Drawing: Primary Instructions - Straight Lines

By: Brian Anderson - May, 1st, 2013

Some content below taken from the "American Drawing Book" which is in the public domain in the United States of America as of 2013.

Primary Instructions

Straight Lines

1.) A facility of hand is one of the first requisites in drawing, whatever instrument be employed, whether Pencil, Pen, Brush, or Modeling tool. Many are by nature endowed with a certain mechanical dexterity, or happy readiness with the fingers, to whom this facility is of easy acquirement; and most all possess it, to a certain degree, or they could not be taught to write, which, in the beginning, is nothing more than the drawing of certain conventional forms, without any distinct idea of an object beyond the imitation of such forms. The first "pot-hook and hanger" (references to early children's written forms), is, clearly, Drawing. If the student has improved upon this humble beginning, so as to write a decent hand, they already, perhaps unconsciously, possess a facility that will not only make easy the first attempts in drawing, but essentially serve however far the student may extend its pursuit. Should this useful accomplishment have been neglected, no better can be done than to practice one's hand in the careful imitation of good examples of writing, or place oneself under the instruction of some good writing master. The use of the pen has been too much overlooked by draughtsmen, especially by amateurs. It produces a certain line, and enforces an early habit of care and accuracy, from the fact that it can not be easily erased. Many are falsely captivated by the spirited dash of a master, who overlook the means by which that ease and freedom have been acquired. It is the result of accuracy and labor; and to imitate the end, we should not avoid beginning. Those who start with the black lead pencil in one hand, and the rubber eraser in the other, will find, however convenient the latter may be, that they will soon fall into a loose and lazy habit, of which it will be difficult to correct. They are both good and serviceable in their places; but too often, in the hands of beginners, most sadly abused.

Drawing a freehand line on blue lined paper is good for practice.

2.) The first object of the beginner should be, to acquire a readiness in observing and forming simple lines, with their relation one to another, their direction, variation, beginning, and termination; also, to make a duplicate of any given line. Take, for example, a sheet of ruled letter paper, and begin by tracing over the lines with a pen, from left to right, and from right to left --

Let your line be distinct and clear. Avoid a habit of feeling your way, as it were, by a number of uncertain touches. Try from the beginning, to express what you desire with firmness and decision.

Draw clean lines like those shown at the bottom. Hairy, fuzzy or jaggy lines like those at top of the picture are to be avoided.

3.) The system of these early lessons, to those who find it difficult to attain precision of hand, is of so much importance, that it is strongly recommended, especially for schools; where it should be commenced as soon as a child is taught to hold a pen or pencil. By it the instructor will find that students more rapidly acquire a hand in writing, as well as drawing; the eye as well as the hand, thus being made progressively familiar with the observation and imitation of lines and forms. Lacking a drawing master in schools, any teacher that teaches the basics of writing can also teach the basic lines of drawing. A child knows the first letter by its form, calls its name, and remembers it by that knowledge; and few can not make letters on paper, as soon as they know then in the book, crudely, it is true, but still in a manner to be understood. And yet this first impulse of nature is too often disregarded; the young student is driven from that which might become a source of amusement as well as profit, and made by the forced discipline of schools to learn to read before learning to write. "One thing at a time," may be a good adage for past thinking minds but variety in early learning is a good thing to be given. Mental exertions should be tempered by agreeable diversion, and more especially, when that diversion can be made of lasting benefit. We may rely upon it, that a child, who loves the drawing book better than the reading book, will soon, by a judicious indulgence, learn to love them both together. The late and sullen prisoner of the school desk would become the willing learner; the early habits, thus acquired, of observation and appreciation of beauty and wonder of creation, will lead to a healthful thirst for knowledge, the truest and surest incentive to the study of books.

4.) In view of the importance of this early education in drawing, as well as to assist teachers in carrying out the system proposed, there have been prepared Drawing or Copy-Books, ruled and headed, on each page, with progressive examples, similar to those which will be given in the course of these rudimentary instructions. Thus, with little or no additional effort, teachers may at once, although possessing, themselves, no knowledge of design, be capable of affording the means of instruction to their students, as well as supplying their own deficiency, in an important and too long neglected, branch of popular education. These Copy-Books may be procured of the publisher, at a cost little beyond the price of an ordinary blank book.

Connecting the dots

5.) Having acquired a considerable degree of accuracy in tracing the ruled faint line, as suggested (2), proceed to fix certain points along the line, at random, and then connect them together; moving your pen or pencil (the former is to be preferred) slowly and steadily, and not taking it from the paper until the line required is completed --

Repeat this, from right to left, and from left to right, as in the first instance. After some degree of precision is thus obtained, you may, without fixing the points, endeavor to draw the lines, of the length required, by the aid of the eye and hand alone; and then, laying aside your ruled paper, see how nearly you can come to the examples given, on plain paper. Observe well, before you touch your paper, where the line is to begin, what direction it is to take, and where to terminate. When you can achieve this, with ease and accuracy, you have made a sure beginning; the importance of which will be felt and better appreciated hereafter, when any amount of time and patience bestowed, in making yourself master of the principles and practice of these primary lessons, will not be regretted.

Draw a line along the middle.

6.) In your next effort, you have no longer to trace the ruled lines, but to trust your eye and hand in drawing a line, as nearly possible in the middle: --

A difficulty will be felt, at first, in drawing continuous lines, of great length; as you will find your hand liable to get the start of your observation and stray from its proper direction. They should, therefore, at first, be short. Increase their length, as you gradually acquire facility and precision. When you find your pen going astray, as it is apt to to at first, leave off, and again seeking, by your eye, the true point to start from, make another effort; and thus, until you can draw a line extending the entire width of the page. Repeat the trial from right to left as well as from left to right.

