Maria Ezcurra - Pink Striped Shirt (2000) Mark di Suvero-
Mon Pere, Mon Pere

Storm King Art Center.
©Mark di Suvero.
Photo ©Elizabeth LaCour

  • The Evolution of FORM
  • The ELEMENTS of Design
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Value
  • Texture
  • Color
  • employed according to
  • The Principles of Organization
  • using
  • Harmony
    Variety involving
  • and result in
  • Balance
  • Movement
  • Proportion
  • Dominance
  • Economy
  • and
  • Creating Space
  • to produce
  • |

“Art does not exist only to entertain, but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth.”
    -Barbra Streisand¬†(1942 - )


A line is a mark made by a moving point. Lines can be thick or thin, short or long, straight or curved. Line can outline shapes and forms. Volumes can be defined and direction or movement can be implied. It is an enormously useful and versatile tool and depending on how it is used, it can be intellectual and retrained or expressive and charged with emotion.

It can act as as a symbolic language, or it can communicate emotion through its character and direction

Line is not necessarily an artificial creation of the artist or designer; it exists in nature as a structural feature such as branches, or as surface design, such as striping on a tiger or a seashell.



Lines and dots are a good place to begin to discuss the dynamics of form.

Point or Dot

  • The smallest visual entity
  • A single dot has power (show example)
    It activates the space of a picture plane,
    and creates a relationship with the space surrounding it.

Point --Line

It can be a focal point, a center of interest or attention, or an emphasis within a composition. Let's use line by writing signatures.
Line is familiar to all of us as a method of communication.

Line can be defined as a "path left by a moving point — a visual path of action."

Line can have many different characteristics: They can:

  1. have direction (make arrows)
  2. be continuous or broken
  3. be thick or thin
  4. be consistent or varied in width and/or direction
  5. be static or moving (1 / \)
  6. be straight or curved
  7. be any combination of the above

On a flat surface, lines can:

  • act as independent elements
  • define shapes
  • imply volumes
  • suggest solid mass

Marc Chagall
l and the Village (1911)
Oil on canvas. in. x  in.
Museum of Modern Art. New York City, New York.
Photo © LaCour Slide Library
Understanding Art Slide Set

Lines can be grouped to form patterns or portray solid masses indicate shadows express emotions

We read the perceived edges of objects as lines. Implied lines are those lines that suggest some type of visual connection within a work of art.

Mark Chagall- I and the Village (1911)

  • In this painting, Chagall created a circle through the use of implied lines in order to connect scenes of daily life in a Russian Jewish Village.
  • And an implied sight line playfully connects the animal and the human.

Pollock - Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)

Jackson Pollock
Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950). Oil, enamel, and aluminum on canvas.
©Pollock estate.
Photo ©Elizabeth LaCour

Characteristics of Line

  • measure is the length and width of a line
  • expressive qualities of line is the individual character of a line

Leonardo da Vinci
Virgin of the Rocks (c. 1485)

Photo ©Elizabeth LaCour


Types of Line

  • contour lines describe the surface and edge of a subject
  • actual line is a non-interrupted line
  • implied line is the creation of the illusion of a line

Sandro Botticelli
Birth of Venus. (c. 1480)
Tempera on canvas. Approx
. 5 ft. 8 in. x 9 ft.1 in.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Photo: LaCour Slide Library
Art Across Time Slide Set (wncc)

Vincent Van Gogh
Self-Portrait. ()


Functions of Line

  • to outline and shape: this helps to simplify for a viewer
  • to create depth and texture: a good example of this is in the process of modeling. This work by Vincent Van Gogh shows a great deal of detail because the line describes the surface so well.
  • to suggest direction and movement: horizontal lines tend to communicate suggest stability and calm, vertical lines suggest strength and authority (architecture), and diagonal lines tend to represent movement. These characteristics can be seen in Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Variations of line

Varieties of Line

  • Outline defines only the outside edge of an object.
  • Contour line delineate the edges of planes.
  • Outlines make shapes appear flat; contour line is more dimensional than outline.

Hanson -Tourists.
Duane Hanson -
©Duane Hanson.
Photo:©Kathleen Cohen

  • Implied lines can create a sense of movement or direction. We sometimes perceive the existence of a line even though no actual mark or edge exists as a line. Implied line requires a viewer's participation. For example we perceive a line by following the direction indicated by a pointing finger or , as in this case by the gaze of the Tourists in Duane Hanson's superrealist sculpture.

Sol LeWitt
Squares with a Different Line Direction in Each Half Square. (1971).
Etching: 7 3/16 x 7 5/16"
© 2005 Sol LeWitt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Source: Museum of Modern Art Website

Qualities of Line

Line can also express emotion, or intellectual qualities.

  • Expressive Line
  • nalytic or Classical Line
    Sol LeWitt's line here is displays analytic lines which precise and controlled. It also can be considered as logical and rationally organized.


Jasper Johns- Numbers in Color
Jasper Johns
Numbers in Color (1958-1959)
Encaustic and collage on canvas.
©Jasper Johns;
Photo ©Kathleen Cohen.

  •  Jasper Johns' gestural brushstrokes are fluid and loose. The use of the grid (pattern of horizontal and vertical lines) contains and controls the emotional marks

Twombly - Bolsena-detail
Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bolsena) (detail) (1969)
oil based house paint, wax crayon, and graphite on canvas.
National Gallery, East Wing.
Washington, D.C. U.S.A.
©Cy Twombly
©Elizabeth LaCour

Line also communicates emotion and states of mind through its character and direction.

Horizontal line suggests a feeling of rest. Objects parallel to the earth are at rest in relation to gravity. Therefore compositions in which horizontal lines dominate tend to be quiet and restful in feeling.

Vertical lines can communicate a feeling of spirituality or overpowering grandeur as they extend upwards beyond reach, toward the sky. They often dominate public architecture, from cathedrals to skyscrapers.

Diagonal lines suggest a movement or direction. Objects in a diagonal position are unstable in relation to gravity,. In a two dimensional composition diagonal lines are also used to indicate depth, an illusion of perspective that pulls the viewer into the picture-creating an illusion of a space that one could move about within.

Horizontal and vertical lines in combination communicate stability and solidity. This stability suggests permanence and reliability.

The quality of the line is in itself a fundamental visual language, to an extent that cannot be claimed for any other single element. Its use is so universal that we are all sensitive to it.

Subjective lines are generally more dimensional than objective lines. This is because a subjective line changes width, changes form light to dark, and is more suggestive of space than a flat line of maintained width.

When line remains parallel to the picture plane - a shallow space results.

Some examples of line:

  • Mechanical Line is an objective, non personal line that maintains the same width along its full length.
  • Organizational Line provides the framework for a drawing.
  • Structural Line indicates plane direction and reveals planar structure. Structural line builds volume, and creates a three dimensional effect.
  • Lyrical Line
  • Constricted, Aggressive Line
  • Blurred Line