Contour Line in Art: Definition, Drawing & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Edgar Degas: Facts, Famous Paintings & Drawings

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 What Is a Contour Line?
  • 0:43 Drawing
  • 1:05 Visual Examples
  • 1:35 Blind and Partially Blind
  • 2:10 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alison Pilon

Alison has a bachelor's degree in art history and studio art and a master's degree in art education. She has taught preK through 12th grade.

This lesson will provide you with the fine-art definition of a contour line. At the end of the lesson, you will know what a contour line looks like and how an artist might effectively use them.

What Is a Contour Line?

In the world of art, a contour line is a line which defines a form or an edge. It is, essentially, the outline or silhouette of a given object or figure. Additionally, contour lines can be used to show any dramatic changes of plane within the object or form (like the inner seams within the structure of a shoe, for example).

The term 'contour' finds its origins in French and is derived from the Italian term 'contourno,' 'to round off.' This, in turn, is from 'contournare,' meaning 'to turn around' in Medieval Latin and is traced to Latin as 'com-' + 'tournare,' meaning 'to turn on a lathe.'


If you're interested in strengthening your drawing skills, contour line drawing is a great starting point for beginning drawers. This is because an artist drawing with contour lines will only draw the lines following the visible edges of a shape and those along the important interior shapes. During the contour line drawing process, you do not need to worry about any kind of shading at all.

Visual Examples

Let's look at some visual examples of contour lines.

Example 1: On the left is a photo of a leaf, and on the right is an outline or a contour line:

Left: Photo of a leaf; Right: Outline or contour line
Leaf Contour

Example 2: Here is a contour drawing of a shoe in which the artist observed some of the important interchanges of plane:

A contour drawing of a shoe
Shoe contour

Example 3: This is a famous contour line drawing by Pablo Picasso of composer Igor Stravinsky, 1920:

A contour line drawing by Pablo Picasso of composer Igor Stravinsky, 1920
Stravinsky Contour

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account