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Contour line

A contour line in all its simplicity is the marking used by artists to define the shape of their subject without using shading. Essentially, they outline the subject, with emphasis on the mass and volume rather than on the details. A fundamental element of any drawing or painting, contour lines are often the first technique adopted when experimenting with art. 

However, it is far more than a basic technique used by childrens and beginners. As a contour can convey a three-dimensional perspective, length and width as well as thickness and depth are important, and not all contours exist along the outlines of a subject. By altering the type of contour, an artist can convey details and aspects of the subjects relating to its shape and form. For example, a lighter line with less gradation suggests a greater distance between the subjects, whereas a darker portion of the contour may depict a subject with little or no light source, thus conveying whether the subject is lower or perhaps compressed. Furthermore, artists use contour lines to add accents or cast shadows.

Over the course of different art movements, the concept of contour lines has waxed and waned, been reinvented and then reverted back to tradition again. During the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo Buonarroti and Leonardo da Vinci used contour lines in a clearly defined and almost scientific manner in order to depict human forms in a highly naturalistic way. On the other hand, impressionist artists such as Edgar Degas experimented with the vicissitude of contour lines. They could be curved or angular, heavy or light, precise or ambiguous, and sometimes all of this at the same time.

Discover both modern and traditional pieces from various art periods with emphasis on the contour line technique in artworks on Artsper.

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Our recommendations Valerio Adami, Dialogue dans le paysage II, Print

Valerio Adami

Dialogue dans le paysage II, 1988
94 x 72 cm
Print

$825

Our recommendations Henri Matisse, Tête de Femme (Fribourg livres illustrés 25; Claude Duthuit 23), 1948, Print

Henri Matisse

Tête de Femme (Fribourg livres illustrés 25; Claude Duthuit 23), 1948, 1948
24.8 x 19.1 cm
Print

$24,500

Our recommendations Joanna Mieszko, Nude, Painting

Joanna Mieszko

Nude, 2014
56 x 42 cm
Painting

$943

Our recommendations Gustav Klimt, La Fille aux bas de soie sur le Tabouret / The Girl with silk stockings sitting on the stool - 1910 (Sitzende mit gerafftem Rock / Seated Female Semi-Nude in Patterned Dress, Her Head Resting on Her Right Knee), Print

Gustav Klimt

La Fille aux bas de soie sur le Tabouret / The Girl with silk stockings sitting on the stool - 1910 (Sitzende mit gerafftem Rock / Seated Female Semi-Nude in Patterned Dress, Her Head Resting on Her Right Knee), 2012
87 x 59 cm
Print

$1,521

Jazzu, Pink Life, Painting

Jazzu

Pink Life, 2020
41 x 33 x 3 cm
Painting

$1,155

Our recommendations Alice de Miramon, Les hauts et les bas, Painting

Alice de Miramon

Les hauts et les bas, 2017
70 x 35 cm
Painting

$2,358

Our recommendations Edvard Munch, Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, Print

Edvard Munch

Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, 2017
65 x 49 cm
Print

$766

Corneille, Le chien bleu, Painting

Corneille

Le chien bleu, 2008
200 x 280 cm
Painting

$4,480

Our recommendations Keith Haring, The Story of Red and Blue, Print

Keith Haring

The Story of Red and Blue, 1989
41.9 x 34.3 cm
Print

$12,500

Raoul P. Brosseau, Et décider que oui, c'est l'été maintenant, Painting

Raoul P. Brosseau

Et décider que oui, c'est l'été maintenant, 2021
81 x 54 x 2 cm
Painting

$1,768

Our recommendations Willem de Kooning, Two Women, Print

Willem de Kooning

Two Women, 1973
35.6 x 27.9 cm
Print

$12,500

Kaws, NVG Gone, Print

Kaws

NVG Gone, 2019
43 x 34 cm
Print

$6,927

Larry Rivers, Diane Raised II, Print

Larry Rivers

Diane Raised II, 1970
52.1 x 73.7 x 0.3 cm
Print

$1,250

Pablo Picasso, Profil d'homme (recto); Deux hommes de profil (verso), Fine Art Drawings

Pablo Picasso

Profil d'homme (recto); Deux hommes de profil (verso), 1900
28.6 x 22.9 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$125,000

Our recommendations Goddog, Shadowghost 1, Painting

Goddog

Shadowghost 1, 2020
116 x 89 x 2 cm
Painting

$2,169

Diane Victor, One Horn, Print

Diane Victor

One Horn, 2016
69 x 50 cm
Print

$1,179

Colbert Mashile, Jozi Boys III, Print

Colbert Mashile

Jozi Boys III, 2016
68 x 50 cm
Print

$707

Nikolai Dronnikov, Volokolamsk, Painting

Nikolai Dronnikov

Volokolamsk, 1974
63.5 x 90.5 cm
Painting

$1,768

Apostolos Chantzaras, Chrysalis, Red, Print

Apostolos Chantzaras

Chrysalis, Red, 2021
81 x 61 x 0.1 cm
Print

$1,356

Tehos, Three old men with canes 02, Fine Art Drawings

Tehos

Three old men with canes 02, 2017
56 x 76 x 0.1 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$472

