without any lines?

    I love your drawing of the bearded man, he has such character & the lack of lines definitely lends a much softer feel. Wonderful.

  2. Wonderful post, Jackie, so inspiring. And your portrait of the man with beard and hat is amazing. I like the encouragement you give to step away from the 'edge' - and will try to be brave enough to give it a go :)

  3. A very informative post. It reminded me of a watercolor painting clotch I sat in on a couple of years back. I tagged along (to get away from the loneliness of the studio) to just sit and draw with the ladies. My friend was there to learn to draw. The 'instructor' gave her a piece of typing paper and a #2 pencil and told her to draw the set up of tiny bottles in front of her. The woman began, like all of us did as children, she attempted to outline the shapes. The instructor said nothing--nothing even about contour drawing, nothing about drawing the shapes of shadows,nothing about holding the pencil on it's side, nothing about values. I was appalled. I had to remain speechless being just along for the ride. After several weeks with no improvement and no real guidance, the woman (and I) stopped going. I had had enough camaraderie. She had enough of not getting anywhere. I felt badly that I never called this woman who called herself an art instructor to tell her she wasn't. My friend gave up the idea of drawing and went into making jewelry. I guess she figures, you don't have to draw to make jewelry. Hmm.

    As for line drawing, contour drawing, I admire it, but it's not painting with graphite or charcoal or paint for that matter. Shapes being outlined make it more illustration than painting.

  4. Great post! I was planning to use this same drawing by Seurat tonight at a class I teach. I like your phrase of "drawing with light."

  5. I loved your article! You are spot on regarding "edges" and thoughtful approaches to truly "seeing" before (or as) you draw. Thank you!!

  6. Before I began watercolor painting, I drew with conte' pencil - what a beautiful feel it had and the values were so easily made! I accidently did it right because I challenged myself to sketch with values only and no line. A great lesson. To date I think they are some of the best things I've done. Thanks.

    And, okay, but I have been on quite an art journey since then, and after I began doing figures in ink and watercolor I began wondering if others had done the same thing, and found Egon Schiele! I am completely and utterly enthralled by his work and inspired by it. His buildings too. I have been on both sides of the fence.

    So I guess you could say..I enjoyed this post! :)


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