Use The Rhythm Luke

July 22, 2015 in Intermediate, Lvl 1

Use The Rhythm Luke

Use the Rhythm LukeYou start all your cartoons with a gesture.  They’re well designed. You’ve learned to draw forms and you’re now drawing everything using compound forms. Yet… even though your cartoons have dynamic poses and are solid, they STILL look a little stiff.

In fact, the more you construct and add compound forms, the more wooden your cartoons look.  They look like the forms they’re made up of and not organic at all.

What’s happening?!

It’s the last ingredient to good drawing. It’s one of the hardest concepts to pin down, and I’m going to try to explain it to you.

After this lesson is done, you’ll know everything you need to know to draw three dimensional looking, solid cartoons that feel organic and flow.

In this lesson, you’ll learn all about rhythm.

Let’s get started.

What Exactly is Rhythm?

Rhythm is like The Force,  it surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.

My Drawing Sifu Steve Huston once said,

“Rhythm is movement over the forms.”

What all this basically comes down to is a simple rule of thumb that goes something like this:

“All lines in a drawing somehow connect to other lines of the same drawing.  Either, through visible connecting lines or invisible connecting lines.”

Every line should lead or connect to some other line within a subject (and sometimes even outside of it.)

This isn’t an absolute “rule,” but it’s a great guide, when your work doesn’t look unified, and is disconnected.

All of this, sound weird and abstract so here’s some concrete examples of what I mean. Say we have this drawing:

Brush Lee Rhythm 01

This drawing has abstract invisible connecting lines that unify it so it all seems connected and organic.  The drawing below makes these lines visible:

Brush Lee Rhythm 03

Almost every single line in the drawing is somehow connected to some other line in the drawing.

When drawing details, it’s not what you put in but WHY you put it in. Does it connect to some other part of the drawing? Does it reinforce the rhythm, the forms or both?

This concept not only works within the inner workings of a character, but it can also work within the composition of a picture as a whole.

Here’s what I mean, if you take a drawing like this:

Rhythm composion example 01

You can see that most of the lines in the drawing lead into and point to other lines within the drawing, making it more unified:



Rhythm composion example 02

As I said above, “Rhythm is like The Force,  it surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

It’s an abstraction. It’s a great way to check your drawing for unity.

In the drawings above, I didn’t set out to create the rhythms consciously. Not at first.

I found these lines after the fact. After I constructed the compound forms.  I then went over and looked for lines that might connect.   Sometimes I followed line from one figure or shape to another.  Sometimes I found soft shapes that were created because of invisible connections.

There is no rule about connecting the lines. You’re just looking for lines that naturally seem to lead into one another.

If you find that you have very few lines that do so, then you know you’re doing something wrong.

Sometimes you’ll find that everything naturally connects but your finished clean up lines are drawn in such a way that they ruin the natural flow.  In cases like this, adjust the lines to work with the rhythms rather than against them.

Your drawings will be better off for it.


So let’s take a look at rhythm in action.

A fantastic example of rhythm used in design is in the animated movie, The Secret of Kells. The movie’s characters are a fantastic mix of Celtic designs, illuminated manuscript design, medieval art, and cartoons.

The characters look very graphic in nature yet every line they’re made up of seems to rhythmically interconnect. They’re pretty amazing designs.

Below is a drawing I’ve done, of St. Francis, in the lyrical style of the movie:

St Francis

See if you can find how most of the lines connect to one another.

I highly recommend you do an internet search of the movie to really get a sense of what it looks like. Especially in motion. It’s pretty amazing.

It really illustrates the beauty of rhythm in action.

Your Turn

This exercise is simple. Take the character you’ve designed in the previous lesson and simply apply the rhythm rule of thumb to it. Which, if you remember is:

“All lines in a drawing somehow connect to other lines of the same drawing.  Either, through visible connecting lines or invisible connecting lines.”

So follow these steps:

1.  Rough out some poses.

Rhythm Exercises 01


2. Lay another piece of paper over your roughs. Either using a lightbox or tracing paper. Find the rhythms in your roughs.  If you can’t seem to find many, make them up.

If doing so makes it feel very artificial it’s because IT IS.  Most of the lines you put down, you didn’t intend to connect to one another.  Your going out of your way to force them to connect somehow. Try to find ways they can connect.

Rhythm Exercises 02


3. Lay down yet another piece of paper over your roughs. Now that you have the rhythms figured out draw the final clean line of the drawing, trying to keep the rhythmic connections you’ve created, somewhat, intact.




Rhythm Exercises 03


The outcome should look something like this:

Rhythm Exercises 04


Compare the final drawing above with the original rough.  You will see how the rhythm lines I drew influenced the final lines

The point of this exercise is to condition you so that you don’t have to artificially look for rhythmic connections in your drawing. You want to do this as often as you can with your drawings so that eventually, you’ll just naturally make your drawings rhythmical without needing to go through all the steps.


Q: I don’t quite get it. Are you saying that every single line I draw HAS to connect to some other line within my drawing?

A: No, not EVERY line, but try to get as many as you can.  The more the better.

Pro Tips

If all this seem a bit odd, it’s because it is. Rhythm is a unique idea. It’s taught differently by different teachers.

The one thing that all the methods have in common is their purpose. Namely, to make unitive holistic drawings.

The truth is, drawing is a bunch of little drawings, all put together to make a larger drawing. This is as true for a single cartoon character as it is for a whole composition. The trick to rhythm is to not make it look that way.

Keep practicing, don’t give up.


I can’t help you if you don’t ask.

What’s your burning rhythm questions?

Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about rhythm? Ask.

I’ll give you my best answer and, who knows,  probably write a post about it.

Leave any comments and questions in the comments below.

Or better yet, sign up to receive more information via e-mail. You’ll get extra tips and advice.  You can ask me questions that way also.