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A contour drawing shows the outlines, shapes and edges of a scene, but omits fine detail, surface texture, colour and tone (‘contour’ is French for ‘outline’). According to Wikipedia: The purpose of contour drawing is to emphasize the mass and volume of the subject rather than the detail; the focus is on the outlined shape of the subject and not the minor details.
Famous artist David Hockey has produced many line drawings – often portraits. He draws in silence, with precision and care, moving a black ink pen across the paper quickly. This portrait – a snapshot into Hockney’s life – is entitled ‘Eugene and Henry’.
The illusion of three-dimensional form, space and distance can be conveyed in a contour drawing through the use of varied line-weight (darker lines in the foreground / paler lines in the distance) and perspective.
When we first picked up a pen or pencil and started making marks on paper, we began with line. Whether self-taught, through trial and error, or guided by others, we learned how line defines form, creates structure, divides a frame, traces contour, creates tonal variation (cross-hatching, for example) and leads the eye from one part of a work to another. Initially a mechanism for getting outlines onto paper – identifying edges – we begin to applaud lines for their own merit: celebrate their presence…whether a quiet flick of charcoal on paper or a streak of graphite.