There are many different types of lines. Lines are; straight, curving, angular, soft, outline, implied, etc. Lines define, enclose, connect, and/or dissect! Lines are lighter and more fluid than other design elements, such as forms and shapes. And yet lines add their unique energy to design.
Technically, lines are 1-dimensional, meaning they only have a length (not width or depth), but those of us in the arts know better!
Line Movement Lines, like shapes and forms, contribute to a design's feeling and energy level on an unconscious level. As we discussed with the rectangle (see Working with Expressive Shapes and Forms), lines are also affected by their direction or major flow. Line directions and energy are:
- Horizontal lines imply quiet and repose and have lower energy.
- Vertical lines imply strength and stability, having medium energy
- Diagonal lines suggest motion and action, creating higher energy.
Which line(s) express?
Image courtesy of Basic Design
Let's look at the word nervous. Nervous could apply to either the top line or the line that is sixth from the. Both lines share an organic line quality, a strong diagonal flow, and multiple peaks and valleys.
Line Direction & Energy
Lines, like shapes and forms, contribute to a design's feeling and energy level on an unconscious level. As we discussed the shape the rectangle, lines are also affected by their direction or major flow. The directions of the line are:
- Horizontal lines imply quiet & repose, lower energy.
- Vertical lines suggest strength & stability; medium energy.
- Diagonal lines indicate motion and action, higher energy.
Line quality is affected by the type of material used to create it. Just like shapes and forms, lines can feel either man-made or organic.
- Hard-edged lines have distinct boundaries and imply strength.
- An Outline is a line that is of even thickness throughout. It is flat and tends to segment the shapes.
Example of hard edge lines
Example of outline.
- Soft edge lines are softly drawn and can feel more organic by nature. They imply gentleness.
- Contour Line creates the illusion of being 3-dimensional. Thinner where the light hits the object, thicker where the line is in shadow.
Example of soft edge lines.
Example of contour lines.
Line Quality Speaks Volumes
Now let's take a look at a piece by Saul Streinburg. Based on what you understand about lines, what do you think is happening in the illustration below? Look at the line quality and energy level while assessing.
Illustration by Saul Streinburg.
It feels like the adult is talking over the little girl's story. He seems authoritative and possibly angry, while the girl appears to tell a gentle story about her day or dreams. She talks about animals, home, and kids, while the line energy is soft and organic. The line quality of the adult is thick, implying loud. It is also organic, but the energy level is high due to the multiple diagonals.
Implied Line & Psychic Line, which are not actual lines!
Implied lines are not actual lines! They can be formed by dashes, dots, etc. Because they are placed near one another, our mind groups, thus our mind reads them like lines. Implied lines lead the viewer's eyes into and around the picture plane.
Psychic lines are not "real lines" either, yet we feel a mental connection between two or more objects. For example, when we look at an arrow pointing to an object, first, we look at the arrow and then the object as if they are connected with a line.
Line Examples, top, actual line; middle implied lines; bottom, psychic line
Let's look at psychic lines in action. What is happening in the The Conjurer by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch? Look at the directions of the eyes of all of the people in this piece. Next, what is happening to the purse of the man participating in the magic show (in the Medieval era, men carried sacks tied to their belts, which were called purses)?
The Conjurer, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch
The conjurer is watching his victim. Our victim is watching the ball in the hand of the conjuror. In the meantime, the victim is being pick-pocketed! The pick-pocket looks innocently into the air, but at least a few of his accomplices keep an eye on the victim! In this humorous example of psychic lines, the eyes of the figures as "lines." Note, whether human or animal, we humans unconsciously follow the direction our eyes point toward.
Design Basics, Seventh Edition by David Lauer
Point and Line to Plane, by Wassily Kandinsky.