25 Days to Better Drawings: Cross Contour Lines

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Lesson Description

Learn how the concept of cross contour lines can help us to better understand the form of a subject and determine directional stroking when adding shading to a drawing. In this exercise, we create a drawing of a banana using contour lines and cross contour lines.

Lesson Materials

Graphite drawing pencil, white drawing paper, and a kneaded eraser.

Lesson Resources

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Lesson Discussion

  1. At one point the cross lines were going one direction, and then after the cross lines appear straight the cross lines change direction. Is that right? Or when do they change direction?

    • Lesson 1-5, easy to follow. Lesson 6 not. Whoa. Did the intuitive artist just skip a mental step that the plodder can’t fathom? Left to myself, I would not dream of cross contours positions such as these and the teacher certainly laid it out clearly, but how can I do the same thing on non-bananas without that missing step?

      • Hi Susan,
        Perhaps you’re overthinking it. Cross contour lines are simply lines that flow over the form of an object. In some cases, we can see these lines, but most of the time we cannot. If you take your finger and move it over a form and imagine that your finger leaves a line, the line that would be left is a cross contour line. They simply help us to better understand a 3D object in space and how we can communicate it in a flat drawing. In the next module, cross contour lines are used to add shading to an object. It may be helpful to watch this lesson to reinforce the practical application of cross contour lines in a drawing.

    • Hi Pasqualina, The cross contour lines are simply flowing over the planes of the banana. They appear at a different angle because of the vantage point. They change direction according to the plane.

  2. Thanks for the lesson. I had an “aha!” moment with how contour lines can help create a 3D shape. As an experiment I drew contour lines along a second banana that didn’t follow the shape and planes. The second banana looked strange.

  3. I found this one a little hard to follow. I understand the contour lines that are more rounded, but I didn’t understand how you had picked the planes on your banana (I’m using my own banana). My banana has pretty clear longitudinal planes. Didn’t get how you picked where the line became angular (as opposed to the roundy banana). Otherwise enjoying the series.

  4. I agree with most. I started from the picture but did not get it. It helped with a real banana and feeling shape but still not sure of my lines. Need more work with this. I find myself copying you rather than actually getting it. I won’t give up.

  5. I copied the banana in the reference photo then drew the bowl of my wine glass and did contour lines on that to check that I understood the concept. I’m not the best drawer in the world for sure but I was pleased with the result. I could see the shape of the glass in my drawing. Clever stuff Matt!

  6. Hi Matt,

    What is the difference between these planes and cross-contour lines and the next lesson hatching and cross hatching?

    What’s happening for me is I sketch something out (which is really really hard for me) and then I try to practice the planes but I end up just drawing lines down the item. Which sort of makes me think – oh I’m hatching but I’m intending to be identifying planes.

    What do I use the planes for? Are the lines drawn for planes always angular? I drew my apple and then just drew curvilinear lines down each side I could see, should those be angular lines? It looks like my apple is just wearing a prison jumpsuit, haha, is that the correct idea? Seems like my brain is missing something.

    Do you have more videos I can watch to check my work against yours? Like if you’re drawing an apple I know I can follow along and See what you’re explaining. That’s working the best for me right now – when I try on my own something is missing. It’s just so simple and fast and looks flat…it’s not sinking in just yet.

    What is the relationship between planes and hatching? Is there one, or is my brain just super confused?

    I’m just drawing this banana every single day of my life right now. 🙂

    • Hi Kathy,

      Cross contour lines help us to understand the actual planes that are on the object. Hatching and cross hatching are means of developing value in a drawing. Most times, we should make hatching marks so that they flow over the form of the subject (along the planes). These lines will typically flow in the same direction as the cross contour lines. So, there’s some overlap between the concept of cross contour lines and hatching.

      I actually have a lesson on cross contour lines that uses an apple! You can find it here…https://thevirtualinstructor.com/cross-contour-lines.html

      Cross contour lines can be confusing. It really is more of a concept that helps us to make decisions on the direction our hatches (and brushstrokes) should be made.

      • YES! Thank you for responding with exactly what I was looking for! The apple video perfectly answered my confusion! Contour is used to indicate form. Hatching shading. Hatch in the direction of form. And above all else, stop listening to my brain, trust my eyes.

        I am really enjoying your awesome site, and the emails I receive from you. Thank you for it all.



    • Hi Marie,

      All of the resources for the lesson (ebook, photo references, etc.) are under the “RESOURCES” tab under the video. If the video is cutting in and out, it may be your internet connection. You can change the stream quality by clicking on the gear icon after scrolling over the video. Try playing in a lesser quality.

  8. I always struggle with identifying shadow areas in a drawing, going through this contour exercise really I had a lightbulb moment. The contour line exercise actually helps you see (depending on the direction of the light source) how the light and shadow would fall on an object as well of course in defining an objects contours and shape. I did wonder at first where this was going but it all became apparent as the drawing developed form. Thanks Matt, brilliantly explained

  9. I did some practice on some other fruit 🍊🍎 today after watching the lesson yesterday. I found I could “see” where the contour lines should go (I think!) but not the planes. So I drew just the contour lines. Does it matter for this lesson if you leave out the planes? Should I try again to get the planes?

  10. Iv been drawing for years I’ve never seen this before, perhaps because I’ve never really looked , thank you so much for this it helps so much , makes you really look at your drawing in a totally different way which makes total sense also such a difference!

  11. I really enjoyed this lesson. When I did my banana, I did quite a few contour lines and the end of the banana looked flat, like someone had flattened it with a hammer. I found that very useful, as it taught me how these lines really do define shape. I will practice this on a real banana and an apple, to get understand it better. Thanks Matt.

  12. I try to use my own eye in addition to the instruction to be sure I’m understanding the concepts. The first time I did the cross contour lines, I did the second set of lines in a different direction and then did some erasing;). I’m left handed and I find my learning process is challenging in certain ways. But, my daughter is lefty too, and she is amazing at drawing! I was relieved to read in the comments that others found this lesson somewhat more of a struggle to understand the concept. But worth the effort, I’m sure!

  13. Never approached an object this way, this is very good to get understanding of the form if it.
    Thanks for this great lesson Matt 👍

  14. Never approached an object this way,
    this is very good to get understanding of the form if it.
    Thanks for this great lesson Matt 👍

  15. I had an art instructor a few years back that said every plane change means a value change. In other words every value change represents a plane change. It is easier for me to see the planes when looking for the changes in light and dark. Matt, the link above to your YouTube video was very helpful, especially the example of the two cylinders which demonstrated how cross contour lines really do make a difference in defining the form of the subject.

  16. Hi Matt. I understood these concepts but if the banana were to be hatched, would the lines run across the planes (around the banana) or length-wise to match the grain of the banana skin? And how would this be determined? I Googled “pen & ink banana” and see them done both ways. Thanks. I’m taking Subjects with Ink after this course.

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