Elements of Art – Lines! (Everything You Need to Know!)


Alrighty folks, there are several elements that are used in all types of visual art. One of these elements is lines. Lines are fantastic, because we all know how to make them! In this article we will discuss the different types of lines used in art, but before we begin, let’s start with a definition! What is a line?

A line is a continuous path drawn on a surface to create an image. A line can be thick, thin, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved or zig zagged. Lines are used in art to represent edges, form and textures of an object.

In this article we’ll discuss how lines affect an artwork, the different types of lines in art, contour lines, gestures lines and how to achieve line variation!

Let’s begin!

How Do Lines Affect a Work of Art?

An image is an illusion. It’s just a whole bunch of well placed lines put together to make something that we recognize.

Lines affect a work of art by enhancing this illusion. And to make this illusion as believable as possible, you will need to use variation in your lines.

Why?

Having just one type of line in the image will make the artwork repetitive and monotonous, just thinking about it makes me wanna have a nap.

But if you create an artwork with a diverse mix of thick, thin, curved, vertical and horizontal lines, you’re going to end up with a great picture. Something your audience will definitely stay awake for!

What is Line Variation?

Line variation is combining different types of lines into one image. For example, a drawing with thick lines for its outlines and thin lines for its details.

Other combinations could be:

  • Long lines vs. Short lines
  • Hard lines vs. Soft lines
  • Straight lines vs. Curved lines
  • Fast lines vs. slow lines

The purpose of line variation is to add life, interest and detail to a drawing.

What Are the Types of Line in Art?

The main types of line in art are:

  • Thick lines
  • Thin lines
  • Vertical lines
  • Horizontal lines
  • Diagonal lines
  • Curved lines
  • Zig Zag lines

Any drawing or illustration will be made up of these different types of lines.

In the above list, thick lines and thin lines can be applied to all of the other lines mentioned. So before we go any further, I want to first talk about the super duper important relationship between thick lines and thin lines!

Thick Lines

Thick lines are used to to add boldness and power to a design. They are often used to add depth to an image, making things appear closer to the viewer.

While thin lines are great for adding detail to an image, it’s the thick lines that will draw the viewer into the image.

Why are Thick Lines So Important?

Thick lines are important because they give structure and weight to an image. They help the viewer understand where they should be looking.

As a general rule, thick lines are important to emphasize the overall shape of something, whereas thin lines are there to make something look detailed and believable.

Let me tell ya a story to explain!

A few years ago at an art auction, I remember a seeing a large pen and ink artwork. I walked up to it and was amazed at the artwork’s details. It was one of the most finely drawn artworks that I’d ever seen.

But when I stepped back a few feet, the details disappeared and all I could see was a pale, washed out sketch.

Technically the artwork was amazing and it took weeks to make. But ultimately it just wasn’t fit for hanging on a wall. It ended up selling well below what it was worth.

The artist was so busy focusing on the details that he neglected to take a step back and add in some thick lines to draw the audience into his picture.

An artwork needs to look good from close up, but if it doesn’t look good from afar, then you’ve only done half your job.

The viewer will struggle to know where to look, and that’s where thick lines help guide them to the important places in the image.

Thin Lines

Thin lines are used to show detail and softness in image. Thin lines add depth to an image, making things appear further away from the viewer.

Without thin lines, details in an image will just look like a big chunky mess (try adding in details to an illustration with a thick pen, it aint great!)

Why are Thin Lines So Important?

Thin lines are important because they make an image more believable. I am always amazed at what a few thin lines can do to an illustration.

If you were to draw a picture of boats in the ocean, it would make sense to do the boats closest to you with thick lines. However, if you were to draw the boats far away near the horizon with a thick pen, it will ruin the depth of the image.

The further away an object appears, the thinner their lines should be. This is a form of atmospheric perspective, and helps to make things on your piece of paper look more real.

Thin lines also play a very important role in enhancing the quality of an image. I will often draw the main parts of an image using only thick lines, Once that foundation is down, I’ll take step back to assess it…

The next part of the process is to then add details to my illustration. How do I do that?! Yooou guessed it – With a whole bunch of thin lines.

