The following are some ideas for exercises that I would want students to do as part of the chapter on Line in the book Art Basics (working title.)
Maybe you have some more ideas.
Using any drawing implement, do a simple outline drawings of an object, a cup, a profile, an animal. Notice how the line defines the edge of the object. Use of line as simple outline has limitations. Some outlines aren’t descriptive. You need to “go into” or explore the form. For instance, while you can easily get the idea of a horse running by his outline, the outline of a head of hair doesn’t describe the face.
Do a "contour drawing" of an object or face. (This can also be a "blind contour drawing") You are familiar with contour maps. Treat the object you decide to draw as if it were geographical, and your drawing instrument a moving point (perhaps an ant) on the surface of that object. The effect can be quite interesting.
A blind contour drawing is done by putting the drawing implement on the page and then, looking at the model or object and not the page, moving the line around as if it were touching the surface of the model.
Any type of drawing media will work for this exercise. Try setting up a still life with clearly defined objects or locate a space in your house where there is a grouping of objects. Now, instead of drawing the objects, draw the space around the objects. Make it interesting. (Note: it, too, may contain objects and you can draw those, or it may be empty, in which case, just draw the outline. But leave the OBJECTS blank. The purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness of the negative space in a composition.)
Calligraphic line drawing
Line is often a sort of “shorthand” for identifying an object. In this sense, it replaces value (which we discuss in the next chapter. Since it describes an edge of form, it may need to be flexible. In other words, a line drawn with a technical pen (which has an invariable width) doesn’t convey the softness and hardness of edge. The Japanese and Chinese have used calligraphic drawing to good effect. When you paint, you can incorporate the use of line as a calligraphic element. Drawing with a nib pen or brush and ink also gives you a flexible line. If you can get the idea that a bold broad line gives a strong edge and a slim or light line indicates a “weak” edge, you can use line to good effect. For example, a strong line under an object sitting on a surface increases the sense of weight. A weak line or thin line between two objects allowsthe eye to move from one to the other (much as similar values allow the eye to “escape” from one to the other object. I’ll discuss the questions of “edges” further in the chapter on value.
Use a brush with ink or paint to “draw” an object or objects, making the line vary in width and strength.
In teaching the beginning student, I often make the student avoid the use of line at first. This is not because line is an undesirable element in painting, but because the student has gotten so used to using line to describe the form that he doesn’t fully appreciate the importance of value. And that is the subject of the next chapter.