7.) In this lesson, you have to keep two lines, besides the one you are drawing, under your observation at the same time. Simple as it may appear, it is one of much importance. You are already entering the broad field of Design, and are to consider yourself no longer a servile tracer. Here, let it be urged upon the student to avoid, in all cases, the pernicious habit of tracing. It is a tempting, but a dangerous expedient. No one can expect to obtain proficiency in off-hand drawing,that relies upon it, even as a last resource. Early learn to trust and depend upon your eye and hand alone. They will serve you well and faithfully, when the clear pane of glass, the transparent paper, and the many other weak resources of weak hands, will fail.

Draw varied line lengths along the middle.

8.) In like manned as in former, proceed with the following examples: First, pointing off the divisions or spaces between the faint lines, and then connecting the points carefully; bestowing as much time and practice on each example as your progress or improvement may render necessary.

9.) Observe that, in adjusting the points, marking the divisions of the space between the ruled lines, it will be easier to fix the center point at first subdivision; then the quartersubdivision, and sub-divisionssubdivision; and in like manner, where they do not begin from the center, divide the space, first, by two pointssubdivision, and then by subdivisionssubdivision. All of this is of more importance than may, at first appear: all tends to the acquirement of a habit of accuracy, and to the attainment of that facility of hand which is so essential. According as the student has more or less applied and perfected the performance of these elementary principles, will hereafter find ease or difficulty in more advanced studies.

10.) The student may now practice the drawing of lines, gradually nearer to each other, until they form an even tint, without touching. In this trial the beginning artist will begin to feel the profit of former labor; and, according to personal success, can judge their advancement in previous lessons.

Draw straight lines.

In the second example are lines slanting, upright, crossing each other, etc. A continued line or two, of each variety, is advised for practice. First draw a set as at A, entirely across the page; then proceed, in like manner, with B and C. Having succeeded in producing these, separately, with some degree of accuracy; begin again, and draw set A; that one, proceed to cross them with a set of lines slanting in the direction of C, which will produce an effect as seen at D: and again by crossing with the perpendicular lines B, will be produced E. In the case of F, first draw lines as at A, and then a fainter interline between each one. In like manner, with advantage, you may proceed with B and C; only making them somewhat wider apart, to allow space for the interline.

Exercises drawing straight lines.

11.) Before proceeding with the examples that follows, attention should be recalled to what has been said in reference to fixing points, etc. (9). It will now be of much assistance to have paper ruled in squares; and if this can be done by the student, it will be all the better. If example 8 has been properly practiced and understood, the following will be comparatively easy. In all, the lines form right angles, except the last, which presents, where they cross each other. what is called a lozenge.

12.) In drawing the following: first fix the points, and connect them as above; then proceed without them, endeavoring to determine their position by careful observation, and then expressing each line and figure with decision, unaided by the points beyond their imaginary existence.

13.) The Draughtsman should always, as far as practicable, keep the work before them; as in writing, we progress from the top to the bottom of the page. Of course, IN drawing the general outline of an object, this would be, in a measure, impossible and improper; but, in forming tints, especially with the pen, care should be taken to avoid working over what has been done already, and which is, in some degree, the guide to what is to be done; as the pen pr pencil, partially covering the lower lines; produces uncertainty. For example, it is easier to draw one line parallel to another, having the given line above the pen, than if it were below it. The simple experiment made by learners will at once convince them of this; and in like manner, they will find they can draw lines to express tints or shadows with much greater facility and accuracy, by keeping what he has already done before him, than by attempting, thus, to overreach it. Besides, the liability of running, or blotting, one line into another, unnecessarily, is avoided.

14.) The importance of acquiring a method in forming lines and tints, will be felt in the following examples: --

The student will also begin to appreciate the power of lines, in expressing tints, and in giving detail of form to simple outlines. In all of these there is one common outline, varied by divisions and tints.

15.) he following figure, formed of straight lines and right angles, will show the importance of a clear and accurate outline; which, when once obtained, may be with ease worked into endless variations.

The student should first draw the simple outline of the figure A, upon the principles laid down in former examples (11). Having accomplished that, let them next draw the faint line, near the edge of the outline (A) they have already done, as D: then proceed with E, and so on with F and G; always observing to draw the outline of the tint or shadow first.

16.) The following examples present forms of less simplicity, yet are equally regular and balanced in the relation of the parts to each other. They are given, not only for practice, but to show the motive or method of their construction. If the student were to attempt to draw the fourth or fifth figure, for instance, by a mere outline, they would encounter great difficulty, and fail of success; but let them study well the principle upon which that outline is produced, and they not only would be able to draw it accurately, but knowingly. This principle of Design deserves important consideration; and will hereafter, be often reverted to, when its true meaning and application will be better understood and appreciated by the learner.

17.) One more example of objects formed of straight lines is added to show in some degree, the application of what has thus far, occupied the attention of the student, and should be copied as carefully as possible, first on the ruled paper; observing well the parts or forms the lines present as they cross the dotted or faint lines; recalling to memory all that has been before said,especially with regard to the importance of ascertaining the point of beginning and ending, as well as direction of each line. When some degree of precision is acquired on the ruled paper, try it without -- in a plain sketchbook -- a blackboard -- every way; and then try your memory, and see if it will serve you as it ought. See if you can draw a gate, a table, or a box, without the object before you. They who can draw nothing but what they have before them, lose the best half of the art. Begin at once in the right way -- the surest to success. Unless the mind add the riches of its resources to the efforts of the hand and eye, and you call them forth as you are progressively capable of using them to advantage, you can never expect to reap the full harvest of your present labors.

Back to the index

Back to Articles
View Articles From Study Materials Category