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Gesture and Contour in Drawing

What is the difference between gesture and contour?

In drawing, there are essentially 2 ways we use line: as gesture, and as contour.

Gesture line is drawn quickly and is used to lay in the structure of a form. It describes movement and direction.

To create gesture with confidence, you need to develop an understanding of how the mechanics of a form— how the parts of a form work together for balance and stability. In setting up the structure of a form, gesture also deals with proportions. Sizes of parts of the form need to be accurate.

It’s through gesture — direction and movement — that the story of the drawing is told. So knowing how the form moves, is affected by other forms, and exists is space are necessary to creating a convincing drawing or illustration.

Get the structure right, and the contour is right.

Contour line describes edges of shapes and forms. Contours are drawn more carefully. In contour, the quality of a line — thick or thin, heavy or light, strong or soft — help the form exist on the page.

To draw anything, we begin with line.


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Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.

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