There is beauty in a straight, dark line…
Starting and stopping precisely…

Ideas aren’t any one, singular thing. To be more creative, more of the time, we must think about the individual parts that make up any one idea. Then we must imagine what happens to the larger sum if we change any one aspect of the parts. Change any one point that makes up the idea, and you change the idea.~ Tanner Christensen, Creative Something

“It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”

~ Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207 – 1273 AD)

Unfortunately, the world gives us a lot more lines than perfect, dark ones. I call these other lines rather than mistakes. There’s a lot less baggage that way. Some of these other lines include:

  • wiggles
  • ink drop outs
  • end blobs
  • finger bumps
  • whiskers
  • gaps
  • ruler slips

When these happen, we tend to respond with anger and frustration. If so, then maybe this kind of art is beyond our abilities and we shouldn’t be doing it. Wrong!

Yes, we should do it, repeating the process over and over, while accepting that we’ll never totally avoid those other lines. They are integral to the drawing process, so we should go easy on ourselves. There is no fault here and no one is to blame. 

What contributes to good straight, dark lines?

Lining and inking are done in several stages:

  1. Prepare the work area.
  2. Prepare the work surface.
  3. Collect all of our tools and materials.
  4. Prepare ourselves.
  5. Draw pencil lines to lay down borders, underlying grids and geometric shapes.
  6. Ink the lines to bring out the design.  While often done, it is optional. Some people paint shapes over the geometry without inking first.
  7. Reinforce painted shape edges with over lines (optional)
  8. Make absolutely necessary corrections. Some lines further resolve themselves during inking.
  9. Appreciate how far we have come with the project.

Prepare the work area

Good lighting and a work area that promotes good body mechanics are essential. Wash and dry the work area.

Prepare the work surface

A great way to increase line accuracy is to turn the paper frequently. This is a lot easier when the drawing surface is temporarily mounted on a firm, smooth surface (poster, Bristol or mounting board, acrylic sheet or a sturdy placemat wrapped in paper). This also helps prevent the oils from our skin off of the keep skin oils from the drawing because we handle the backing, not the drawing itself.

If the mounting is hard like acrylic sheets, I usually pad the surface with 2 to 3 layers of plain paper (see Fig. 1 above), as I did with brown wrapping paper in the above example.

Low-tack masking tape or painter’s tape typically blue or green in colour, peels off easily and is less likely to damage the paper. If this is unavailable, press the regular masking tape onto a clean piece of cloth several times to reduce the stickiness.

If low-tack tape is unavailable or undesirable, place the drawing on cardboard, draw around the corners and cut slots. Slip the corners of the paper into these slots. This is depicted in Figure 2,  the octagon-shaped page above. 

Collect tools and materials

Essential toolsOptional
backing paper and low-tack masking tape padding paperwhite out paint or correction fluid and brush, if needed full strength masking tape or anti-skid tapebacking paper and low-tack masking tape padding paperwhite out paint or correction fluid and brush, if needed strength masking tape or anti-skid tape

Using a ruler is the only way to guarantee straight lines.

  • Plastic rulers allow the artist to see the design, but may eventually chip, crack, and warp.
  • Plastic quilting rulers typically found in sewing stores, provide both vertical and horizontal guidelines. These are great for drawing orthogonal grids.
  • Metal rulers last longer, but are opaque and hide the drawing. Their additional weight is good because it helps hold them in place. 
  • Wooden rulers also obscure the drawing. Unless they are metal-edged, they also tend to warp, crack and chip.
  • Wash rulers as needed, as the drawing edge tends to pick up ink and dust.

The easier the ruler slides over the paper, the more likely slipped ruler lines will happen. Some rulers have a cork backing to reduce slipping. If there is no cork, try adding a strip of full strength masking tape or anti-skid tape to the ruler’s back. Both tapes can be found in hardware stores, while masking tape is more widely available.

Prepare ourselves

Lining and inking are hard work. Fortunately, they are also rewarding and fun. This is the point where the design takes shape and eventually appears full-blown. Along with curved lines, straight lines and angles are essential connecting components of geometric art.

This is a drawing I finished last week. It’s from  Ak Madrasa, Nigde, Turkey (AH 806-807, 1404 AD). There are four other lines, two in the green oval, one each in the blue ovals. However, they’re faint as I covered them with white ink, which the scanner doesn’t pick up.

Far more important is that I was drawing the same lines another person drew six hundred years ago. It’s possible other people in the world were also drawing this same design at the same time I was. Just imagine…

Different hands…
Different tools…
Same lines…
Across time and space.
Draw, but not forever or fast

Expect to enjoy lining and ink, but I don’t recommend doing it for hours at a time. My work limit, which I determined through trial and error, is about twenty minutes. That voice in my head saying, “1 more line, 1 more, maybe 2 more, finish this lamp, etc.” will eventually lead to an avoidable crash.

Plan on how long to work and set a timer, if needed. Take a break, get up from the drawing table and go for a walk. change your eye focal length by focusing on something in the distance. Looking at nature, such as a tree or garden is a bonus.

