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Line is a design element. It is found in all 2D images and 3D objects, though some images and objects make more obvious use of line than others. Line can be as literal as a continuous mark leading from point A to point B (think connect the dots), or it can be implied by outside boundaries, or even suggested by directional shapes. It is often taken for granted or overlooked because it is used so regularly and seems so simple, but it is a very powerful design element.


Line has the ability to direct the eye, leading from a point of origin (sometimes a point of emphasis or focal point) and continue throughout the image or object. This is often called an eye path.
A line may be fluid, smooth, continuous, broken, uneven, etc. The way the line is drawn will affect the feeling of movement that the image creates. The type of movement created by the continuity of the line may suggest a rhythm. If the line is patterned with repeated curves, points, or breaks, the line may be considered rhythmic.

Some Lines:

Consider this: Since line is so often equated with the idea of path, we may think that a line must always imply direction and movement, but is this the case? Can a line be static?

As part of your 105 class, you are limited to using as few as two lines to create an engaging visual composition. This is an exercise in economy. You do not always need many pieces to solve the puzzle. Sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective. And sometimes limiting your options makes you stretch your imagination to come up with more unique solutions. How can you make your lines different than the other students’?

When working with the two-dimensional picture plane, our eyes eagerly look to separate object from its surrounding. The object is termed “figure” and the surroundings are termed “ground.” Other ways of describing this are object and background, or positive and negative space.
For your early line projects, the line is the object or subject, and the white space (the paper) is the ground.


We often discuss line in terms of its “quality”. This term is merely used to suggest that not all lines are created equal, and as designers we can vary the characteristics of our line to make them do different things for our composition.
Line Quality is also called Line Variety and is often used to describe line weight. Some lines are heavier and some are lighter. Heavier lines are thicker, darker — they have more visual weight; they draw our attention and often appear to come forward or sit lower on the page. Lighter lines are thinner, lighter in value. The weight of a line can suggest different types of movement and/or different feelings.

A line can also be described in terms of its direction. Is it leading your eye up, down, left, or right? Is it static or dynamic?

You can also discuss line in terms of its location. Where is it placed on the picture plane? How does the placement of the line relate to other lines or shapes on the page?

There are different types of line. Some lines are real, others are implied. Some lines are dotted, dashed, continuous, calligraphic, etc.

Line can also be described in terms of its measure, or length. How long is the line? Or how short?

Practice: How would you describe the lines above?


See how line is used by a variety of artists and designers…
Frank Lloyd Wright
Carlos Amorales
Kathe Kollwitz
Oscar Kokoshka
R. Crumb
Matthew Ritchie
Dirk Krecker
Nicola Lopez


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