Drawing Basics: Using line weight to show depth

Simple figure sketch.
I thought I'd show something quick and easy this time, a simple trick that has a powerful effect when used in a line drawing. This post is about using line weight to help convey a sense spatial depth in a drawing.  

Today, I'll use a drawing of a simplified figure to demonstrate how to use the visual weight of line to suggest that the figure is leaning forward.

After the jump we'll begin with working out what line weight is.

What is line weight? This is a term that refers to certain qualities of the line drawn. How thick, bold, light, or dark the line is drawn tells us the visual weight of that line. An easy way to think of this is to ask yourself how heavy does the line look. The bolder the line the heavier the line will look or feel. In contrast, the thinner the line the lighter the line will look or feel.

Line weight is a visual concept that allows the artist to play with such things as contrast, variety, mass, and depth.

To Start

To the right, you can see the original quick sketch of a simple figure. In this drawing there is little consideration of the line weight and the figure reads flat.

There is some indication of depth. The feet tell us that the figure's right leg is closer to us than the left because the right foot is lower on the page than the left. The slight overlap of the head over the upper torso tells us the head is leaning forward. Other than that, there is not much illustrating any strong sense of spatial depth. 

If I want to illustrate the figure leaning forward without changing much of the structure of the drawing I can do this by changing the line weight in key spots.

Using line weight to illustrate spatial depth

Changing the Line

To the right you can see where I adjusted the thickness of the line in spots on the drawing to help the figure appear to lean more forward. 

Next to that, I have an illustration of the figure highlighting the lines that I changed.

In order to bring some forms forward or make certain parts of the figure appear closer to us I just thickened the lines representing those forms. 

Naturally our eye gravitates towards the thicker lines because of the contrast between the values of the line and the background. The thicker lines then feel closer to us, whereas the thinner lines seem to move back in space within the drawing.

Just for Fun

Here is an illustration of the same figure leaning back rather than forward. Take a look to see how  a simple adjustment of line weight can change our spatial understanding of the drawing.