The visual outline is the line or group of lines that define a shape or figure. By limiting the shape, the lines isolate this shape into the space or the composition. The outlines configure the shapes.
The length or measure of a contour is called perimeter, used especially in mathematics and technical drawing
The stroke is the line of the outline. We will determine whether the stroke is more or less thick, more or less bounding and closed, or whether it will be discontinuous, for example.
The silhouette is the full form that can be drawn or cut thanks to a delimiter and clearly visible contour.
The Island II (Man on crocodile), by Mexican artist Carlos Luna. De 1998 y mide 118 x 73 cm. Gouache on Amate paper.
This is a work very interesting about the visual outline. The figures are limited by the contrast with the background. These silhouettes are very strong shapes, but as they are so close, the crocodile and the man are almost together in the same shape. Thin white lines are defining the outlines of each silhouette, the man and the crocodile, and thanks to these outlines the work is better understood.
Types of visual outline
1. Marked sharp and strong contours
This outlines are clearly visible and distinguished. The marked strokes are better seen.
Heritage (herencia), by Matt Sesow, is a painting with strong outlines on the characters. It´s used in the Expressionists and strong styles.
2. Blurred outlines
The lines fade under the painting, with atmospheric effects, and even sometimes, purposefully breaks made to break the line.
Monet painting, London Parliament at sunset. The black outlines are very subtle and the type of brush fades it.
In the realistic and hyper-realistic paintings the outlines are also very subtle, it is said that the outline does not exist in nature or reality.
3. Simplified outlines
The basic outline shapes are square, rectangle, circle, triangle, star, and all polygonal shapes (hexagon, octagon, etc..). After these shapes that contain the minimum lines to create an outline, there are infinitely more complex outlines with more and more lines.
Independent visual elements were studied extensively at the Bauhaus school. For this reason, the works played with simple geometric shapes where the line became visible.
4. Complicated contours
Arnulf Rainer drew this picture called The diver in 1949. Complexity of lines makes more confusing to see the outline of the figures.
5. Insinuated – incomplete outlines
La dormeuse (Sleeping), drawing by James Ensor. 1887, Etching on old laid paper.
Drawing drawn with broken lines, which delimit the figure perfectly and at the same time are loose, free, active and allow the air to circulate, relaxing our eyes while the beautiful lady continues to sleep. She loses strength in the contours but gains expressive softness.
And in addition, there are the qualities within the contour: width of the line, cleanliness and sharpness, with texture and what kind of visual texture, color, transparency, and many other elements of the image that are integrated into the line itself. For example, in this painting:
Another painting by Sesow Matt with very pictorial strokes. For example the circles in the eyes. The outlines also can be filled with color or not, as in this case. This is why a shape and a outline are not the same, although sometimes, the contour and the shape are attached.
Once you understand what the contour is, the types and aspects that influence it, from here, it is about reflecting on this visual element within your own works. For example you can ask yourself these questions …
- Is the line too thick what is left in your painting?
- Maybe a thicker outline would make more expressive your drawing?
- What if the line that delimits the figure was only hinted at?
- Or for example … What is the main outline of your painting and how much space does it limit?
Good luck with your visual outlines!