LINE

 

A line is a mark or stroke that is long in proportion to its width. Lines are the fundamental marks used in drawing. There are three uses for line in art:

Contour used to define edges
Divide space used to separate areas in an image
  Decoration used to adorn or embellish

In this lesson you will:

Learn the different uses for line in art

Discover what line quality is and how it is used.

Learn about left and right brain thinking and how they relate to drawing.

Make a contour drawing of a plant form and a decorated frame that complements it.

 

 

The Swiss artist Paul Klee defined line as a dot out for a walk.
   


LINE
Line is a surprisingly difficult concept to define. My dictionary gives 86 definitions for line. The simplest explanation is that it is a long thin shape that ceases to act like a shape and acts like a . . . . . line.

Lines are basic to all of the visual arts. Drawing is more or less based on using lines. Lines have many uses in pure design as well.

The odd thing about lines is that they do not occur in nature. There are cracks and edges, long thin strands etc. But those things either have mass (are objects) or are edges of objects.

Line in art is an artificial device that we have learned to interpret as representing something. You have learned to read drawings with lines since childhood. The usual meaning of a line is that it represents an edge.

 
 

 
   


CONTOUR
A contour is a line that defines or bounds anything -- defines its edge. Most lines in art are contour lines. An object does not have a line around its edge, nor anything that looks like a line. Yet when you see a line drawing you have no trouble interpreting the image as representing something in the real world.

There are more contours on any complex object than the outside edge. There are many more subtle contours that can be seen and drawn. Things like folds and color changes can be represented by contour lines -- anything that has an edge.

 
       

DIVIDE SPACE
Line can be used to define the edge of space as well as the edge of an object. The line above divides the information about contour lines from this section about dividing space. The line that forms the rectangle to the right separates that shape from the rest of the page. The line through its center divides the rectangle in two.

If you read the rectangle as a shape then its outline is a contour line. If you read the line as defining a format then it divides the space of the page from the space in the format.

These kinds of lines have many used in design. It is even possible to use a long thin negative shape as a line to divide space. This takes place between two columns or rows of type in a book or newspaper.

DECORATION
There are many ways line can be used to decorate. Linear shapes and/or patterns decorate many objects. Look at fabrics and wrapping papers for examples. Even natural surfaces like wood grain or hair sometimes look like linear decoration.

 
 


Detail of an etching showing hatching and cross-hatching.
   


One common use of line in drawing is to shade using hatching and/or cross-hatching. Hatch lines are multiple lines that all go more or less in one direction and represent value in an area. The closer together the lines are the darker the shading.

Cross-hatching uses lines that cross on two or more directions. These types of shading are used in ink drawings and some kinds of printing techniques.

Lines can even represent something that is not there. The lines streaking behind the drawing of a speeding car for instance.

Another kind of invisible line is an implied line. When one admires the lines of the latest sport car the reference is not to stripes painted on the car. The reference is to the flow of the contours of the car, its sense of design. There are lines there as edges in the car but the description is more about the car's ambiance -- its lines are sleek, classic, etc.

 
       


LINE QUALITY
Lines are tools for communication. When an artist uses lines to define the edges of an object or to describe its surface they are like someone telling a story. A good storyteller knows that it is not just the story, but the telling of it, that makes for success. The qualities of the lines in a drawing are like the timing, vocal inflections and emphasis that a storyteller uses.

Line quality also adds interest by increasing the variety in an image.

Line quality describes the appearance of a line -- its look not its direction. Different line qualities like thick, thin, light, dark, solid, broken, colored etc. all will change how the line is interpreted in a drawing.

It is not enough to accurately delineate the edges of the objects in a drawing. You must help the viewer make sense of the information by telling what is most important, what is less important and what kind of changes are taking place as the eye moves over the surface of the objects drawn.


Notice how the uniform lines of the humming bird on the left keep it from looking as dynamic or as dimensional as the drawing on the right with its varied line qualities.

 
 



There are several drawing classes taught at Palomar College.

The most important thing to learn in a drawing class is how to "see."

 

 

 

   


DRAWING
Drawing is the technique used to start almost all art projects. It can also be used to produce finished images. It is not the intent of this course to teach drawing but rather to introduce the student to some of the fundamental concepts of drawing.

An excellent source for information about drawing is Betty Edwards' book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." Her book is based on theories related to right and left brain functions. She explains these concepts and uses them to teach the student how to "see" as an artist sees.

LEFT BRAIN/RIGHT BRAIN
The brain is physically divided down the center into two halves. Some of the different functions of the two halves have been known for a long time. The right half (hemisphere) of the brain receives sensory information from and directs the actions of the left half of the body. The left half does the opposite.

The left brain has long been thought as the intelligent half of the brain. Someone injured there or having a stroke in that hemisphere might loose his or her ability to speak for instance.

In the 1960s there was research done on individuals who had the connecting nerves between the two brain halves (the corpus callosum) severed surgically. This allowed a more sophisticated understanding of left and right brain functions.

Betty Edwards bases her teaching theories on the results of that research.

The left half of the brain is where most of what we consider intelligence takes place. It specializes in verbal, analytic, rational, digital (numbers) and logic skills. The three Rs are learned there: reading, (w)ritting and (a)rithmatic. It is where you keep track of time, follow a sequence of ideas and understand abstractions (using a small bit of information to represent a whole thing).

