Yes, You Too Can Draw! – Ch 6 — The Line of Direction

Welcome back to another chapter of Yes, You Too Can Draw! We’re going to go over another basic foundational topic, the Line of Direction. For animate objects, we’ll learn about The Line of Action.

Before we begin, let’s review what we’ve learned in the previous chapter:

What We Learned From Last Time

What is the Line of Direction?

In a nutshell, the line of direction is the angle at which an object rests. The line of direction can run at any angle. This makes it useful as a composition element. (We’ll go over Composition in another chapter.) Let’s take a look at some examples:

the line of direction for a pair of eye glasses
An example of using the line of action with a pair of eyeglasses.

In the example of the eyeglasses above, you’ll notice how the line of direction runs horizontally, from left to right. Our line of direction is based upon the perceived axis of the glasses. The axis of any object is the imaginary line that runs through the center of your inanimate object. Your object’s axis will also determine the angle at which your object rests or is positioned.

A basic example of a Wacom stylus. Where's the line of direction?
A basic example of a Wacom stylus
A drawing of the stylus example showing the line of direction and central axis
A drawing of the stylus example showing the line of direction and central axis.

Let’s take a look at the stylus examples above. You’ll notice how the line of direction runs straight through the stylus. In the sketch of the stylus, you’ll also notice how the line of direction is also the stylus’s central axis. The axis shows the angle and direction of the stylus.

Multiple Axises

Did you know that an inanimate object can have more than one axis? As I demonstrated in Chapter 2, you’ll know that objects can be constructed from multiple geometric shapes. Each of those shapes will have its own axis. Take a look at the example below:

An example of a hammer with multiple axises and line of direction
An example of a hammer with multiple axes.

Okay, my hammer’s a little more than rough. But take a close look at how I broke down the hammer. Each piece of the hammer is shown to have its own axis which it rests on. This will become handy when we get in perspective. In the meantime, I want you to understand that the central axis of each shape is important to the construction of your drawings. Think of an axis as a bone, and the line of direction as a spine. This idea will become more obvious when we get into the Line of Action.

All About The Line of Action

The Line of Direction is to inanimate objects as the Line of Action is to animate objects. The Line of Action is an imaginary line that we use to capture the motion and/or direction of any living, moving creature. Unlike the axis or the line of direction of an object, the Line of Action is much less rigid and will be curved in shape. Thanks to the Line of Action, we can quickly capture the pose and motion of people, animals, and plants.

Let’s look at an example:

My pup's line of action
My pup’s line of action.

Now I’m breaking out the cuties. On the left-hand side, is one of my puppies. I drew her line of action from head to rear. On the right-hand side, I isolated that same line of action via PhotoShop. With the line of action, I quickly captured the pup’s pose and was quickly able to determine her direction. Now I have the basis for my drawing.

Pup and her lines of action with sketch

Above we take things a step further. I used the same line of action that I captured from the photo on the left and used it as the basis or spine of the very rough sketch to the right. In fact, you’ll notice how the line of action follows the puppy’s spine. This will be important as we move along.

Secondary Lines of Action

In the sketch above, on the right-hand side, you’ll notice how I highlighted each of the puppy’s Secondary Lines of Action. Just like how inanimate objects can have multiple axes, animate subjects will have multiple secondary lines of action. These secondary lines of action will follow the limbs of your living subjects.

Kittens with their main and secondary lines of action marked out.
Kittens with their main and secondary lines of action marked out.

Above are two kitty-cats with both of their main lines of action marked out, and their secondary lines of action marked out. You’ll notice the kitten on the left has its main line of action drawn from head to rear. But the kitten to the right has its main line of action running from the tip of its tail to its front right paw. Why is that? Even though the primary line of action usually follows the spin of any given subject, our goal is to have it capture the whole of the subject’s motion and direction. The mainline of action that I captured from the kitten to the right is the action that I saw. I could have also drawn a curve from the cat’s head to tail. Could that had been a valid main line of action?

The kittens’ secondary lines of action, just as I mentioned previously, follow the motions created by the limbs of the kittens. They don’t always follow a single limb. For example, the kitten to our left has a secondary line of action that flows from front paw to front paw, in a stretched-out U-shape. You’ll begin to spot these secondary lines of action in humans later on.

People and Lines of Action

When it comes to people, lines of action are essential. Think about how people move, especially in comic books and manga. Figures often twist, bend, and turn. Lines of action will be beneficial in capturing these movements.

Aiko model with lines of action drawn
Aiko 3 model from

For the sake of demonstration, the above is a type of pose you might see drawn in a comic book. (Aiko model from This looks like a flying kick. See how our main line of action shows our character’s movement from head to foot.

Aiko standing pose
Aiko model from

In the image above, you’ll notice the S-shape I marked out from the arms. As you draw, you’ll begin to pick up on these S-shapes.

Drawing Humans

Whenever you begin a figure drawing (unless you’re really great at drawing people), you’ll normally begin with your primary line of action. This will be the basis of your human’s pose. Let’s walk through the steps of a typical figure drawing:

3D Aiko model with action lines drawn outStick figure created with action lines as its basis

In the first step to our left, I drew out the lines of action to best capture Aiko’s movement. In the next step, I used my action lines as the basis of my new stick figure. Using the primary action line, in red, I was able to quickly capture her crouching position. My secondary action lines in blue, allowed me to capture the direction and movement of Aiko’s arms and left leg.

For those of you with little to no experience in drawing the human figure, most artists will start with a stick figure. Not only is it a lot easier to work with, but it lets you quickly work out the proportions.

Stick figure fleshed out with basic shapesAiko figure sketch completed.

After establishing my stick figure, I’ll flesh out my figure using basic geometric shapes. Then I’ll clean her up a bunch and emphasizes what I want to stand out. If I need to make any corrections, I’ll do so. Once I achieve clean line-art, I’ll shade the tones in to finalize my drawing.

Plants: Lines of Action or Lines of Direction?

Plants are technically living things, but they don’t exactly move. Or they don’t move fast enough for us to notice. But plants do get blown around on windy days. When plants are being pushed around by the wind, it is perfectly fine to use lines of action. Otherwise, you’ll use lines of direction to define the angle or direction of the plant. Let’s take a look at some examples below:

An example of a plant with a line of action drawnA tree with a line of action

In both examples, we can easily define a main line of direction. I’m using a line of direction due to the lack of movement in both examples. The main lines of direction in both examples seem like a central spine for both plants. We can also add secondary lines of direction, creating a skeleton of sorts. See the example below:

Trees using both a main line of direction and many secondary lines of direction.

In the example above, we can see a pair of trees using both a main line of direction and multiple secondary lines of direction. Just like when drawing humans, we can use a stick figure to define a plant’s main trunk and branches. From there, we can flesh it out using simple geometric shapes and refine its form to complete there.

Put It Into Practice

For today’s assignment, I going to have you apply what you learned today about both the line of direction and the line of action. I want you to do three drawings (They don’t have to look great.) Draw an inanimate object using lines of direction, draw a living subject (animal or human) using lines of action, and draw a plant using lines of action or lines of direction. You can post a link to your finished works on this page, or post it up on Twitter for everyone to see.