How to Create an Outline Drawing for Painting with expert examples

Creating an outline drawing for painting is an outline or sketch of the painting that you want to create. It helps you plan what colors and values you will be using in your work, which can help with composition, color harmony, and balance. This blog post discusses how to create an outline drawing for a painting using a variety of examples and materials from some of the best artists today.

Should I outline before I paint?

You don’t have to outline your drawing before you paint. Some artists outline their drawings and some do not. It really depends on what method works best for the artist, so it is up to personal preference.

If an outline helps you with colors or composition then outlining can be very productive when it comes to painting artwork that looks cohesive and intentional.

However, if outlines are distracting for you because they limit your creativity than feel free to skip them!

I personally like using both tools (outlines & no outlines) in my own work depending on how I am feeling about a specific piece of art at any given time.

Outlining should never inhibit your artistic freedom; outline drawings are just another tool in the creative process that happens while working towards creating.

If you are less experienced then I suggest a light outline drawing before you start painting. This helps ensure you have your composition right and all the various angles covered. It is much easier to erase a pencil outline or charcoal than it is to change paint.

Keep your lines light and don’t go into much detail, what you are looking to do is to outline a simple shape that covers the overall shape and where you should be shading.

What do you use for outline painting?

There are many tools you can use for outline painting, these can be anything from pencils to charcoal or even crayons. My tip is a pencil or charcoal stick to start with.

I would recommend starting with a regular pencil that will give you nice light lines and then go over it again in charcoal if needed later on. You can use this same outline for your painting as well until much later when shading comes into play.

I have also used a light wash of paint to paint in an outline. I use a hog hair brush as it is quite stiff and you can apply a wash or outline using hard brush strokes.

The benefit is that this lets me start my painting as a sketch that I can play around with until i’m happy I can start layering colors.

The other benefit of sketching an outline using paint is that you can plan where to add tones or dark and light and make adjustments as you go along.

If you are looking for the outline drawing process then follow the video linked below.

Charcoal drawing

Do you sketch on canvas before painting?

You can sketch on canvas before painting and I always do. Rarely do I just paint directly on a blank canvas. I find the task a little too daunting to just paint.

A painting sketch or underdrawing is a drawing on your canvas that will assist you in deciding where to place your parts of your artwork. It helps break the initial block you may have to starting.

What I do recommend though is before you begin drawing your outline for painting, apply a light-colored wash to the canvas such as light brown wash. Then use either the same color or a darker one and start sketching in the canvas using a brush and paint thinner and work the design out on the canvas.

Having something on the canvas rather than a plain white canvas seems to work mental wonders to break any of those thoughts we as artists have when we start a new artwork.

I wish someone had told me this years ago.

Some artists even throw charcoal dust on a canvas and start rubbing it to make what seems a mess and then they quickly use their fingers to create an outline of what they want to paint.

The majority of professionally trained artists will follow a proven method of creating an outline drawing before they paint.

I will link to a video below which shows this done perfectly.

Do painters sketch first?

Yes, most painters outline their paintings first. You can either freehand this outline drawing for painting or use a grid system to make it easier on yourself.

The outline drawing acts as your road map and helps you create an even looking piece of art that appears well planned out before the work has begun.

There are no hard rules when creating outline drawings for paintings so if you don’t want to sketch first – go ahead!

Just be sure not to get too caught up in making an exact replica of what is already there if you choose not draw one at all but rather just paint right away without planning anything out first.

underpainting 2

Make a stencil outline drawing

Some artists like to sketch the outline drawing for a painting on paper first and then they transfer the drawing from the paper to the canvas using a very simple but age old method of stencilling as well as drawing grids to help transfer outlines.

Stenciling a drawing video

Using grids drawing with charcoal

But the best way to outline a drawing for painting is to use the method as shown below as it allows you to be more free with your interpretation of the artwork and you will learn a valuable skill that you will use for life.

How to Create an Outline Drawing for Painting by Ken Goshen

Who is Ken Goshen? I believe he is one of the best teachers if you wish to learn how to paint and in his online videos on YouTube or Instagram reels he gives away knowledge that other teachers hide behind a paywall.

According to how profile:

Ken Goshen is a NYC-based artist and educator with a background in classical painting and printmaking. His art brings together traditional techniques and a contemporary outlook. He works primarily in oil, pastel, charcoal, and graphite.

Now I started following Ken on Instagram but he also has a his own website ( and Patreon if you would like to support him. Please note: I get nothing from Ken and he does not even know I have linked him to this article.

Why am I recommending Ken Goshen’s video? Just watch of this one video and I believe you will be sold. Watch how he creates an outline using charcoal and then using an underpainting wash.

He displays the various methods of creating an outline drawing for painting using a portrait example and he does it so simply. You will also be able to relate the outline drawing with the next steps of painting. This is quite valuable.

Wrap up!

I hope you found “How to Create an Outline Drawing for Painting” a useful resource. Creating an outline drawing can be as simple or as complex as needed. Do what you feel works for you and develop and adapt the level of detail as you progress.

If you think so, please share it. Thanks!

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