SLML Part 0 - My Single-Line Drawing Practice

How I learned to love minimalism through my art.

Andrew Look


October 20, 2023

My Single-Line Drawing Practice

This post is the background to my series “SLML” - Single-Line Machine Learning.

Next in the series is part 1, where I discovered SketchRNN and got curious about applying it to my own artwork.

I started experimenting with single-line drawings around 2017. I’d been painting and drawing and experimenting with Machine Learning art for around 5 years at that point, but my art hobby had started to feel like a chore. I was taking on more and more ambitious painting projects, and there wasn’t a lot of simplicity or repetition in my art practice. A lot of my art felt premeditated, as I’d print out what I wanted to paint and then “execute” it on the canvas, painstakingly trying to represent what I’d decided to paint as accurately as possible.

I got tired of painting but wanted to keep up my art practice, so I started just carrying around a sketchbook. Since I’d noticed a tendency to overthink my drawings I thought a pencil would give me too much freedom to erase, so I only brought a pen with me. I found myself wanting to practice the challenging parts of paintings that I’d struggled with, particularly drawing people and faces.

Friends advised me that adding a constraint could help me to iterate quickly and not overthink my drawings. Since one of my patterns had been to spend too much time on individual drawings, I decided to adopt an extreme constraint: as soon as I lifted the pen from the page, I’d call the drawing done.

I was drawn at first to the technical challenge. As a painter I’d already been learning about facial anatomy in an attempt to improve my drawings. Now I needed not only to know enough about anatomy to visualize a person or face I wanted to draw in three dimensions, but also to pick a path across that surface to make a finished drawing.

As a painter I’d grown accustomed to shading and blending to add or remove contrast. Once I started working only with lines, I had to find new tricks. Negative space in a drawing can create a good shadow. Concentric circles creates an illusion of depth. Putting lines close together makes something look darker.

Over time, other aspects of single-line drawing pulled me in further. I found how much beauty there was to be found in what to leave out of a drawing. I learned how satisfying it is to choose just the essential lines needed to imply a facial expression or a pose.

If you want to keep reading, check out part 1 of my SLML series, where I discovered SketchRNN and got curious about applying it to my own artwork.