2019 Foundations Friday 2: Feeling edges with continuous line

January 11, 2019 | 12 Comments

My SketchingNow Foundations Re-Run is now in full swing and I’m really loving the interaction in the classroom. Wow! It’s just so wonderful to see everyone’s work and read the comments. It’s such a great way to start the year, and I’m feeling really motivated as a result. Thank you to everyone who is doing the re-run and for putting time into being part of the classroom!

Last week everyone spent time getting to know (and love) their materials (rather than just buying new stuff) and in Lesson 2 we are going to be feeling edges.

Being able to convert the world into edges is the most fundamental skill needed when drawing and if we could simply get our eye and hand to go perfectly in sync we could sketch anything easily. Of course it’s hard to achieve this ‘perfectly in sync’ state, and that is a big part of why I sketch regularly. The more I sketch, the better my eye-hand coordination is, and the more my sketches flow.

The best way to train this coordination is by doing continuous line contour drawings (ie. when you don’t take your pen off the page) and these drawings can be blind (ie. no looking at the page) or partially blind (ie. mostly look at the object but some glances at the page). So naturally there is a big focus on continuous line sketching in this week’s lesson – Feeling Edges.

However there is actually a lot more to feeling edges than what I included in Foundations Lesson 2 and that’s why I created the more intermediate SketchingNow Edges course. However, I’m going to be adding some more content into the classroom this week, as even at ‘Foundations level’ there is more which I normally teach during my in-person workshops. So if you have enrolled in the course, make sure you check out the bonus material section for Lesson 2 – there is a new video there! (and for in Lesson 1 bonus material section too!)

But as part of this series of general Foundations Friday articles, I thought it would be fun to go through my travel sketchbooks from 2018 and see how many continuous line sketches I did. And in fact there were a lot more than I expected, so here is a sampling of them.

But before I start, I need to mention briefly the type of lines I naturally created when I first started sketching. As an architect, my lines were strong and quick with lots of crossed corners and it took me a few years before I really feel comfortable sketching with a continuous line that roams its way around an object. These days as you will see below, I normally sketch with a combination of the two, but this recent sketch above (from Pasadena) is a good example of my firm architectural lines.

Ok enough introductory comments… here are my continuous line sketches from 2018.

To start with here is a continuous line sketch (possibly using only a single line) of Pasadena City Hall which I shared recently.

I used this technique as it was an fill-in sketch – both in terms of time (waiting for my friends to finish their sketch) and layout (just wanted a simple sketch to complete the spread). Both of these are common reasons why I decide to do a continuous line sketch.

Another reason for choosing to do a continuous line sketch is if I want to record a complex scene but I don’t have the energy. On this occasion, I had just gotten off a long-haul flight. There is a freedom and abstraction which comes from working this way and despite the distortion, it always looks good! Lots of fun too.

Even more fun is to do a blind contour continuous line portrait of friends during dinner!

But I think the main reason for sketching with a continuous line is subject matter… such as landscapes. Here I did a lot of this sketch with a continuous line modifying from curving to more jagged when sketching the rocks. Of course not everything is continuous line in this sketch, but a lot of it is.

Another common use of the continuous line is when drawing trees. Here I did break the line in places for the leaves, but did a lot of the trunk in a continuous line.

In this example, I started with the tree and then as my line was flowing, I moved onto the house, doing it in continuous line as well.

Normally I do the main edges of buildings as strong ‘architect’s lines’ but if I am drawing a spire or a dome I will often do them looser in a single line. You can see that I did that in this sketch.


Sometimes I start with a part of an object which is more organic in shape, and get into the mood of a continuous line and then just keep going.I did this with these Roman columns (left) and also with the highly decorating Burns Monument in Edinburgh. Notice the lost edges to the spire due to my rapid and loose continuous line traveling down the right side of the monument. Note: once you have developed a good eye-hand coordination this technique does not have to be slow!

