Continuous Line Drawing

Recently I mentioned how much fun I had browsing for bus drawings, and I said “That’s a topic for another post on a different day.” Well, today is a different day, so let’s all have a little fun drawing buses — or other things — using a continuous line drawing technique. Yep. That’s what was so much fun. I loved seeing drawings like this:

This is, as you can easily see, drawn with a single line. From start to finish, the pencil is never lifted from the paper. I’ve been taking a similar approach to many of the quick sketches I’ve made this summer. It’s fun, and it’s a bit of a brain-teaser, too. How do you get all the different elements of a drawing in all the right places?

Jasper Johns in an American artist who has made good use of this continuous line drawing technique, as well as with the concept of drawing one image over another! Take a close look at his charcoal drawing titled 0 to 9.


I laughed a little when I saw this. It reminded me a bit of my own “charcoal mess” made on one of my attempts at doing plein air:

But, while his is a work of art, mine is just a charcoal mess, indeed, but it’s interesting in a way for me to see when and how I start using continuous line drawing in my own art. For me, it’s not really a drawing technique. It’s more of a reaction when I run into frustration. Instead of patiently trying to work and re-work a difficult scene or subject, sometimes all I want to do is start scribbling, and the continuous line drawing technique is ideal for that!

Now, let me point out here that a continuous line drawing is very similar to blind contour drawing, but there are slight differences. Here is how Matt Fussell, from The Virtual Instructor, explains it:

*A blind contour line drawing is a continuous line drawing, but the artist does not look at the drawing surface, only at the subject.”

But why would we want to use this crazy-looking drawing technique? What’s the point? Well, other than having fun, that is.  There are several good reasons:

  • Continuous line drawing exercises help us improve our observational skills.
  • Continuous line drawing improves our hand-eye coordination.
  • Continuous line drawing makes us aware of contours, shadows, and forms.
  • Continuous line drawing exercises require little time and few materials.

Anytime, anywhere, we can sit down with a pencil and paper and have fun with continuous line drawing. Here’s how:

Once you make contact with the paper (you may begin anywhere: top, bottom, side), you are keeping the line flowing. The completed drawing gives the effect that it could be unwound or unraveled. Rather than using multiple lines, you use a single line, however, as in gesture, you draw through the forms as if they were transparent. The line connects forms, bridging spaces between objects. Not only are outside edges described, internal shapes are also drawn. A continuous, overlapping line drawing has a unified look that comes from the number of enclosed, repeated shapes that naturally occur in the drawing. The resulting composition is made up of large and small related shapes.

Again, as in gesture, try to fill the entire surface of your paper. This, too, will insure compositional unity. Let the shapes go off the page on at least three sides. Vary the weight of the line, pressing harder in those areas where you perceive a heavier weight or a shadow, or where you see the form turning into space, or in those areas of abrupt change in line direction. — From UTDallas — Continuous Line Drawing

For this exercise, you’ll want a drawing implement that flows smoothly — a graphite pencil, a ball-point pen, a marker. Put your pencil down on the paper wherever you choose to begin, and start drawing. Do not lift the pencil. Do not erase. And most of all, do not worry about the imperfections. Obviously drawings like these will not be perfect, and that’s what makes them fun. Continuous line drawings have a unique character about them. Matt Fussell also recommends doing several drawings during a practice session, not just one. In fact, he suggests filling an entire sketchbook with continuous line drawings.

Here’s an exercise Matt gives on his website:



Don’t be fooled. Creating a successful continuous line drawing is a little trickier than it may look. Sure, the finished result is rather simple, but the simplicity actually makes it a challenge.

Your choice of subject also plays a role. I would suggest working with a subject that will challenge you, but still has clear lines and areas of contrast to work with. Subjects in low light will prove to be difficult because all of the lines may not be clearly visible.

One subject that is always great to work with is with you all the time – right at the end of your arms. Your hands are perfect as subjects for drawing because they present an “attainable” challenge. Plus, they can be configured in endless positions.

