What is Line?

Line is the most basic art and design element, the foundation, that other elements are built on. If you were asked to make a drawing, most likely you would use it at least to start with. The simplest and most fundamental form of communication, it was used by the ancient cave painters, and it is used in children's art.

Line is a one-dimensional element measured only in length. It is an abstract concept that is more perceived than actually viewed. Very few lines appear in nature, yet we see the edges of things around us, helping us to differentiate a shape or form from its surroundings.


  • Length
  • Weight (darkness/thickness)
  • Direction

Basic Applications

  • Outline describes the outer boundary of a two-dimensional shape.

  • Contour is the use of line to define the edge of an object and emphasize the volume or mass of the form.

  • Gestural lines are quick marks that capture the impression of a pose or movement.

  • Implied lines are suggested or broken lines that are completed with your imagination through the concept of closure. An arrow is used to suggest a direction or path for the eye to follow.

  • Calligraphy is beautiful, expressive marks. An expressive stroke freely uses the characteristics of line to convey emotion to the viewer, much like an individual's handwriting changes with different moods.

  • Analytical line is a formal use of line. Analytical line is closer to geometry with its use of precise and controlled marks. A grid is a very popular analytical use of visual line as a way to organize a design. The Golden Section is an example of the traditional use of analytical classical line, which uses calculated implied lines to bring unity to the structure of a painting composition.

  • Modeling line is used to create the illusion of volume in drawing. Hatching is the use of parallel lines to suggest value change. Parallel lines on another angle can be added to create cross-hatching to build up a gradation and more value in areas of a drawing.

  • Directional lines suggest movement or a path of vision and have specific connotations associated with them for example: Vertical lines suggest power and authority; horizontal lines suggest peace and tranquility. Together they give a feeling of calm and stability. Diagonal lines suggest tension; curved lines are graceful and fluid. Together they create a feeling of stress and movement.
    Linear perspective can be applied to drawing to create the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface.

Recommended External Links

Line as an element in graphic design
Graphic Design Basics - Dusan Pavlik, award-winning artist from Yugoslavia, carries the element of line to the limit in his drawings and paintings.

'Art of the Line' Crosses Borders
From China About China - British Museum's first exhibition that was devoted exclusively to Chinese calligraphy.

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