7 Ways to stop outlining in drawing

Outlining in drawing can make your art look flat and lifeless. This is because outlining creates a stark contrast between the lines and the negative space.

One of the few mistakes I see a lot of artists make when they start drawing is outlining too much.

An outline in the context of drawing is where there is a line of equal width around the edge of an object.

Outlining can be okay in moderation, but if you outline too much, it can make your drawing look lifeless.

Again, this is because of the contrast between the lines and the negative space.

If you want your drawing to look more dimensional, you need to use outlining in drawing sparingly. 

Also read my guide on how to draw quickly with these 10 drawing strategies.

1. Create edges with tone and shading

You can also use shading and tones to create edges instead of outlines.

This is a more subtle way to create depth and dimension in your drawing.

The key to using tone and shading to create edges is to use a light touch with a dark pencil (or whatever tool you're using).

By using different shades of pencil, you can create the illusion of an edge without actually outlining it. 

To create the illusion of an edge, start by lightly shading the area around the edge.

Then, gradually darken the shade as you get closer to the edge.

The result will be a gradual transition from light to dark, which will create the illusion of an edge. 

2. Draw from life to avoid outlining in drawing

When you're drawing from life, you're working with a time constraint because you only have so long to capture the scene or subject in your sketch.

This can be beneficial as it forces you to be more spontaneous in your drawing.

You won't have the option to go back and add outlines later, so you'll need to focus on other aspects of your drawing such as line weight and shading. 

In addition, drawing from life provides you with the opportunity to add your interpretation and personality to the scene.

While some people may prefer the spontaneity of drawing from life, others may find that they prefer the control that comes with drawing from a photograph.

However, one downside of working from a photograph is that it can be easy to draw tightly.

Which often results in resorting to techniques such as outlining in the drawing.

3. Draw the biggest shapes first

When you're sketching a subject, it can be helpful to break it down into its basic shapes and start with the biggest ones first.

This will help you avoid outlining in drawing because you'll be paying attention to many shapes and not just the main shape of your subject.

When you're looking at a subject, it can be helpful to think about all of the different shapes that make up that subject.

For example, if you're looking at a tree, you might see a cylinder shape for the trunk and cone shapes for the branches.

Once you've identified all of the different shapes, you can start with the biggest ones first. 

Let's say you're drawing a tree.

You would start by drawing the trunk because that's the biggest shape.

Once you've drawn the trunk, you can then add on the smaller branches.

As you're adding these smaller shapes, keep in mind how they relate to the bigger shapes.

For example, the branches might start small but then get bigger as they get closer to the trunk. 

Drawing the biggest shapes first is a helpful trick that can prevent you from over-outlining your subject.

It also helps to break down complex subjects into manageable pieces.

4. Draw quickly

When you're first starting, it's important to sketch quickly and loosely.

This will help you get a feel for the overall shape of your subject matter before you start tightening up your drawing. 

You don't want to labor over your sketch too much or you'll lose the spontaneity that makes sketches so appealing to look at in the first place. 

5. Be loose and ignore mistakes as you draw

One of the biggest obstacles to creative growth is perfectionism.

When we're fixated on making everything perfect, we stifle our creativity and prevent ourselves from taking risks.

This leads to stagnation, both in our art and in our lives. The key to overcoming perfectionism is to allow yourself to make mistakes—and to be okay with them.

Outlining in drawing is typically a result of being afraid to make mistakes in drawing.

6. Start your drawing with the details

When you're sketching something, it can be helpful to start with the smaller details instead of the overall outline.

By getting a feel for the smaller parts of what you're looking at, you can create a more accurate and complete picture.

Plus, it might be easier to avoid outlining in the first place.

Start by observing the object you want to draw.

Look at all of the smaller details and forms that make up the whole.

Noticing things like shadows and highlights can also be helpful.

Once you have a good understanding of all the parts that make up your object, start sketching them one at a time. 

This is an easy way to avoid outlining in drawing.

7. Draw a variety of line weights

Another way to avoid drawing too many outlines is to use a variety of line weights.

Line weight is the thickness of the line you draw.

It can vary depending on the tool you're using (pencil, pen, marker, etc.), but it's basically how thick or thin your lines are.

For example, use light pressure for your initial thought lines and then darken up the lines as you refine the drawing.

This will give your drawing more depth and dimensionality. 

You can use line weight to your advantage by making some lines thicker than others.

This will give your drawing more depth and make it look more three-dimensional.

To create different line weights, you can experiment with different drawing tools, pressure levels, and stroke techniques.

For example, if you're using a pencil, you can vary the line weight by pressing harder or softer on the paper.

If you're using a pen or marker, you can get different line weights by using different nib sizes.

In general, darker lines will appear thicker than lighter lines. So if you want to create a more dramatic effect, use darker lines.

When it comes to line weight, less is usually more.

It's easy to go overboard and make your drawing look busy or cluttered.

Is there a purpose for outlining in drawing?

Outlining in drawing can serve two purposes: to create a boundary for the object and to define the object's shape.

You can use outlines, but you have to be careful not to overdo it.

1. Use outlining in drawing to create a boundary for the object

One purpose of an outline is to create a boundary for the object you are drawing.

This is especially helpful when you're just starting because it can help keep your drawing neat.

However, as you get more practice and become more confident in your skills, you'll probably find that outlining starts to become a crutch or shortcut in your drawings.

So if you're comfortable with letting your object flow beyond the lines, then feel free to ditch the outline altogether.

2. Using outlining in drawing for defining the object's shape

Another purpose of an outline is to help define the object's shape.

This can be helpful when you're drawing something with lots of curves or angles, like an animal.

Having an outline can help you map out where all the different parts of the object should go so that your drawing looks proportional and accurate.

However, if you're confident in your abilities, you may find that too much outlining makes your drawing look stiff and lifeless.

When you're sketching, it's best to go with your gut and trust that you know how to capture the essence of the object without being too heavy-handed with the defining outer lines of what you're drawing.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether or not to use outlining in your drawings.

It depends on what works best for you and what style you're going for.

If you're just starting, outlining can be a helpful tool for keeping your drawing tidy.

But as you gain more experience, feel free to experiment with ditching the outline altogether and seeing how it affects your drawings.

Are there any benefits of outlining in drawing?

When it comes to bold and defining marks in your drawing, you have a few different options at your disposal.

One of those options is outlining.

But what are the benefits of outlining in drawing?

A well-executed outline can give your drawing a clean, finished look

One of the biggest benefits of outlining in the drawing is that it can give your drawing a clean, finished look.

This can be especially helpful if you're working on a detailed drawing or if you want to create a sense of hierarchy within your drawing. 

Outlining in drawing can also help emphasize certain details or areas of interest in your drawing

Outlining can also be used to emphasize certain details or areas of your drawing.

This can be helpful if you want to make sure that viewers take note of a particular element in your drawing. 

Remember, outlining in drawing has its use, but most of the time you'll find that line weight and line quality is a more effective way to add depth and interest to your drawings.

While there are some benefits to outlining in drawing, it's important to remember that it has its place.

In most cases, line weight will be a more effective way to add depth and interest to your drawings.

So, don't be afraid to experiment with both line weight and outlining until you find the right balance for your drawings.