Basic Art Element — Line

What is “line” as applied to art?

Basic Art Element -- Line
Lines can create textures and patterns when combined with other lines. Painting by Teresa Bernard

A line is a basic element of art. It 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 patterns when combined with other lines.

A line is a basic building block of all visual art. It is essential to a composition since a line can perform a number of functions. It can divide the composition, direct the viewer’s gaze, define shapes, and 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 earthbound 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 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 endpoints and is another type of line that the eye like to follow
    • provide a more significant dynamic influence in a picture
    • are more pleasing to the eye
    • are associated with comfort, familiarity, relaxation, softness, and sensuality
    • can also communicate confusion, turbulence, and 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 and can not be shown visually
    • are created by values, colors, textures, or shapes that guide the eye through 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.

Basic Elements of Art, The(An Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1    |    Part 2

Basic Art Element — LineYou are here.

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Want More Art Lessons?

When you are finished with the Basic Art Elements lessons, why not move on to the Good Design Principles? To get started click on  The Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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