Types of Lines in Art, Their Meaning, and When to Use Them

by Laura C. Jones
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In art, a line is the simplest visual element, as it is used to define shapes and figures. A line is also necessary for indicating motion, emotions, and other elements. So, whether you are a professional artist or a beginner, you need to understand the different types of lines and how you can use them. This article looks at the types of lines in art, their meaning, and when they are used.

What Is a Line in Art?

Before the invention of photography and halftones, line art was the only format available to illustrate images in print publications. This type of illustration used black ink on white paper. It also included stippling or hatching, and at times shades of gray could be replicated. Even today, a line is one of the most fundamental elements of art.

A line has many functions in art but the most important one is the indication of the edges of a 2-dimensional shape or a 3-dimensional form. A 2-dimensional shape is normally shown by way of an outline while a 3-dimensional is shown through contour lines.

It is important to mention that line art is any painting that has distinct straight or curved lines against a plain background, without gradations in shades or hues to show 2-D and 3-D objects.

But although this type of art is usually monochromatic, nothing stops you from having lines of different colors. Line art focuses on form and drawings of several constant widths (technical illustrations), caricature, glyph, cartoon, and ideograph.

As an artist, it is important to know how to use different lines in your work because everything begins with a dot and then develops into different lines.

Different Types of Lines in Art and Meanings

There are five main types of lines used in art: horizontal lines, vertical lines, diagonal lines, zigzag lines, and curved lines. The rest are just variations of the main ones.

Vertical Lines

These are straight up and down lines that move in space without slanting. Vertical lines are also perpendicular to horizontal lines. These lines are meant to indicate the height and strength of an object because they extend towards the sky and are unshakable.

Horizontal Lines

A horizontal line is a straight line that moves parallel to the horizon. It also moves from left to right. In art, a horizontal line is used to indicate the width, distance, and stability of the object.

Diagonal Lines

A diagonal line is a straight line that is slanting in any direction apart from horizontal and vertical directions. You can use this type of line in your artwork to suggest movement in different directions and lack of stability in the object.

Zigzag Lines

A zigzag line is just a series of diagonal lines connected at the ends. The diagonal lines in a zigzag line can move in any direction apart from vertical and horizontal. Zigzag lines are normally used to indicate action, excitement, restlessness, and anxiety.

Curved Lines

A curved line is a line that bends and changes direction slowly. It can be either wavy or spiral depending on the object. You can use curved lines to indicate a feeling of comfort and ease. They are also perfect for symbolizing sensual quality because they remind the viewer of the human body.

Variations of Lines in Art

While the above types of lines serve as the beginning of all kinds of amazing and unique lines in art, you need to add more line variations to get the exact type of object you need. Here are some of the additional elements that you need to consider.

Length

Before you start drawing an object, you have to determine the length of the lines, depending on the type of object you want to draw and the message you wish to convey. For instance, a long line is used to represent a tall, strong, or distant object while a short line depicts small, cute, and close.

Width

The width of your lines determines the type of message you convey with your painting. Normally, there are two main types of width: thin and thick. A thin line indicates a delicate, slim, and lightweight object, while a thick line represents the strength, weight, and power of the object.

Weight

In art, the weight of a line means the continuous change of width. When you vary the weight of your lines, you can capture the energy, movement, and even indicate when an object is in front of another.

Texture

The texture of a line is meant to define its smoothness or roughness. To vary the texture of your lines, you simply change your working medium. For instance, if you are using a marker, replace it with charcoal. You can also vary a line’s texture by changing your digital brushes.

Style

The most common styles of lines in the art include continuous, dashed, dotted, and implied lines. Continuous and implied lines help to direct the eyes of the viewer to what you want them to see in the painting while dotted and dashed lines are good for patterns, calling for attention, and energy.

Use of Different Types of Lines in Art     

Ordinarily, artists use lines to outline shapes and create perspectives, among other things. Aside from drawing objects, lines can also inspire different emotional states in art. Here are some of the ways you can use lines to convey specific messages with your artwork.

Spirituality

In his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, the renowned Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, expresses his desire to achieve through visual art what music has already achieved through sound: the manifestation of universalities through an abstract artistic language.

So, he has been creating paintings that can be described as demonstrations of his theory. Most of his paintings use lines strictly to outline shapes and dimensional forms, and to create perspective, as well as inspire emotional effects.

Opposing Forces

Another Dutch painter, Pier Mondrian, is known for his unique ability to use lines to create paintings with great communicative power. He always endeavored to pare the semantic of painting down to its simplest essentials.

So, he cut down his visual tools until he got a style that used only horizontal and vertical lines, and a strictly restricted color palette. Through this style, Mondrian was able to convey the fundamental spiritual truth of the universe.

He also rejected diagonal lines to avoid perspective and attain a completely flat image plane. Mondrian also didn’t like using curved lines to convey something unadulterated and universal.

He believed that when horizontal and vertical lines are used together represent the pure, vital opposing forces of the universe, including masculinity and femininity, stillness and motion, and positivity and negativity.

The Flawless Imperfect

According to a popular Canadian artist, Agnes Martin, the power of horizontal and vertical lines to represent something harmonious and universal is unparalleled. Martin created paintings that were more expressive and emotional than other artists of her time.

She mainly used horizontal and vertical lines together with hand-drawn grids that revealed her human touch. But even with such a level of precision, her paintings still contained subtle, minute imperfections.

These imperfections took on the same role as curved lines, representing something organic and fundamentally human. Although her work is more expressive as shown by the titles, such as Friendship, Happiness-Glee, and Beautiful Life, she always endeavored to express something pleasant and complete.

Illusion

Many artists use lines to evoke an emotional response from their viewers and generate a physical response. Some artists have also been accused of creating artwork that makes viewers feel sick, with some people saying they get dizzy and nauseated from the feeling of motion generated by the paintings.

For instance, you can create a sense of height by including strong vertical lines in your painting. Also, you can create a sense of perspective and motion with repeating rows of diagonal lines. Additionally, curved lines can be placed strategically in vertical lines to generate a sense of sensual softness. The absence of horizontal lines also creates an illusion of everything being off balance.

In Summary

Now that you understand the various types of lines in art and how to use them, you should be able to create unique paintings that convey the right message. You should also be able to create variations with your lines to bring out the best results.

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