Without thin lines, an image will look incomplete (and a little bit boring too!)

Vertical Lines

Vertical lines are used to convey height in an image. Think of how vertical lines are used in an artwork. They are used to draw tall trees, buildings and lamposts. All these objects are anchored to the ground and move upwards.

To emphasise height even more, vertical lines will extend right up to the top of the artwork. Think of a landscape drawing with tree trunks extending beyond the top of the drawing. The further away the trees are in the picture, the taller they will appear!

Okay, just when you thought lines couldn’t possibly get more riveting… it’s time to talk about the opposite type of line: Lines that are horizontal! Hoo yeah!

Horizontal Lines

Horizontal lines are used to convey distance in an image. Imagine yourself standing on a mountain, looking down at an endless scene of rolling hills.

As the hills recede into the distance, the land will become more and more horizontal. And the closer the horizontal lines are to each other, the further away the land will appear.

This effect can apply to any kind of landscape drawing such as drawing Paris from above, or a sky full of clouds fading into the horizon.

Diagonal Lines

Diagonal lines are any straight line that isn’t vertical or horizontal. Diagonal lines are used to create depth and perspective in a drawing.

Just think of how you draw up a one-point perspective grid. You draw one one horizontal line, and then a whole bunch of diagonal lines.

Without all those delightfully diagonal lines, your grid will look as flat as a pancake.

Curved Lines

Curved lines add an organic feeling and a sense of movement to a design. Think of a body of flowing water, or some smoke rising in the air.

Without curved lines, all our designs will look straight outta Minecraft – just a whole bunch of blocks that look static and flat.

Zig Zag Lines

Can I just say… zig zags are fantastic. They can make an image look waaay more interesting! Zig zag lines are used to lead the viewer’s eye above and across the artwork, and are a great effect to pair up with the more conservative vertical and horizontal lines.

How to Incorporate Line Variation into Your Art

If you are want to get better at adding line variation to your drawings, then you just need to simply practice drawing with line variation as your primary objective.

Get out some scrap paper and just do some doodles. Don’t worry about what you’re trying to draw, just have fun and make a biiiig mess!

Line Variation Exercises You Can Try Are:
  • adjusting the pressure of your pen or pencil as you are drawing – this will give you a thick line / thin line effect.
  • drawing lines at different speeds. Slow lines will look rigid, while fast lines will look organic and full of life.
  • drawing lines at different lengths. Start with a long line, then break it with a gap, draw a slightly shorter line and repeat until your line turns into an itty bitty dot.

Don’t stress mate, just have fun.

What are Contour Lines?

Contour lines are used to give direction to an object, without needing to rely on shading or color.

If you make a drawing using only basic outlines, you will end up with a flat drawing. In you want to create the illusion of depth, you will need to add some curved contour lines.

The great thing about contour lines is that you only need a few to make a drawing look three dimensional.

If you have taken the time to draw a skilful and visually pleasing outline (as your foundation), then adding in contour lines is not only easy, but a whole lotta fun as well.

What are Gesture Lines?

Gesture lines are used to give a loose, organic and energetic feeling to your designs or drawings.

When creating a gesture drawing, it is important to draw with your eyes, rather than your brain. No offence to our collective brains, but gesture drawing requires us to allow our eyes to talk directly to our hand.

If you don’t overthink things and draw what you see (rather than what you think you see), you will end up with a confident, energetic and organic artwork

Conclusion!

In this article we discussed one of the great elements of art: Lines! We touched on the importance of lines in art, the different types of lines you can use, and how you can put these different line types together for a more interesting artwork.

If you currently don’t use line variation in your drawings, please give it a go! It’s a lot of fun and it will make your drawings look fantastic!

Remember:

  • Practice drawing different lines – nothing fancy, just abstract doodles
  • Use thick lines for the overall shape, and thin lines for the details.
  • Experiment with the speed of your line strokes.
  • Instead of drawing one line, try and break it up into smaller lines.

Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck!

Malcolm

Melbourne, Australia

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