OC’s Guide to Visual Elements, Part 1: Line

Published: January 17, 2017

by Erin Nolan

The line is the first visual element of our series. It is the foundation of all drawing and is extraordinarily versatile. Did you do the homework assigned at the introduction of this series? If you missed it, or forgot, take a moment and get caught up right now. All you have to do is grab a piece of paper and draw every type of line you can think of. Ready? Go! (I’ll wait.)

Ok, how do you think you did? Did you draw straight lines? Curvy ones?

Line in artwork can be used in many different ways. It can be used to suggest shape, pattern, form, structure, growth, depth/distance, rhythm, movement, and emotion.

  • Line as shape

  • Line as depth/distance

  • Line as pattern

  • Line as movement

  • Line as form

  • Line as growth

  • Line as rhythm

  • Line as emotion

  • Line as structure

We have a psychological response to different types of lines, such as:

  • Curved Lines: comfort & ease
  • Horizontal Lines: distance & calm
  • Vertical Lines: height & strength
  • Jagged Lines: turmoil & anxiety

The way we draw a line can convey different expressive qualities:

  • Freehand can express the personal energy and mood of the artist.
  • Mechanical can express a rigid control.
  • Continuous can lead the eye in certain directions.
  • Broken can express the ephemeral or the insubstantial.
  • Thick can express strength.
  • Thin can express delicacy.

Shapes will be covered in part two. Homework for next time: look at everything in the world as a shape. How many shapes can you see in a coffee mug? A car? A cloud? What about people?