Notice that 3 of those 4 other lines are in the upper right corner. Many artists have a weak drawing area and the upper right corner is mine. I try to compensate by working in that area when I feel rested and confident, normally first thing after I’ve taken a break,

Drawing lines slowly is important.  Although, it doesn’t appear that way as we watch online artists zip through construction at increased playback speed. Video recordings are played rapidly for a reason. Watching lines drawn at normal speed is boring, sometimes even for the artist.

Firstly, focus on accuracy and speed will develop as our skills improve. The key to how fast we draw a line is to ask, do we feel comfortable and confident drawing this line? If the answer is no, then slow down.

How we space our breathing while drawing makes a difference. Breathe in to prepare. Place the pencil or marker where the line begins. Draw the line while slowly breathing out. Pause before making the next line and continue breathing with each inhale and exhale being a line drawn.

Keep it Simple: Vertical, Horizontal, Push, Pull

Growing up in the American South, I baked a lot of cornbread. Years later, I don’t need a recipe, as it’s now in my cooking memory. Doing one thing generates another… Open the cupboard… Take out some flour and corn meal…Twenty-five minutes later, cornbread is ready.

Artists develop something like this, called muscle memory. The more we repeat a specific line, the better we get at drawing it. Five angled lines — 90˚, 72˚, 60˚, 45˚, and 30˚ — define geometric based art. There are also circles which is an entirely different topic from straight lines, and the odd line going off at another angle, but those five angle lines are the ones we draw over and over.

Three secrets of good straight lines

  1. Turn the paper, so every line is drawn as a vertical or horizontal line.
  2. Make sure there is nothing between the light source and the line to be drawn.
  3. Use push or pull strokes for pencils and use pull strokes for markers or brushes.

Push versus Pull strokes

A push stroke pushes the pencil ahead of the hand. Because graphite is solid, push strokes will not damage the pencil. However, there is a slight risk that a very sharp point will tear the paper.

A pull stroke pulls the pencil, marker, or brush after the hand. Markers and brushes are bunches of small fibre or hair bundles, held together at the bottom. Push strokes cause these tools to splay (spread out) and eventually make them useless.

How to reduce the number of other lines


As much as we’d like to, we cannot draw straight lines without a ruler. We might get away with it for short distances, but trying to fake it for longer lines will find us out.

Ink drop outs

These tend to happen when markers are running out of ink or have dried. Sometimes it’s possible to rejuvenate markers by soaking the tip in alcohol, but most often, if it’s dry, it’s gone. To squeeze a few more lines out of an almost empty marker, twirl the marker while pulling the line.

If there is a dropout, don’t go back and forth with alternating push and pull strokes to fill it in. Do a pull stroke. Lift the marker. Go back to just before where the drop out started and do another pull stroke to just beyond where the drop out ended. Or, turn the paper 180 degrees and start another pull stroke from the opposite end of the line.

End blobs

These happen when the marker or brush is kept in one place too long, or when a marker is leaking. There’s not much that can be done about leaking.

To prevent blobs, we need confidence in our lines…where does it begin and end? Trace it with our fingers or a pencil, and make tiny marks at the start and end points. Then immediately start drawing the line when the marker or brush touches the paper. At the end of the line, lift the marker or brush from the paper as soon as our hand stops moving.

Finger bumps

The larger our hands, the more difficult it will be to keep our fingertips out of the drawing path. To prevent this from happening,

  • Take the index finger and thumb of the non-drawing hand, spread them wide apart, and place them on the ruler, and the other fingers are to be placed on the opposite side of the ruler from the drawing. The larger the hand the better this works. For smaller hands, slide the fingers down the ruler while drawing.
  • For larger hands, one solution is to glue a simple cabinet door handle to the ruler. Hold the handle instead of resting the hand on the ruler.


In the same way we avoid end blobs, we need to have confidence in our lines. Firstly trace the line with our finger or pencil before doing the inking. Then, put small marks at line beginning and end of the line.

When connecting to a previously drawn line, it may help to turn the paper so that the push stroke begins at the end where there is no connecting line, and pull the stroke so that it stops as it meets the already drawn line, which is usually a lot easier to see.


If we’re not sure where a line ends, ink the shorter distance. It’s a lot easier to ink a small additional length than it is to cover or remove unwanted whisker ink.


Odd lines happen, they are part of the process.
So don’t panic and resist the urge to blame ourselves.
Resist the urge to fix the line right away.
Take a deep breath!
Walk away from the drawing table.
Refocus our eyes at least 6 m (20 feet) away.
Look at nature, in person or in a photograph.
Go outside, if possible.
Meet our body’s needs.
Eventually, return to drawing.
Fix lines after the entire drawing is finished.
Appreciate how far we have come with this project.

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Sharon Wildwind

Discovered Islamic art by chance on the Internet in the fall of 2014, she immediately fell in love with it. Has a particular love with starting on a pattern and figuring out how it is drawn, finding satisfaction to watch a pattern develop, layer by layer. Her favourite tools are Pigma Micron pens and water colours.

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