Contour Line

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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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