Drawing Styles And Types Explained – The Complete Guide

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Written by Juha

Art is present in every culture at every point in humanity. That’s why we have so many different types and styles of drawing today. Understanding the differences between basic line drawing and things like pointillism or photorealism will illuminate a tantalizing path into the art world.

We’ll cover the most common drawing types, from the most basic styles to more advanced or artistic styles. That’s not to hate on doodling because we’ll be covering that too.

The next time you see a drawing, you might just wonder to yourself, what style is this in? What was going through the artist’s head? Let’s take a look at the most common styles in art and what makes them unique.

Line Drawing And Contour Drawing

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Line drawing is exactly what it implies. Artists who use this technique draw only the outline of a character or figure. But it often takes on a more subdued and artistic touch than that.

Such is the case with contour drawing. Contour drawing has taken the art scene by storm in recent years and has even become a popular drawing style for tattoos.

Contour drawing slightly differs from line drawing in that it focuses solely on the natural contours and curves of an object, with artists often choosing to use a single, interwoven line rather than many.

It omits details but creates a beautiful facet of a person’s profile. Both of these drawing styles are especially common among artists.

Shape Drawing

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Shape drawing is essential for artists to learn how to properly render a 3D environment. Although this style might seem to be especially constricted, you’d be surprised by the amount of variation and creative intuition within it.

Shape drawing can be either 2D or 3D, with 3D being most commonly taught in art schools as artists begin drawing still lifes.

2D shape drawing is just as common, however, as the geometric sub facet of this style has surged in popularity (again with tattoos).

Geometric drawing is strikingly easy but able to represent incredibly intricate figures.

Keep in mind that the geometric “version” of shape drawing and the geometric drawing style itself are two different things, the latter of which used for architecture and industrial design.

But as for 2D drawing in general, it often takes quite a bit from shape drawing and is known to blend in with the anime and manga genres of art.

Value Drawing

Values in art refer to the dimension of color. This can be as simple as light and shading, or more complex such as color gradients. Every color has a value, according to how light or dark it is.

Knowing how to depict these values helps make a piece appear more lifelike and three-dimensional.

Many artists practice values by drawing or painting still lives under a variety of different lighting conditions. In some cases, experimenting with values can lead to interesting effects.

For instance, altering normally dark values to be lighter can give a “matte” effect to the piece, which is a common technique in cartooning for the softer feel it gives.

Blind Contour

Blind contour is when an artist sketches an object or figure without ever looking at the page.

The result is a surrealist rendition of the subject. Blind contour is a common warm-up exercise for artists because it gets the eye rapidly accustomed to the lines, perspective, and shapes found in the world around us.

While artists typically don’t go around displaying their blind contour pieces, it’s not entirely unknown to the art world. Pablo Picasso, for example, as a few cherished pieces that were the result of blind contour. 

And these pieces often contain an ethereal, modern quality to them, so it makes sense.

Modified Contour

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Modified contour is an extension of blind contour in that the artist tries to pay as little attention to the page as possible. Close attention is paid to the lines, edges, and details of the subject.

The artist may roughly sketch the outline of an object and add more details over time, occasionally allowing a glance at the paper. These occasional glances help coordinate the eye and the hand and teach the artist how to refine their work.

In addition to being used as a warm-up technique, modified contour serves as a great starting point for more involved pieces.

These pieces tend to be higher in quality than blind contour pieces, simply because the artist is allowed to look at the page to some degree.

A common rule of thumb for modified contour is to look at the subject 90% of the time and only at the page 10% of the time.

Cross-Contour

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When it comes to three-dimensional objects, some artists imagine an invisible grid or lines draping across the object. This grid helps make sense of the curvature of the object and the nuances in its shape.

Cross-contouring is a drawing style that involves drawing these invisible lines across an object. It’s also useful for determining where light and shadow go, as these often fall in the crevices and inverted space of an object.

