8 Exercises for Practicing Linework in Illustration
Every artist wants to create amazing drawings and paintings. We think it’s fair to say this isn’t an exaggeration. Combine technical skills with creativity, communication vision and imagination, these are all goals the typical artist has.
So how do you ensure amazing art every time? Well… you practice. Let’s start with linework in illustration. After all, you cannot possibly expect to communicate your ideas without basic technical drawing skills in place.
Best practice to improve your linework
No matter how you define your current skill level, practice plays an important role in developing yourself as an artist. It should be a regular part of your activities, even for just a few minutes a day. Musicians practice scales, basketball players practice layups, so think of these exercises in the same way.
Before you start your exercises, work your linear muscles. There is a difference in how we create shorter and longer marks, and using the right muscles is crucial. Take a sheet of paper and any tool you like. This could be a graphite pencil, an ink liner, a nib pen or other mark-making tool. If you’re playing around with illustrations, we also recommend practicing drawing exercises with Copic Markers. Here’s why we love them and why we think you should be using them.
Draw a short line of around 1cm. Observe how your fingers work together, moving slightly while you hold the tool. Then draw a longer line of around 4-5cm. You’ll notice your wrist becomes active to extend the line. Now create an even longer line of around 9-10cm. See how your elbow muscles come into play.
As you do this, try to determine which direction of hand movement is most convenient for you: ‘away from yourself’ or ‘towards yourself’. Forming your own conclusion about how you use your muscles is important and will lay the foundation for consistent lines.
You can then perform these exercises as regularly as possible.
1. Long ‘streamy’ lines
If you’d like to avoid ‘hairy’ lines and develop more control over your finished lines, practice long and streamy lines. Free yourself from the fear of failure, relax your mind and hands, and draw. Try drawing a rainbow and see your skills get better over time.
2. Straight lines
When you’re drawing straight lines, pay attention to the pressure on the tool and the speed of the movement. Don’t push too hard. You’ll notice that the starting and ending points of your lines depend on how lightly you touch the paper and how quickly your tool moves. Practice continuous lines and be fluent. Slowing your hand movements may cause unwanted effects.
3. Trajectory points
Draw two points on a piece of paper and ghost a line between the two. Feel the trajectory and then, with a pen, draw a line with the same motion. Either go over this line over and over or draw parallel lines to monitor consistency. You can do this with three trajectory points also, ensuring that your tool runs over the midpoint on its way to the other dot.
4. Find the missing angle
With a ruler, draw half a rectangle. Now ghost the two missing lines and then draw them one by one with your desired tool. Repeat this exercise, sketching rectangles of different proportions and in various positions.
5. Perspective drawing
Draw a horizontal line approximately 10cm long. Put point A somewhere in the distance. Now ghost a straight line from a dot to that horizontal. Repeat with a point B, C, D and E, aligning parallel to your horizontal. The whole construction will look like rails with converging edges.
6. Flow lines
Put 5-7 random dots on a piece of paper. Visualise a curving line going through these points. Draw a curve from the first point to the second one and stop, being careful not to put pressure on the paper. Continue the original flow of the line to the next point and so one. Now practice the flow in one continuous line, not stopping at each point. Go over this line eight times without segmentation or draw parallel curves.
7. Mirror curves
Draw a curve on the left hand side of a piece of paper. Now, draw a straight line to the right of that curve. This is your mirroring axis. If you need to, measure equal distance from the main points of your curve and then mirror the curve on the other side of your line. Repeat the exercise with different curves.
8. Drawing with a ruler
There are times when only a ruler will do, and even this can take practice. Your ruler should be in good condition, with the edge straight and long enough to cover the distance you need to draw. If you have to reposition your ruler rather than making a continuous line, your line might not be completely straight. The tool you use and how you hold your tool against the edge of the ruler will drive the look of your line. For the most accurate line, apply a drawing implement with a thin point or nib which is held at a steady angle as it draws the line. You can learn more about drawing with a ruler here.
Practice makes perfect
Being able to draw straight lines gives a sketch a sense of authority. It makes linework feel intentional, not something that’s undecided. It adds clarity, organisation and gives character to your work.
To ensure you practice line work regularly, get yourself a few sketchbooks or pads and keep them in locations where you occasionally get some down time. You can also keep a sketchbook in your studio and before you get started on any kind of artwork, warm your hands up with a few of the above exercises.