Beginning Drawing Lesson 1 – Contour Line Drawing

colored pencils

(Click HERE to download the lesson for printing)


Now we are getting to the actual art course…

Each week, for the most part, we will be looking at a different media or technique, all under the umbrella of drawing.

I’m repeating myself here, but I just want to emphasize that I am very much a hands-on teacher… we learn about art by DOING art work.  For example, you don’t learn to play a saxophone by reading about saxophones… you actually learn to play it.

I will be throwing some art appreciation/history from time to time, but it will only be to support the drawing and painting lessons.


What Is Art?

The first thing we need to discuss is answering this question… “what is art?”

I have a short video that I found on YouTube that discuss that question…  you can access the links on the website here:

      What Is Art?


Some Questions To Ponder

  • How would you define ART?
  • Does art have to be beautiful?
  • Is there GOOD art and BAD art?
  • Can anyone be an artist?

We can actually go on with this discussion for some time and not come to any kind of agreement on what art is.   But, let’s do agree on this…

  1. Art is different things to different people
  2. Everyone can be an artist


Why Drawing?

Why are we starting the course with simple drawings?  You may want to learn to paint, or create sculpture…

The fact is, every piece of visual artwork starts with a drawing in some form or fashion.

A finished, fully shaded pencil drawing always starts with a rough sketch.  The oil painter may sketch with pencil first, or they may sketch with brush and paint… and so on.

Learning to draw your subject lightly before getting on with the shading and colors is essential.


Elements of the Visual Arts

Before going on and starting your actual drawings, let’s discuss one more thing… what are the elements that make up your artwork?

The Elements of Art are the basic components, or building blocks, used by artists when producing works of art.  These elements consist of color, value, line, shape, form, texture, and space.

The element we are going to first focus on in “line”.

Everyone knows what a line is, but how would you define it?

My art textbook says this:  A line is an element of art that refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point.

So, when you take a pencil and drag it across a surface, it makes a line… right?

Now let’s look at another term… contour line drawing… what is that?

A contour line drawing is basically an outline drawing… you are drawing the contours of the subject at hand.  The definition reads… a contour is the outline of a figure or body; the edge or line that defines or bounds a shape of an object.


The Contour Line Drawing and Basic Shapes

When most people draw the outline of an object… such as a dog… they just start with one area, like the head, and then go from there.

The problem with this is that the drawing may not be proportionally correct… the head may be too large or small for the rest of the drawing.

So, to prevent this from happening, you need to quickly lay out the basic shapes of the entire drawing.

Draw lightly as you may not want these sketch lines to show later on, especially if your final artwork is not done in pencil.

Here are some examples*…

Pencil Drawing 1a Pencil Drawing 1b
 Pencil Drawing 2a  Pencil Drawing 2b
 Pencil Drawing 3a  Pencil Drawing 3b

As you can see, in each picture the basic shapes are laid out first with NO details.  Next, the artist begins to refine the drawing with details and simple shading.  Finally, the artist completes the drawing with complete shading and details.

And it all works together… nothing out of proportion… nothing left out.


First Assignment…

OK, now is where the “rubber meets the road”!  We have done a lot of instruction here, but no action.

Let’s get you started with your first assignment… the “Contour Drawing Worksheet”

I am providing you with four simple subjects to draw… a snowman, a tree, an ice cube, and a person.

Look for the basic shape of the subject and sketch that in lightly on the worksheet paper.

The snowman is composed of circles… the tree could be sketched as a triangle… the ice cube is basically a cube… duh!… and the person’s head is an oval shape with neck and shoulders added.

There are two guidelines to follow:

  1. Draw large… fill the space provided
  2. NO Tracing allowed! Do your own work

So, get started…

Here is the link to download the worksheet if you need:


Final Assignment…

OK, now you’ve got the hang of it…

  1. Sketch in the basic shapes
  2. Refine your drawing adding the details


Pick out at least 2 pictures from the “art ideas” boxes to take home and finish drawing this week.  If you are viewing this online, you and access all of the pictures from the ideas boxes through the resources tab on the website here:

These images have been gleaned from the internet, and they are all student “appropriate”.  I do not own any of these images, and I am providing these for educational purposes ONLY.

*The example pictures were taken from a Walter Foster Art Book by Gene Franks, titled “The Art of Pencil Drawing”.  I highly recommend this book for anyone learning to draw in pencil.  I bought my book from Hobby Lobby, but you can also find on Amazon at this link:

The Art of Pencil Drawing