Most of your schooling has been directed toward increasing left brain skills. That part of the brain is in charge in most people and is reluctant to give up control.

The mind copes with the overwhelming amount of data it receives by using a sort of filing system. Once enough information is gathered about any item to identify it (what file it belongs in) the mind moves on to the next item. This simplification fills the mind's memory banks with simplified versions of everything that it is familiar with.

The problem this presents to drawing is that the mind has a simple diagram remembered for most common objects. When you go to draw one of them the left half of the brain automatically draws the diagram. This makes it very difficult to "see" what the object really looks like.

The left brain also objects to the amount of time it takes to see and draw well.

The right half of the brain is in many ways the opposite of the left. Among other skills it is nontemporal -- without a sense of time. It also "sees" what things really look like in three-dimensions (concrete and spatial skills). It is able to understand the big picture -- to see the whole thing at once.

These right brain skills are ideally suited for drawing. The trick is to get the left brain to let the right brain do its thing. Doctor Edwards' book is full of these tricks.

 
       


CONTOUR DRAWING
Some of the most useful tricks are based on contour drawing. Blind contour drawing is when you imagine that you are a machine that records exactly what your eyes see. You do this without looking at your drawing (blind) to keep the nosy left brain from criticizing your work. You record with your pen(cil) exactly what your eyes see as they slowly trace the edges of your subject.

You must draw very slowly to further frustrate your impatient left brain into submission.

You will do an exercise using blind contour drawing in class.

 
       


Modified contour drawing is one step removed from blind contour drawing. Here you only draw when you are looking at the subject but may look at your drawing occasionally. When you look at your drawing, to see that you are in the right place and to check your progress, you must not draw.

This makes sense because when you draw while looking at your drawing you are either drawing from memory or making up what you draw. The information you need to record in order to draw realistically is only available when you look carefully at your subject.

You will use this style of drawing for the project for this lesson.

 
 

  PROJECT

Student example #1

Student example #2

Student example #3

   
PLANT DRAWING WITH A BORDER
Make a life-sized line drawing of a part of a plant that is about the size of your hand. Use at least three different line qualities in the drawing. A pencil or pen may be used for the drawing.

Reformat the drawing to make the most attractive composition paying particular attention to the negative space around the plant drawing.

Draw a frame around the format that is decorated with at least three different line qualities. Balance the visual interest between the plant drawing and the frame. Position the framed plant drawing appropriately on the page.

Use only lines for this project. No solid shapes or shading of any kind (including hatching and/or cross-hatching) may be used.

PROCEDURE - DRAWING
Find part of a plant that is interesting looking but not too complicated (avoid ferns) and sturdy enough to survive until you are through with the drawing. Turn it around and look at it from all angles. Determine from what point of view the plant looks the best. There is no point in trying to make a beautiful drawing of an ugly plant (it is possible to do so but not without a lot of experience).

Position the plant near your drawing paper against a simple background (a sheet of white paper) and with good light on it and the drawing paper. Make sure you are comfortable (this is supposed to be enjoyable).

Imagine the plant is already drawn on the page. Try to see its size and position on the paper. Start your drawing in a place that will let you reproduce your vision of the plant.

Notice what are the most important edges of the plant. These should be the most visible lines in the drawing. Less important edges should be represented with lighter lines. Use lines that describe the surfaces you are seeing -- smooth or rough. Allow the lines to change weight along their length to keep them from looking mechanical (you are drawing a living thing).

Do not hesitate to use an eraser. Think of it as an editing tool not a removal tool. Stop drawing occasionally and stand back to look at your drawing. Try to do so with an objective eye.

As you draw be careful to not make anything up. Record exactly what your eye sees -- nothing more and nothing less. If something is not important enough top draw carefully, leave it out.

Go back and darken some of the important lines that do not show well. Lighten others until the image reads like the plant looks (or as close as you can come). Remember to use a variety of line qualities.

 
 

   


FORMATTING
Determine what is the optimum composition for drawing. Framing "L"s are useful for seeing how much negative space to leave around the drawing. They can be moved around to make different sized and proportioned rectangles to evaluate as a format.

If there is too much space the subject can look isolated and unimportant. Too little space can make the viewer feel claustrophobic. Strike a balance that best displays the drawing and balances the composition.

If more space is needed consider cutting out the plant drawing and moving it to a better position on another sheet. If the drawing is too large it may be necessary to crop part of the image (it may be desirable to do that in any event for a better composition).

 
       


FRAME
On another page draw some ideas for frames to put around the plant drawing. Draw sections of one edge or corners as a sample. Cut out the samples and put them against the drawing to see what works best. This is similar to the way a picture frame is chosen for a painting.

The frame should complement the drawing and can borrow some visual characteristics from it -- shapes, line quality, etc.

Lay the frame out carefully with a ruler using very light pencil guidelines. Carefully draw the frame around the plant. It is also possible to draw the frame in the desired position on the page and glue the cutout plant drawing into the frame. Do whatever is necessary to make an attractive presentation. Clean up the drawing with an eraser.

Label this project LINES. It will be worth 20 points.

 
           


© 2002 James T. Saw
Do not copy or reuse these materials without permission.