Seven Elements of Art: The Line

Updated: Jul 23


We discussed the seven elements of art in a previous blog. Now we will have a series discussing each element individually. In this first blog we are going to discuss "Line". What does this mean? is it simple, or more complicated?

Other than a point, which is a singularity in space, the line can be a very simple element or can be complex.

It sometimes helps to visualize, or try to put yourself into the position of the element in space. I really started using this practice after reading, “Flatland" by Edwin Abbott. The story is about a square licking in a two-dimensional world. It made me think about many of my preconceived notions about what I was seeing.

So, a point being a singularity in space, it has no area, and would look the same from any direction. In fact, as soon as you draw the point, you have given it an area. Technically speaking, that is just a representation of the point and still does not have any area associated with it.

next, move that point in any direction, right, left, back, or forward. We have three-dimensions to use in our discussion. Obviously, paper only has two-dimensions. The point will inscribe a line.

If we pull that line in any direction, we will have created a surface. And if we pull or rotate that surface in any direction, we will create a solid.

That was just to get your creative juices flowing, and to appreciate how you can put yourself in the process.

Contour Lines

Contour lines are used as an outline, in a drawing or preliminary work for a painting. Contour lines are best recognized for describing a surface.

If you take our example of the point inscribing the line, the contour line would follow the curves of the surface. Interestingly, this practice is a bit like calculus. I know, is creative people don’t like to even think about our horrible experiences here. But, this may change some minds.

Just like in the calculus, the closer the contour lines get, the more accurate or precisely they describe the object. Of course until they equal each other, or overlap, then all information is lost.

another great thing about contour lines is that additional information can be communicated by varying the thickness of the lines. Shadows and highlights can be shown using these methods.

Cross Contour Lines

Cross contour lines flow over the surface. They give an impression of the surface of the subject. These lines can also be more concentrated to show more details, and or information.

these cross contour lines can change direction, communicating even more information about the subject. Just look at George Washington, on a dollar bill. This is a wonderful example of cross contour lines.