Some artists incorporate values into the gridwork by drawing some lines closer together than others. When you stand back from a piece like this, it gives the illusion of being hyper-realistic, something that many street artists have taken advantage of.

Gesture And Figure Drawing

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A gesture drawing is typically a quick sketch of a subject, usually a figure. The artist will draw a rough outline of the figure and the pose they are in, taking care to pinpoint the anatomical direction.

Artists will typically do several gesture drawings in succession, with a live model or a manikin. Anime and manga artists will often draw a character in several poses and angles to clearly define the character’s appearance for later use.

Gesture drawings are instrumental in developing anatomy skills and efficiency in art.

Geometric Drawing

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One of the recent fads in the art world is drawings of animals or people made up of hundreds of geometrical or polygonal shapes. This fad doesn’t quite fit the category of geometric drawing, however.

Geometric drawing is common among architects, interior designers, and engineers. It requires equal parts of science and design, as the artists must draw with precision and attention to realism.

Life Drawing

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Similar to gesture drawing, life drawing is a practice devoted to capturing the beauty of the human form. It’s no wonder that even seemingly plan portraits like that of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa have captivated hearts around the world.

Artists who work in the life drawing niche may use gesture drawing to begin detailing the form of the subject. Then, they will revise the outline and add in the details.

Life drawing is not an art solely reserved for nude subjects, however. Anything can be a subject for life drawing, from beloved pets to fruits to scenes with multiple bodies in motion.

Still lifes are common subjects in life drawing. In still life, an artist takes a collection of objects that are otherwise ordinary to real life and draws them.

This drawing might be exact to life or presented in a way that adds more interest.

Even for artists who work in unrealistic styles such as anime or cartooning, a life drawing can be beneficial to developing skills in areas like perspective and shading.

In the case of the anime art style, forms are simplified, often with polygonal shapes. However, having a good background in human anatomy will help correct major perspective and proportional errors.

Perspective Drawing

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Of all the kinds of drawing on this list, perspective drawing just might be the most difficult. Perspective is exceptionally difficult to master because it requires precision for every element in order to be achieved.

An artist must master light, shadow, values, anatomy, contouring, and so much more in order to define perspective.

In a sense, perspective is not its own category but rather the summation of all these things.

Perspective drawing, then, involves depicting figures in gravity-defying poses that are normally difficult to capture. The finished result is a portrait where the figure appears it could come right off the page. 

Perspective drawing is very popular among comic and manga artists, who seem to enjoy drawing characters in poses that convey motion or action.

Pointillism

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Pointillism is another genre of art that’s been claimed by comic artists. Pointillism involves the strategic placing of colored dots to comprise an entire piece.

This is no modern technique, however. One of the most recognizable pieces in art history, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, is painted in this technique.

If you look closely, the figures are all comprised of millions of small dots. The result is a warm, hazy effect that perfectly conveys the joyful afternoon of the people by the river.

Comic book illustrators and manga artists, however, use this technique for a different reason. By coloring in a large area with dots, there is a greater amount of negative space.

This helps save money for printing in color, which can be expensive. But today, it gives the classic comic feel and is used by artists regardless of their desire to save money.

Photorealism/Hyperrealism Drawing

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Artist: Jeffrey Appiatu – Image source

Photorealism is a drawing style that’s most often associated with art. Many amateur artists operate under the assumption that the ultimate goal is to draw something indistinguishable from a photograph.

Photorealism is certainly impressive, but it’s just one drawing style.

Even in photography, a piece’s worth is distinguished by the story it tells and the feel it gives.

Photorealism has its place, but so do the other styles on this list. In some cases, artists incorporate photorealism elements into their work in addition to other styles.

Photorealism demands perfection in perspective, anatomy, shading, and many other elements. These pieces are also time-consuming, as perfecting each of these details can be a meticulous task.

This is why many hyperrealist artists have fewer finished pieces. They spend a large amount of time gesture drawing and sketching outlines from figure models.

