2.1 Limited line drawings

Key words from the brief:

  • This exercise is a test of how few marks a drawing needs in order to communicate enough for the viewer to get a sense of what is happening
  • Conduct some quick studies of an object or scene using a minimal number of marks and/or shapes.
  • Note down your thoughts on your results
  • Ask someone to give their perspective on your results and log their responses

What I did

I chose two different subjects to explore reducing an image down to just a few lines.

  1. A portrait – this seemed to be an interesting challenge. Portraits usually consist of complex shapes and interrelationships that would require some thought to reduce down to create an image that still had meaning
  2. A still life – I could see that it might be a lot simpler to reduce complexity of a still life

My approach to both was to spend time drawing the subject in detail in order to become familiar with image, and then carry out a process of redrawing and simplification to end up with a series of limited line drawings.

Limited line drawing 1 – Portrait

The portrait was based on a lady that I photographed on the London Underground. I was trying to take reference photographs surreptitiously between tube stops but was spotted; She didn’t look very pleased.

The drawing was made in two sessions and probably isn’t finished.

Spotted portrait small
Spotted! – Charcoal, Conte Crayon and pastel, A1 sized

Limited line developments

I redrew the image from memory numerous times in different sketchbooks to explore how to best remove detail.  I found simplifying the eyes the most challenging and you can see how these were developed and finally resolved in the following series of sketches.

As a final test I scanned one of the development sketches and recreated it in Illustrator to give me more control over adding/removing elements.

Limited line drawing 2 – Baubles jar

The second subject was a glass jar filled with silver Christmas baubles standing on a wooden table.

I liked this arrangement because overall the shape was simple but there was a lot of complexity in the highly reflective surfaces of the silver decorations and the clear glass container.

Baubles in a jar adjusted
Glass jar full of Christmas baubles – Ink pen, Sharpie and Posca pens – A2 sized

I was conscious of simplifying the image even in this ‘slow’ drawing, for example the stylised marks indicating that the jar is sitting on a wooden table.

Limited line developments

As with the portrait, I went through a process of redrawing the still life from memory trying out a number of different media to see what worked best.


Is it easy to get an accurate understanding of what was happening in the picture when it is drawn in this reductive way?

As the image is simplified the nature of what the image is communicating changes.

The portrait became a caricature, I guess because it was the only way I could think of to try and retain some of the ‘not best pleased’ expression on the subject’s face. It was interesting to see how expressive a face can be when reduced to a series of lines and how the whole meaning can be changed by for example altering the shape of an eye.

So for the portrait I would say that image reduction actually amplifies parts of what the original image was trying to say.

For the baubles in the jar the basic understanding was retained but I wasn’t able to recreate the highly reflective nature of the silver baubles. What is interesting to me is that the most successful drawings take the shapes and completely redraw them almost as symbols of the original. The star shape becomes a star with no reference to how it was distorted in the original. I see similarities in this approach and the work of Lucy Austin who I’ll be researching in Exercise 2.2.

I see potential to come back and explore this in future exercises.

Is the outcome what you expected?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect but have been happily surprised.

Working and reworking a character drawing is something I’ve done before in an earlier part of course but I can’t remember reducing down a portrait so so few lines. I think there are the beginnings of a character there that I may come back to in Assignment 2.

I’m particularly excited by the idea of developing the glass jar and baubles image further and really pushing and abstracting the shapes further. I think I’ll use this as a subject in Exercise 2.3 Investigating a process.