Drawing, Painting

How to Paint a Straight Line

June 4, 2014

Make Clean, Crisp Strokes in Your Paintings

By Alina Bradford

They say that there are no straight lines in nature, but what about everything else? Painting a straight line is no simple task for those with shaky hands. It can be done, though, with a few simple tricks.

All the artist really needs for perfect lines is a pair of scissors, some cardboard and a ruler. These techniques will give the crisp lines needed for painting buildings, streets, machinery and more in watercolor, oil, acrylic or any type of wet medium.

Ruler as a Guide 

Using a ruler for straight lines is obvious when drawing, but the artist can use one for painting, as well. The best kind of ruler to use for painting is metal. Plastic rulers may have imperfections in their edges from being dropped or banged against something. These nicks will let paint seep through, making for a ragged line.

Here is how to paint with a ruler:

  1. First, the artist should make sure that the paint beneath where the ruler will lay is dry. 
  2. Lay the ruler down on the canvas or paper and hold it with one hand. The brush should be held in the other hand in a pencil grip, halfway up the brush. This gives the hand control, but allows the brush to move. 
  3. Run the brush quickly along the edge of the ruler, painting the ruler as well as the canvas. Moving the brush slowly makes the hand more unsteady, so quickness is important. 
  4. Once the stroke is done, the ruler should be picked up slowly and carefully so that the paint isn’t smudged. 
  5. Wipe off the ruler with a rag so that it can be used again without contaminating the colors on the canvas. 

Making Your Own Guide 

Since the artist will need lines bigger than 12”, it is a good idea to know how to make a guide for straight lines in a pinch.

  1. Find an old box and deconstruct it. Do this by cutting the tape along the bottom of the box or by cutting the flaps off the box. Good boxes to use for guide making material are ones constructed with corrugated cardboard or the kind of thick cardboard that is used for making cereal boxes.
  2. Cut a piece of cardboard in the size that is needed for the guide. A level can be used to make sure that the edge of the cardboard is straight.
  3. Lay the edge of the cardboard onto the canvas or paper at a 45 degree angle. If the cardboard has printing on it, make sure that is turned away from the area that is being painted. Wet paint can make the printing come off, fouling the paint color that is on the brush.
  4. Press down on the cardboard, slightly, while running a quick line of paint against it with a brush using the same grip as above.
  5. Remove the cardboard, slowly, and discard it.

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