This allows them to gain inspiration and practice before moving onto a larger piece. Photorealism was a concept originally popularized in the renaissance era and wained later on in favor of more interpretive styles like cubism.

But recently, it’s made its own sort of renaissance, as artists grow more talented and buyers more easily impressed by the skill behind these intricate artworks.

Anamorphic

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Image source

Anamorphic has to be one of the neatest drawing types out there. Most of the time, anamorphic art is sculptural. Up close, the viewer might see a pile of cluttered objects. But standing some feet away reveals a stunning image, created using each of the objects.

Salvador Dali was a fan of this technique with his famous Abraham Lincoln portrait, as well as hundreds of other famous artists. This technique is just as striking on paper, even in 2D.

In fact, some artists use the anamorphic drawing technique to make an ordinary doodle look like it’s springing off the page.

These drawings are majorly impressive. You can hardly tell it’s all 2D unless you examine the page from another angle.

This style is also a common technique among chalk artists. Chalk and street artists have very little space to make a grand impression, especially if they want their work to blend into the environment and appear 3D.

They use distortion to their advantage by stretching out a scene across several feet so that when the viewer looks at it head-on, their perspective makes it appear as one cohesive image.

So how do anamorphic artists create these stunning portraits when they’re completely distorted from their side? One technique involves using a reflective cylinder.

The artist looks in the cylinder as they draw their desired image, which appears normal. But on the page, the drawing is distorted, only appearing when the viewer looks at the same angle as the cylinder.

On a larger scale, artists can map out their work and plan it according to a cone shape. A digital art application can help determine what the final result will look like and how to achieve it.

Whether on paper or on a city wall, anamorphic artists are in high demand. Not only do these images appear stunningly in real life, but they also garner quite a few views on social media as well.

Architectural Drawing

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Architects must have stellar drawing skills. That includes the ability to accurately render shapes and objects.

The difference is that everything they draw must be in scale and must be drawn in accordance with building materials and their properties. Architectural drawing requires math and science just as much as it does artistic skill.

We’ve all seen movies where architects scribble away at a drawing board, usually with a protractor or some sort of ruler in hand. In reality, they most often work in digital applications such as CAD.

There are a few reasons for this.

For one, it’s more efficient, as the program is able to calculate on behalf of the artist. But programs like CAD are also useful for understanding how objects will interact with each other and how they will measure against the test of reality.

That’s why engineers often use these programs to help design products and why many engineers learn architectural drawing in school.

Doodling

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Doodling is the stuff of legends. No, really. Doodling is a totally valid drawing style. In fact, you could say that a lot of the drawing styles on this list have at least some form of mindless doodling involved.

Doodling allows the mind to explore the depths of creativity, giving birth to whatever is on the artist’s mind.

Doodling is visually appealing, too. You could consider artists like Keith Haring, Sam Cox (aka Mr. Doodle), and Sagaki Keika all pro-doodlers.

Sagaki Keika is an interesting artist because his work pulls from multiple drawing styles, namely anamorphic and doodling.

He is well known for his impeccable renditions of famous figures and artworks that are actually comprised of hundreds if not thousands of doodles.

Part pointillism, part perspective, part mind-bending, Keika is proof that even doodles have artistic merit.

One other facet of doodling that’s important to mention is graffiti and street art. Graffiti is not exclusive to walls; the safer way of going about it is on the page.

Graffiti, like doodling, involves whimsical designs and distortion of letters. Graffiti artists often incorporate hyperrealism, pointillism, and other styles into their work.

Graffiti artists are some of the most poignant and talented muses of the art world. Take any of Banksy’s paintings that have sold for millions as an example.

Style Makes the Art Grow Fonder

The two most common styles associated with drawing include cartoons and hyperrealism. But even cartoons have more variety than that!

Many of these styles are used by artists to further develop their skills and efficacy of their work, but each of them can be used to develop a finished piece.

There are more drawing styles emerging today as artists experiment with their work. Some modern styles like pointillism even date back centuries. 

Which style is your go-to in your work?

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