Giacomo Manzú, Round Medusa, Print

Giacomo Manzú

Round Medusa, 1970
63.5 x 49.5 x 0.2 cm
Print

$1,886

Allen Jones, Cascade, Fine Art Drawings

Allen Jones

Cascade, 1999
22 x 11 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$8,842

Marco Rea, Donna, Painting

Marco Rea

Donna, 2020
80 x 60 x 2 cm
Painting

$2,216

Lucien Puyuelo, Sans titre, Painting

Lucien Puyuelo

Sans titre, 1991
39 x 47 x 1 cm
Painting

$1,061

Marko Krsmanovic, Climbing, Print

Marko Krsmanovic

Climbing, 1976
21 x 15 cm
Print

$1,120

Anatole Krasnyansky, The Orchestral Overture, Fine Art Drawings

Anatole Krasnyansky

The Orchestral Overture, 2013
62.2 x 49.5 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$7,500

Fritz Baumgartner, Nude, Painting

Fritz Baumgartner

Nude, 1958
27 x 21 cm
Painting

$4,657

Paul Guiragossian, The City, Painting

Paul Guiragossian

The City, 1986
70 x 50 cm
Painting

$28,000

Marc Joly, Besoin de personne, Fine Art Drawings

Marc Joly

Besoin de personne, 2019
58 x 42 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$413

Julien Calot, Le garçon et la mer, Painting

Julien Calot

Le garçon et la mer, 2018
29 x 21 x 3 cm
Painting

$1,415

Antoni Tapies, Ligne d'horizon, Print

Antoni Tapies

Ligne d'horizon, 1973
29.5 x 46 cm
Print

$1,297

Claude Weisbuch, Portrait de B, Print

Claude Weisbuch

Portrait de B, 1986
76 x 56 cm
Print

$825

Hildegarde Handsaeme, Confused, Painting

Hildegarde Handsaeme

Confused, 2009
60 x 60 x 4 cm
Painting

$2,240

Our recommendations Henri Matisse, Nu assis dans un fauteuil, une jambe repliée, Print

Henri Matisse

Nu assis dans un fauteuil, une jambe repliée, 1922
38.8 x 25.7 x 0.1 cm
Print

$24,168

Francisco Montoya Cázarez, Skinny Bitch, Painting

Francisco Montoya Cázarez

Skinny Bitch, 2021
32 x 24 cm
Painting

$578

Nicholas Krushenick, North End, Print

Nicholas Krushenick

North End, 1979
91.4 x 66 cm
Print

$1,095

Max Ernst, Untitled, Print

Max Ernst

Untitled, 1964
64 x 53 x 0.1 cm
Print

$766

Our recommendations Baptiste Laurent, Sans titre, Builder serie, Painting

Baptiste Laurent

Sans titre, Builder serie, 2017
183 x 110 x 0.3 cm
Painting

$2,594

Our recommendations Larry Rivers, House of cards blue, Print

Larry Rivers

House of cards blue, 1990
73.5 x 77.5 cm
Print

$2,358

Enaer, Xyz 2, Painting

Enaer

Xyz 2, 2020
150 x 150 x 2 cm
Painting

$2,358

Uli Fischer, Principessa, Painting

Uli Fischer

Principessa, 2020
70 x 50 x 2 cm
Painting

$1,886

Julian Opie, Medieval village 3, Print

Julian Opie

Medieval village 3, 2019
30 x 40 cm
Print

$6,602

Alex Katz, Red Hat Ada, Print

Alex Katz

Red Hat Ada, 2015
152 x 109 cm
Print

$33,010

Wissam Beydoun, Untitled 58, Painting

Wissam Beydoun

Untitled 58, 2009
28 x 22 cm
Painting

$880

Félix Hemme, 644 Trois géants dans une boîte, Painting

Félix Hemme

644 Trois géants dans une boîte, 2021
81 x 100 x 3 cm
Painting

$2,358

Levoy Exil, Burning spirits, Painting

Levoy Exil

Burning spirits, 2015
76 x 25 cm
Painting

$485

a.muse, The Magician, Painting

a.muse

The Magician, 2019
61 x 45.7 cm
Painting

$2,500

Herve Malcom Thomas, Le corps souple de la belle, Painting

Herve Malcom Thomas

Le corps souple de la belle, 2021
146 x 114 x 2 cm
Painting

$2,594

Wayne Ensrud, Lalique Vase Still Life, Painting

Wayne Ensrud

Lalique Vase Still Life, 1994
50.8 x 61 x 5.1 cm
Painting

$2,500

Pablo Picasso, Sin titulo, Print

Pablo Picasso

Sin titulo, 1968
15 x 20.5 cm
Print

$17,831

Marta Lebek, Nude, Fine Art Drawings

Marta Lebek

Nude, 2003
70 x 52 cm
Fine Art Drawings

$413

Our recommendations Tom Wesselmann, Judy reaching over table, Print

Tom Wesselmann

Judy reaching over table, 1997
106.5 x 133.5 cm
Print

$17,448

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