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The Elements of Art - LINE

A Guide for Teachers

Line. What is it? It’s got to be more than just the things you write on to keep your sentences straight, and more than just the things you have to draw to connect points on a graph. In artistic terms, line is one of the important fundamentals to understanding how to make your work look better to a general audience. These fundamentals are called the elements of art, and today we’ll expand upon what line is and what it can do for your artwork!

Not a huge fan of reading? Don’t worry, we have a short video on line: the element of art by yours truly!

What is Line?

Upon googling Line’s definition, it’s lengthy and kind of confusing at points so we can summarize it with a quick tl;dr. Line is an element of art that is used either literally with outlining or shading, or they can be used in an implied manner with leading lines or lines of action. Lines themselves have tons more uses than what was listed, but let’s keep it short and sweet. There’s no point in trying to convince you with words alone -- this is an artistic element after all, so let's focus on using visuals! Let’s look at some examples of how line is used in other artwork.

Line as a colouring technique

A close up of Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. Jessie Chang's avatar is placed in the bottom right
Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (1889)

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh is a universal classic when it comes to the world of artwork. However, analyzing the piece for its usage of line, it’s constantly staring at you in the face! Van Gogh’s technique revolved around using small, broken lines to insinuate blended colour, rather than actually blending it together. As he was part of the post impressionist era, this style of experimental colouring was considered new and fresh. This is a simple example of what line is though, isn’t it? Let’s move on to something less literal.

Leading lines and their invisible effect

Tower of Babel by M.C. Escher. Jessie Chang's avatar is placed on the bottom right
Tower of Babel, M.C. Escher (1928)

Tower of Babel by M.C. Escher has a very strong sense of exact perspective and leading lines/directional lines, which are lines that are used to steer your eyes towards a certain point in the piece. In this case, the leading lines are very literally there and are pointing towards the top of the tower, however in a lot of art pieces this wouldn’t always be the case. Most of the time, leading lines would be implied by the surrounding items within the scene that would be pointing towards the focal point; the section of a piece that the artist wants you to focus on.

Tower of Babel by M.C. Escher. Red lines are drawn along the building in the center to emphasize the drawn perspective. Jessie's avatar floats on the right of the image
The drawn building follows perspective exactly!

Escher also uses a very exact three point perspective in this piece, which is a type of perspective that is used to draw attention to height and size. Upon zooming into the piece, you’ll be able to see a lot of the extremely smooth and straight lines that Escher used that would fit on a perspective grid perfectly. Once again, however, this wouldn’t usually be the case with other artists. Instead, perspective would be just as implied as leading lines -- all elements of the illustrated scene would work together to create implied perspective. This is a pretty harsh opposite of Van Gogh’s example, where Escher is very mathematical in his approach to line usage. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle next.

Line art within modern illustration

3 panels from One Punch Man, illustrated by Yusuke Murata. Jessie's avatar is placed on the bottom right corner.
Panels from One Punch Man (Yusuke Murata, 2015)

A true symbol of our era, One Punch Man written by ONE and illustrated by Yusuke Murata has a very clear usage of line right off the bat; manga is illustrated with very pronounced and obvious linework (though all artists have different styles that pertain to their linework). However, while the lines are beautiful, it’s not what I intend to point out about his work. Instead, I want to talk about the hatching and movement lines.

A close up of one of the panels. A red arrow is pointed at the close up face, pointing out the hatched lines used to suggest shadow.
Take a closer look at how hatching is used to shade the face!

Hatching is a popular technique used by a lot of illustrators, and it employs the use of many parallel lines layered on top of each other to simulate shadow. The more you layer, the darker the shadow gets. Especially in Murata’s work, you’ll see a lot of hatching employed to illustrate highly detailed creatures, scenery and human figures.

A panel from One Punch Man. Red lines are drawn to emphasize the usage of line to suggest quick movement. Jessie's avatar is placed on the bottom right.
Take a look at all the different movement lines used!

Movement lines employ lines that are meant to emphasize implied movement or action, which is a very popular technique used in comic and manga illustration. This technique also employs the use of movement, which is a self-explanatory principle of art -- notice how the italicized word has more movement than the rest? No element or principle is more important than the other; they all work together to create fantastic works of art! With movement lines, adding them creates an implied sense of speed and power when it comes to the illustrated action. In the panels above, you can tell that the kick was both powerful and sent Garou (far left) flying, since the movement lines imply that he’s moving at very intense speeds.

There you have it! Line is an important part of the elements of art, and it’s something artists should definitely consider playing around with when it comes to their artwork.

At Winged Canvas, we teach line in all of our online art classes! From line art in Cartooning & Anime to crosshatching in Realistic Drawing, line is the first thing we learn as artists, and it's an important building blocks of a solid Art Foundation. From advocating for visual art education in schools, to creating free quality art education resources for teachers, our mission at Winged Canvas is to make art and creativity easily accessible for everyone.

Art Resources for Teachers:

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