Experimenting with line weights in your sketching can open up a world of possibilities to your drawings. There’s something quite clean and straightforward about a line drawing that is created using one single line weight. It’s one of my favorite go-to styles when creating a travel sketch. But playing with different line weights can also allow for a whole host of effects (subtle or bold) to enhance that same sketch.
So, how does one achieve a varied line weight in a drawing. Well, it’s quite simple. You can use varied weight pens, or a brush pen. Just as pencils have many different types of lead that vary in softness (that change weight and appearance once used), pens too have different line weights. A typical starter pack of pens will have weights ranging from .001 (very fine line) to 1 (thick line). A brush pen will allow you to vary the line weight based on the pressure and angle you use when drawing.
Single Line Weight
As I mentioned, using a single line weight pen in a drawing is definitely one of my favorite styles. It offers a clean look to any travel sketch. I tend to use this style when I also plan to add color (like a watercolor wash) as I use the color to add the depth and dimension to the image. That being said, a clean outline/contour drawing can also be striking on it’s own.
Multiple Line Weights
When you add multiple line weights to a drawing, you can see how the varied line weight can create new meaning to the same travel sketch. The heavier lines can not only indicate weight or heaviness of the stone of the Palazzo in this particular sketch, but it can also be used to define shadows. Lighter lines, by contrast are great for details, but can also be perfect to indicate highlights and/or add depth. Take for instance the lighter lines in the interior of the Palazzo. Their softer/lighter appearance gives the feeling of depth. These lines appear farther away and/or perhaps a bit more hazy from the distance than the bolder lines on the exterior.
A varied line weight can be achieved by using different weighted pens for different areas of the drawing. Or, if you are adept with a brush, a brush pen can also offer this type of effect.
Line Weight Comparison
Below is a side by side comparison of the drawings above. What are other differences you see between the two drawings?
Art School Assignment
Now it’s your turn. First start off your assignment by experimenting with varied line weights by creating a travel sketch of the same thing twice, one using a single line weight and one where you vary your line weight (vary your pen and/or use a brush pen.) If you are more comfortable, feel free to first sketch the scene with a pencil, then use the pen above it. Once the pen is dry, you can erase the pencil marks. Pick a simple subject that is easy to recreate. What is your initial findings from this exercise?
After you’ve completed this first exercise, now take what you’ve learned to the next level. Find a high contrast scene and create a sketch with varied line weights where the lines play up the light and shadow of the scene. For a third line weight exercise, choose a landscape with a great amount of depth. Use varied line weight to help emphasis the foreground and the background. Lastly find a scene where you play with line weight to indicate actual weight. Perhaps this is a still life of objects you found on a nature walk — a rock, a feather, an acorn. See how the different lines help enhance the objects.