Line - An Element in Painting

Line - An Element in Painting

Becky Joy


An identifiable path of a point moving in space.

A line is one-dimensional and can vary in direction, width and length. Lines often define the edge of a form. Lines can be horizontal, diagonal, vertical or curving and thick or thin. They can lead a viewer around a painting and communicate information through their characteristics whether they are actual or implied.

Actual lines are real such as painted lines on a road, tree branches, telephone poles or electric lines. The edges of objects are defined by contour lines, like the edge of a table, a boulder, the side of a building. Contour lines define the edges of the object and the negative space between them, such as the space fence posts.

Implied lines are lines that are interrupted and our mind fills in the space in between. Examples would be a row of windows on a building with wall space between, a row of separate plants in a garden, or fence posts lined up in a field. Our mind completes the line. Implied lines also can extend beyond the picture plane as with perspective lines.

REMBRANDT VAN RIJN (1606 - 1669) A Winter Landscape

Geometric and Organic Lines

Geometric Lines are rigid and uniform and convey a sense of stability, reliability and conformity . They are usually found in man-made objects and rarely found in nature

Franz Kline (Untitled)

Organic Lines are fluid, irregular or curved and often found in nature. They convey a sense of spontaneity, gracefulness and dynamism.

Edgar Degas (1834 - 1917) After the Bath

Horizontal, Vertical and Diagonal Lines

Horizontal Lines create calmness, stability and tranquility.

Vertical Lines create height, alertness, power and strength

 Diagonal Lines create action and drama. 


Horizontal and Vertical Lines together create strength and permanence.

Descriptive Lines

Descriptive Lines give us information. They are used in handwriting, crosshatching to suggest volume,  decorative lines and caligraphy. 


Expressive Lines

Expressive Lines is an endless list of emotions conveyed in lines. They may be short, long, thick, thin, heavy, light, smooth, textured, broken, flowing, erratic, dark, light, variable, calligraphic, authoritative, tentative, irregular, smudged, uneven, even, straight, crooked, choppy, graceful.  

Flat Lines suggest calmness


Erratic, Sharp Lines suggest anger, impatience.  

Meandering Curving Lines suggest slowness, unhurried time.


Wide, Thick Lines suggest strength.


Gestural Lines

To create line in the movement and emotive qualities of a figure or object. rembrandt-van-rijn-1606-1609-saskia-asleep

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