Silhouette and Line

The simplest depiction of an object its silhouette, or outside contours. When I begin to draw an object, I usually start with its outside contours.

Choosing which silhouette to draw is important. The more information available in a drawing, the more likely the viewer's acceptance of the drawing's illusion of reality. If the silhouette is informative, the subsequent layers of light, shadow, and texture will be more understandable. With a subject such as a cow or a pitcher, it is the side view that provides the most information. Naturally we do not want to limit ourselves to side or profile views. But because the contour/silhouette is the first thing we see, it helps to present significant information at this level.

Many drawings are restricted to just line, with no definition in values. In such drawings the silhouette is supplement by internal lines that can describe overlapping forms, changes in direction (such as the corner of a cube), or changes in color and value (such as the sports on a leopard or the edges of a cast shadow). These lines are a code virtually everyone understands, but they do not create the illusion of reality; they are always abstract. Because most drawings and paintings start with outer contour and internal lines, even if only as a preliminary guide, it is appropriate to practice their use.

An object's silhouette is the first thing we see. The angle from which you view an object determines its silhouette, and some silhouettes give more information about the object than others. When you draw an object, your choice of an informative silhouette will greatly enhance your viewer's perception of the object. All of the images shown here inform us about the subjects, a pitcher and a cow, but in both examples, the side view tells us the most. The more descriptive a silhouette, the less we need to depend on color and values for comprehension.

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