Contour Line in Art: Definition, Drawing & Examples

Contour Line in Art: Definition, Drawing & Examples
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  • 0:03 What Is a Contour Line?
  • 0:43 Drawing
  • 1:05 Visual Examples
  • 1:35 Blind and Partially Blind
  • 2:10 Lesson Summary
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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.'

Drawing

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

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