Grid, Trace or Freehand?
There are many ways to get an outline on your paper before you start colouring and I often get asked how I draw my outlines. So I thought I'd take you through three of the most common methods used and then further go on to talk about:
THE GRID METHOD.
The grid method simply put is exactly as the name suggests. A grid with any number of squares placed over a reference photo and also drawn onto the drawing paper. Using the grid as a guide you can draw the outlines in each square and follow them along until you have completed all the outlines in each square. This reduces the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start and is a great technique used for beginners who don't quite have the confidence for freehand yet.
The outline of this eye was drawn using a 2 x 6 grid and took 26 minutes. The size of these drawings are smaller than a post card so 26 minutes for an outline is a long time. Many incorrect lines can be seen looking at the comparison of my grid outline on top of the reference photo. The pupil is lower and bigger, many eye lashes aren't quite right, the sides of the eyelid creases are to low and the middle of the eye lid creases are too high. The line for the eye shadow on the right of the eye is also a little higher than it should be and the small end of the eye brow is too high (six obvious differences in the outline).
TRACING YOUR OUTLINE
There are a few ways you can trace your outline. You can use a light box, computer monitor or window .Or in this instance you can take a print of your reference, colour the entire back of the reference in with graphite pencil and then trace the reference onto you drawing paper, which forces the graphite to stay behind. This outline took as little as three and a half minutes to draw and is the most accurate to the reference photo.
DRAWING A FREEHAND OUTLINE
Drawing in freehand means you are drawing an outline by purely looking at the reference. To get a freehand drawing as accurate as possible artists use various items as a way to find measurements. In this outline I used my finger and a small ruler to measure a number of spots on my reference photo. If you take a closer look at the above outline you will see some graphite dots on the eye brow and a few other areas. Those dots are my points of measure that I used to place on my drawing paper and connect them according to what I can see from my reference (supporters on patreon can view the video where I draw each outline and explain the entire process).
Artists who draw freehand from a reference that is not on paper would use their hands, a pencil or any object they think will work, as a guide. For example, if an artist were to sit on a bench with a sketchpad and try and draw the view you would often see them lift their hand or pencil up and try and find a point of perspective or a point of measure. You'll also notice that they will sit in the same position until the outline is complete so that they can keep the right points of perspective in the same view.
This outline was the most time consuming. It took almost a half an hour to draw. The time however showed its worth as there were very little in-correct lines. The eye lashes were mostly drawn too much to the left. The narrow part of the eyebrow is too high and the dotted line to mildly represent the highlighted part of the eye shadow is not quite big enough. Everything else is almost perfectly aligned. I was very pleased with the accuracy of my freehand outline, it did however take a lot longer to draw then I would like.
HOW THE OUTLINE AFFECTED THE FINAL RESULT
The first thing I notice when looking at the drawn eyes are that they all look good. None of them look dis-proportionate or wrong. They each look like an eye and if you didn't have a reference to compare them to then each eye would be equally realistic. The grid outline has influenced the outcome of the drawing the most due to the many differences in the outline compared to the reference. Its easy to immediately notice that it does not look the same as the reference, the eye is narrower and opened wider. I think it is fair to say that the outline greatly affected the outcome of the drawing. The traced outline and the freehand drawing are so close that it would be difficult to determine which one was was traced and which one was drawn freehand. There were more differences from the colouring then there were from the outline. The eye shadow on the freehand drawing is more accurate than the traced one, and the iris of the traced drawing is more accurate than the freehand drawing. This is also a very useful exercise that demonstrates that colouring has just as much of an affect on the outcome as the outline does. You can be a master an outlines but struggle to get the colouring right which will make the drawing look completely different to the reference. This also adds to the misconception that tracing is cheating. Just because you get the outline perfect doesn't mean you'll get the colouring perfect. I personally found that my freehand got better and better the more I traced. Tracing gets your mind in the rhythm of the true lines so by the time you draw a freehand outline your brain is already familiar with it.
WHAT MY FAVOURITE METHOD IS AND WHY.
My favourite outline method is tracing and the main reasons are because it's the fastest and most accurate method of getting an outline. I also do freehand work but only if I am not concerned about the drawing having slight differences. When I am drawing commissions then I know my aim is to get the drawing as accurate as possible so I will trace them. When I am drawing a small drawing of an animal and all I need is for the drawing to look like that type of animal then I will draw the outline freehand because I don't care about the subtle features unique to that specific animal, as long as it look like a giraffe I'm not worried if the eyes end up slightly bigger or if the spots end up a little different. For really large pieces I will always use the tracing method purely because it saves me a lot of time. By comparing my freehand drawing to the traced drawing I am very confident in my ability in using the freehand method but regardless of that I still mostly use tracing for my outlines
I hope that this information has provided you with a little more insight to getting your outlines and regardless of what method you use the outcome will still be great.
The youtube video on this article can be seen below and the 1 and a 1/2 hour tutorial is available for supporting patrons on Patreon.
Happy drawing everyone.