I was interested to discover the use of continuous line with my fude nib in this sketch of Pasadena City Hall. I painted the shapes first and then did a lot of continuous line in a quick way over the top. Notice once again how selective I was with how many edges of the building I actually drew. Can you feel the speed at which I drew these lines?

I often set out the main edges as separate lines such as the overhead compartments in the plane which set out the main perspective lines for this view. However the seats and the man with long hair got drawn with continuous lines.

Here is an interior where I was focusing on keeping it simple and used a few continuous lines for the different elements. Wherever possible I try to string my lines together.


One the same occasion, I drew my fellow sketchers very quickly using a lot of single line. I obviously break my line for facial features (if I need to). Drawing with continuous line seems so much more freeing – embracing the wonkiness is the name of the game.


Here is another tree example… I really loved doing the palm trees on the side of this building. Can you tell how much fun I was having? and how well my hand was doing its own thing?

BTW most of the sketches in this article were done after I had been travel sketching for at least a week, so I was really in the groove.

And finally, one sketch from 2016 of Palladio’s bridge at Bassano del Grappa. I really was having fun with a continuous line in this one – it’s not quite a single line but I was trying hard to join everything together! (And yes! this is a location where we sketch during the Palladian Odyssey Veneto tour)

I hope you enjoyed this collection of sketches and that it has given you some ideas.

Do you normally sketch with continuous line?



  • Thank you for this inspiration! I’m going to try and do more continuous line drawings, particularly when I’m feeling ‘stuck’ or unsure of how to approach a subject or even of what to sketch! The playfulness of the continuous line seems like the perfect way to reconnect with the joy of sketching!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Marie-Helene. Hope you have fun and are able to use continuous line more. I was a little shocked to discover how much I use it these days!

  • Jane Harris says:

    I love these drawings. They are inspiring me to get a pen to so more of this. Is there a pen (or pens) that you like to use most for continuous line drawing ?

  • Kristen Deem says:

    I love how you sketched those palm trees! I’m a beginner and in the classroom this week was the first time I had ever tried continuous line drawing. So far my attempts are not great, haha. But I will keep at it. I have found it mostly a bit frustrating and tedious – it seems to make my perspective worse! – but it also seems like a good warm up. I’m surprised you use this technique so often – I would never have known that had you not shared all of these sketches here. Thanks, Liz, I will keep practicing!

  • Lyn Bebb says:

    I’ve just been doing the outside assignment and didn’t enjoy it one bit. However…. I feel quite inspired to continue trying having looked at you sketches. It just requires me to change my attitude!! I’ll try some more. Thanks Liz, for the extra addition to the lesson.

  • I love this article, Liz. Your examples really illustrate your point. I love drawing wit continuous line. It’s looser but more importantly I feel more connected with the subject when I use contunuous line. It takes me out of my head.

  • Susan Weimer says:

    I don’t do continuous line because I keep forgetting to practice it! But I have written myself notes now to remind myself because I think it’s a good way to practice more freedom of expression and I like the abstractness of the results.
    Thank you so much for these extra examples.

    • Liz Steel says:

      My pleasure Susan. Good idea to write a note. I used to be the same way… but going through my books really showed me that I do use continuous line much more than I thought. Enjoy!

  • Catherine E says:

    I never really thought much about whether I use continuous line or not! I know I do when practicing blind contours of people (one of my favorite ways to sketch). But I’ll have to think and observe my own drawing style more closely. I love the example where you added a continuous line sketch in red to a layout to fill up time and space!

  • Deborah Watt says:

    I love these extras you’re doing Liz. It’s almost the verba and visuall equivalent of a continuous line, connecting concepts and examples across time. Fabulous.

  • Emily says:

    I use continuous line a lot for “warm-up”, but I’m definitely going to do more of it on a trip I’m taking this week to Denver to visit my sister! I really do like it for landscapes but it’s rare I do it with buildings, so I’m going to give it a go!

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