The Powerful Persuasion of Line

In the visual arts, 'line' is the most basic form of communication but lines may also invoke feelings, enhance the mood or stir an emotional response from the viewer. In geometry, a line is formed by the connection of two points. In drawing when we make a one-dimensional mark on a surface, we are “mark making.



LINE noun. a long narrow mark on a surface. Depending on the tools we use, we can create a variety of lines which could make an object feel either sharp, jagged, man-made, graceful, smooth or organic. For example, perfectly straight lines feel artificial or man-made whereas squiggles feel organic.

The Characteristics of Line

  • Direction - Horizontal, vertical, diagonal, radial, curved, squiggly, implied or psychic
  • Length - Long, short, continuous or broken
  • Width - Thick, thin, uneven or tapered  
  • Quality - this comes from how we draw the line, i.e. gestural, quickly, confidently or carefully; strong, bold mark vs. weak mark, dark, highly contrasted mark vs. light or little contrast mark
  • Focus- this comes from edges, which can be sharp, firm, soft or lost,  Note that what we often perceive as lines in nature are really changes in color, value or edges.

  • Falling Tree

    Most well thought out drawings always begin with the powerful persuasion of line even at the most basic level. For example, a diagonal line expresses action, movement or motion. It can be perceived as either rising or falling and is dynamic. Think of a forest, a falling tree right before it hits the ground can be communicated a diagonal among a sea of other trees, the vertical straight lines.

    Diagonals are emotionally "active," meaning that they engage the viewer because it is a freeze frame of motion that has either occurred or is about to happen. In contrast, a horizontal line is emotionally "passive," it puts the viewer at ease and suggests a lack of motion, stillness or even a sense of order. Think of the horizon of a sunset or a figure lying down.

    Line Types


    HORIZONTAL - Straight from left to right or right to left



  • Emotional: PASSIVE conveys STILLNESS, LACK OF MOTION or REST
  • Spatially: STATIC
  • Represents: CALM, PEACE, TRANQUILITY or REPOSE
  • Example: landscapes or the line of the ocean in a sunset

  • VERTICAL- Straight up and down



  • Emotional: PASSIVE, however, conveys a sense of ALERTNESS
  • Spatially: STATIC but may indicate HEIGHT or ELONGATION
  • Represents: DIGNITY, STRENGTH, PERMANENCE or STABILITY
  • Example: a tall tree trunk, building or the gesture of a person standing up


  • DIAGONAL - Slanted or Angled



  • Emotionally: ACTIVE conveys MOVEMENT, INTENSITY or LACK OF STABILITY
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC, may indicate depth when using the system of linear perspective drawing
  • Represents: COMBAT, CONFUSION or CLASH
  • Example: an object falling or about to fall, i.e. a tree that has just been axed, i.e. much more visually intense than vertical or horizontal lines

  • CURVED OR PARABOLA - not straight, organic or natural


  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Represents: EXCITEMENT, ELASTICITY or ACTIVITY
  • Example: Found as contours for biological objects or materials



  • SEMI-CIRCLE OR ARC Curved with a consistent radius



  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Represents: Semi-circles - SYMMETRY, arcs - PROGRESS 
  • Example: Classical architecture, rolling clouds or wind

  • IMPLIED - A series of points or marks that the eye automatically follows or the brain connects together; a line of dots or dashes



  • Emotionally: ACTIVE or PASSIVE depending on the direction
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC or STATIC depending on the direction
  • Represents: direction or suggestion of direction
  • Example: A trail of crumbs, a group of cars one behind another, group of people in line at a concert or a grid line


  • PSYCHIC - Invisible line from one element to another, our eyes follow it which creates a “line” in our mind's eye



  • Emotionally: ACTIVE or PASSIVE depending on the direction
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC or STATIC depending on the direction
  • Represents: direction or suggestion of direction
  • Example: sign pointing in a particular direction or someone’s eyes staring in a certain direction

  • SQUIGGLE - a short line that curls & loops in an irregular way



  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Represents: ORGANIC, not man made
  • Example: freehand 

  • THICKRepresents: STRENGTH
    THIN - Represents: Fragile or delicate

    The Dot and the Line


    Ever heard of the Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics? It was a short love story written in 1963 which become a film produced by MGM. In this short 10-minute animation, multiple line types are shown and their emotional content described by the narrator. Look it up on uTube!

    Creating numerous varieties of lines and understanding how to manipulate them will enable you to use lines to your advantage when mastering the art of drawing. What types of lines are you using?
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