Draw your hand from three different positions, but keep the pencil on the surface throughout the process. Try to draw all three hands with just one line, changing the positions of your hand while you draw. Remember, it’s okay if the proportions become a little distorted.”  From “Continuous Line Drawing – The Virtual Instructor”

Of course, hands aren’t the only good subject. I plan to do a few buses, cars, trains, and planes, and probably a few drawings of items around the house. I’ll be grabbing lots of different pencils, pens, and markers, and I’ll be having a lot of fun. I hope you’ll join in and try a few continuous line drawing exercises, too.


  1. This was a technique used by one of my studio art instructors to get us to loosen up. I really liked the results, which reminded me of classic sketches from Rembrandt, da Vinci, and others.

    For us, we were told to use a new pencil that was freshly sharpened – the extra length was important – and we could only hold the pencil at the very tip of the eraser-end with all of our fingertips, so we couldn’t exert any tight control of the pencil lead on the paper. In this fashion, the form and space of the subject were achieved by repeated pencil lines, rather than traditional shading practices.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll have to give that a try! When I first started teaching myself to draw, I was surprised to realize how many different ways a pencil could be held. At first, moving away from a traditional “writing grip” felt really odd, but I find myself using different grips now, moving away from the point of the pencil, and yes, it really does help me “loosen up” when I’m doing my crazy, scribbled drawings.

      By the way, we ordered a new “cat climbing tower” for Flower Child last night. She has a small one, but she is quite a climber, so the higher she can get, the happier she is. This tower is 6′ , and I can’t wait to get it. I know she’ll love it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Our biggest cat, Terra, is also our climbing cat… and she loves to get up high enough for it to really hurt if she falls. No issues so far, but we always try to discourage her from going too high. We also have a big indoor cat tree, but she also likes getting on the top of our entertainment center (8-feet tall), and climbing on the railings at the top of the stairs (15-foot drop). Yeesh! Crazy cat!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. LOL… she sounds like quite a cat. We don’t have anything quite so high around our house, so Flower Child has been fairly safe. She hasn’t yet tried to get on top of the refrigerator, and that, I think, is only because I have plants sitting there.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I wanted to share a picture of Kobe, one of our daughter’s “climbing cats”. I couldn’t do it here in the comments, so I wrote a quick post on a blog I don’t use too often. Here’s a link. Take a look!

        Just Because

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Judith! I thought this was so neat. I have always loved to draw, and I’ve looked up minimalist and line drawings for inspiration but never really tried it before.
    I would like to invite you to a welcome week I’m hosting on my writing blog! I’m shooting for late August, so if you’d like to contribute please send me the link to whatever post you’d like to have featured, along with a brief bio. I hope to hear from you soon! Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed this article. Last month I was working with a drawing instructor. We did the continuous line drawing, while not looking in an outdoor setting. Another drawing we did was with our non-dominant hand. I enjoyed this having done non-dominant hand exercises before. In terms of drawing to ‘loosen up,” or release stress, scribble a paper with your dominant hand but don’t look. Then with your dominant hand, write your fears or stresses over the page. Then with your non-dominant hand with a color you like, scribble over the words so you can’t see them anymore. While doing the scribbling each time, play music that you enjoy for 3 minutes per exercise. The exercise was through a mindfulness/meditation online class I took.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a good exercise! I’ve sometimes done similar things, and I like the idea of “subconscious” or “secret” writings. One of my art journal pages started with writing something very personal and then covering it up so that I know it’s there, but no one else does. I’ve also done exercises with writing a poem and then painting over it so that it’s not all visible… just bits and pieces of it coming through. And, yes, scribbling and using different hands are good exercises, for sure. I also like listening to music even though I can’t really “connect” it with my art.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I might have done something like this in college. It was difficult, but doable. I think I could draw something without lifting my pen or pencil.

    Liked by 1 person

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