What is the Job of Line?

Lines have strength, clarity, and simplicity. In a drawing, they are the most basic form of communication.

Think of a bird on a wire, 'line' has a pretty fundamental job, to hold up the bird and represent the wire however without that one element of visual communication, the bird has no place to rest and would appear to float in the air, leaving the viewer to question the context.

In a comic strip, lines can create the illusion of motion, or they can persuade us based on their characteristics and types but what other jobs can lines do?

The more you study the nature of lines the more confident you will become using them. Here's a list of some of the jobs that lines do.

The Many Functions of Line

Contour & Shape

Contour describes the limits of forms in space, according to the viewer's perspective. It describes the edge of a particular object, usually chosen as the edges or where there is an extreme contrast in the values of two tones (i.e., contrast). These lines emphasize boundaries or outline of an object

An enclosed line is “shape”, shapes are the external boundary or outlines of an area enclosed by a line, contour or silhouette.


'Form' is difficult to explain within two dimensions.

For example, a cylinder is a rectangle when looked at head on but looking down on it.

Curves, angles or ellipses convey not only the structure of an object but where it sits in space in relation to the viewer.

Geometric or organic, it provides the three-dimensional (3D) information needed within a two-dimensional (2D) space so that the viewer can determine their relationship to the object.

For example the form of a curved ellipse will tell the audience if they are looking up or down at a cylinder and what angle.


Or sometimes referred to a schematic is a structured framework or armature on which to build other lines upon in a drawing. When creating symmetrical objects, these lines help guide the draftsperson.

Construction lines and using an imaginary box may help the artist work out how the form or figure turns in space.


A dividing line can serve to limit an area or divide a space, such as the ones in between each of these concepts. In drawing or painting, grid, borders or a rectangle may be used to organize a drawing on the page and help plan the composition or we use it to measure proportions.

Symbols or Text

Lines create symbols. Everyone is familiar with hieroglyphics, the Egyptian writing that used with pictures to communicate words and syllables. Lines also create text within a language used to convey thoughts, memories or ideas without speech.

Decorative Style

Sometimes lines are just meant to be ornamental, such as decorations or motifs that have a visual effect on the viewer. For example, the lines shown within the frame are for decorative purposes only.

Sinuous, graceful, cursive lines, inspired by flowers & plants, these lines are typical of the Art Nouveau style. This art movement, developed in the 1880s was a protest toward the up and coming age of the industrial revolution, and the mechanization of the unnatural or 'man-made' artifacts produced and sold from it.


Lines that repeat in a predictable manner create patterns. They have a chosen effect on the viewer and are pleasing to the eye or as part of an overall design. Patterns can be radial or linear.


Lines that do not repeat in a predictable manner create the appearance of a textured surface.

Hatching or Tone

Lines close together to produce a tonal gradation, shade of gray or a single tone depending on how close the lines are together. These can be loose and gestural or structured and controlled.


Lines can lead a viewer's eye through a piece of fine art or lead the viewer throughout space.

Have you ever stopped to ponder how you use lines?

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