This article brings together and compares my own artistic practice of drawing/painting and the eighteenth-century novel Tristram Shandy. In both cases, there is a free play of lines, textual or graphic, which sets ‘all things out of rule’. A whole typology of lines is woven throughout Sterne’s text and reappears, alter-inscribed, in the artworks. The article presents an account of these lines: rectilinear, hylomorphic, fractal and nomadic, as well as the line of incision (or the cut). Each is explored as a specific mode of line with differing effects. To follow these lines is to enter a world of material expressivity, to be exposed to an ontology of becoming and change, of flows and transformations, that overturns the traditional ontology of being and stable identity. Sterne’s use of wild digression, doodles and graphisms, establishes certain proximity between writing and drawing. Both may be seen as types of ‘figured metaphysics’ and as ways of bringing something new into the world. The article concludes with some philosophical observations on the strange event of drawing a line, with reference to the work of Heidegger and Deleuze and Guattari.