What is Line?
The simplest definition of line is it is a continuous mark. The mark itself can be perceived or actual and it creates a path or edge. Line can come in many varieties: thick, thin, hard/sharp, soft, dark, and light.
Line is a simple and often undervalued tool in the artist tool kit. Line created some of our first documented art in human history, which can be observed in caves like those in Lascaux, France. Before we invented written language, humans used line to make art.
The direction and placement of marks in an artwork can create different effects. For example, horizontal lines create a feeling of stability and stillness. In Early Sunday Morning, 1930, by Edward Hopper, you can see how the horizontal lines and placement of objects creates a feeling of quiet and emphasizes repose:
The lines of the building have a strong horizontal edge as does the road. And even the color of the building has a horizontal emphasis with the strong red-orange moving evenly across the top half of the painting.
In contrast, a diagonal line creates movement and action. This is commonly used in comics and graphic novels to help emphasize an important moment in the story line. You can see that here in this cover of X-Men by Jack Kirby.
In this image every figure is posed on a diagonal line, which makes us as a viewer feel like we are in the middle of something happening.
Vertical lines, on the other hand, create a feeling of being lifted, of upward motion, and is sometimes interpreted as spiritual, optimistic or creating a hopeful feeling.
Line can be a great way to create gradations in value. Lines can be repeated in parallel, close to each other, to create the visual experience of light or dark. This is called hatching. The closer the lines are to one another, the darker the value will appear.
In this etching by Käthe Kollwitz, Self-portrait with hand to forehead, 1910, you can see how repeated use of line has helped create areas of light and dark, which help create the sense of volume of her face and hands.
There are different kinds of drawing exercises used by artists to build skill. They are generally warm up activities, but often are seen as works of art in their own right.
Gesture drawings are quick, loose drawings made of fast moving lines. The artist quickly observes both the object they are drawing and their paper to loosely capture the figure or object. People often use the word sketch when thinking about gestures.
Contour drawings are about the contour, or outline of objects we observe. A contour drawing closely resembles the pages of a coloring book, where objects and figures have a clearly outlined edge.
Cross Contour Drawing
Perhaps one of the most difficult drawing activities is a cross contour drawing. Cross contour drawings are about trying to show the edges of objects on your paper, while also communicating their volume. This requires the artist make lines that contour and curl to follow the edge of the three dimensional forms.
In this activity students will use a variety of tools for mark making to create an abstract line drawing/painting.
Box of random art “tools” These can include:
- Front and butt of paintbrush
- palette knife
- piece of cardboard
- celery stalks
- piece of potato
- paper clips
- Paper towels to wipe down all the art tools in the box.
Anything you can imagine that you don’t mind getting dirty!
Instruct the students to choose a single object from the box. When everyone has an object tell them to use it to draw on their paper by dipping it in paint (if it isn’t already a drawing tool like a marker or crayon) and dragging it across their paper. Give them a minute or two and then ask them to wipe down their tool and swap with someone at the table.
Once they use all the tools at their table, if you have more time, swap the tool boxes to different tables so they can play with different objects to make more marks!
When students are finished making their marks, mount their drawing/painting on construction paper for display. Have a mini art show in the classroom where students look at the marks they made and talk about how they used line in the work, and how others used line their artworks.
Questions to guide conversation:
- Is everyone’s the same?
- What was your favorite tool?
- What tool surprised you or made you laugh?
- What mood or story do the lines you make tell?
Encourage students to try and draw or paint something from observation using the tools provided instead of making random, abstract marks.
Through this mark-making activity you will introduce your students to the element of art, line.
They will be able to discuss how they can use different tools to make different kinds of line.
By using non-traditional artist tools students are also being encouraged to think creatively about how to make marks, how we look at and define the purpose of objects around us, and think more critically about visuals around them.