September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Where to draw the line?
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Dirk B. Walther
    University of Toronto
  • Heping Sheng
    Boston University
  • John Wilder
    University of Toronto
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  NSERC Discovery grant to DBW
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2002. doi:
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      Dirk B. Walther, Heping Sheng, John Wilder; Where to draw the line?. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2002.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

  • Supplements

Line drawings, despite their simplicity, capture much of the content of a scene and are sometimes preferred ways of visual communication. They are ubiquitous, from assembly instructions for IKEA furniture and signs prompting customers to wear a mask, to architectural drawings for complex construction projects. But how do people choose where to draw lines, and do they agree with each other? Do the lines drawn by intuition indeed capture the most important scene content? How does artistic training affect what lines people draw? What does the order of the lines drawn tell us about their importance? What physical and spatial features do lines represent? We answer all of these questions in three experiments. In the first experiment, trained artists and non-artists made multiple drawings of a small set of complex real-world scenes by tracing contours on a digital tablet. In the second experiment, independent observers ranked the drawings of the same scene by how representative they are of the original photograph. Overall, artists’ drawings ranked higher than non-artists’. Matching contours between drawings of the same scene revealed that the most consistently drawn contours tend to be drawn earlier. We generated half-images with the most- versus least-consistently drawn contours by sorting contours by their consistency scores. In a third experiment, observers performed significantly better at fast scene categorization for the most compared to the least consistent half-images. The most consistently drawn contours were on average longer and more likely to depict occlusion boundaries, whereas the least consistently drawn contours frequently depicted surface normals. Using psychophysics experiments and computational analysis, we confirmed quantitatively what makes certain contours in line drawings special: longer contours mark occlusion boundaries and aid rapid scene recognition. They allow artist and non-artists to convey important information starting from the first few strokes in their drawing process.


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