Basic Art Element — Line

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A line is a long, narrow mark or band connecting two points. It has one-dimension — length. When two ends of a line meet, a shape is created. Lines can suggest forms by creating volume. Lines can also create textures and pattern when combined with other lines.

A line is a basic building block* of all visual art. They are very important to a composition as lines perform a number of functions. They can be used to divide the composition, direct the viewers gaze, define shapes, and/or make a statement.

Lines allow the artist to direct the viewer’s eye into and around the composition along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art. They can vary in width, direction, and length, and they often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight, curved, thick, or thin.

Types Of Lines

Horizontal lines

    • suggest landscape and the horizon
    • impart a sense of peacefulness, vastness, stability and constancy
    • associated with earth bound things and suggest a feeling of rest or repose

Vertical lines 

    • are perpendicular to the horizon and stretch from the earth to the heavens
    • communicate a feeling of solidity, loftiness and spirituality
    • impart a sense of height, grandeur, and formality
    • gives the impression of dignity that extends upwards toward the sky beyond human reach
    • suggest power with a strong foundation

Horizontal and vertical lines used in combination 

    • are structurally stable and are not likely to tip over
    • communicate stability and solidity
    • suggests permanence, reliability and safety

Diagonal lines 

    • suggest depth and the illusion of perspective that pulls the viewer into the painting
    • appear to being unbalanced, either rising or falling, neither vertical nor horizontal
    • convey action, movement or direction, restless and uncontrolled energy
    • can appear solid and unmoving if they are holding something up or at rest against a vertical line or plane

Curved lines

    • sweep and turn gracefully between end points and is another type of line that the eye like to follow
    • provide a greater dynamic influence in a picture
    • are more aesthetically pleasing, as they are associated with comfort, familiarity, relaxation, softness and sensuality
    • can also communicate confusion, turbulence, even frenzy, as in the violence of waves in a storm, etc.

Organic lines

    • occur in nature and are associated with things from the natural world, like plants and animals
    • are irregular, curved, and often fluid
    • convey a sense of gracefulness, dynamism, and spontaneity

Implied lines

    • don’t actually exist at all and can not be shown visually
    • are lines created by values, colors, textures or shapes that guide the eye though the piece of artwork
    • are what is implied in the mind’s eye when we see and mentally fill in the spaces between objects
    • are created with directional elements such as shape, hand gesture, eye contact or gazing in a direction (even off canvas)

Contour lines 

    • define the edges of objects and also the edges of negative space between objects
    • create boundaries around or inside an object

Geometric lines

    • are mathematically determined
    • are rarely found in nature, but often found in man-made constructions
    • have regularity and hard or sharp edges
    • convey a sense of order, conformity, and reliability

*Click for more information about the basic elements of art.


Draw an example of each type of line as described above.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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