June 30, 2016

The Powerful Persuasion of Line

The Powerful Persuasion of Line

The Powerful Persuasion of Line

In the visual arts, 'line' is the most basic form of communication. However, lines may also enhance the mood, invoke feelings, or stir an emotional response from the viewer. Depending on the tools we use, we can create various lines that 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 more organic.

Artwork by Christy Olsen

The Definition of Line

LINE noun. a long narrow mark on a surface.

In geometry, the definition of a line is anything formed by the connection of two points. In drawing, when we make a one-dimensional mark on a surface, we are "mark-making."

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; robust and bold mark vs. weak mark, dark, highly contrasted mark vs. light or little contrast mark.

Focus comes from edges, which can be sharp, firm, soft, or lost. Note that what we often perceive as natural lines are 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. Right before it hits the ground, a falling tree can be communicated a diagonal among a sea of other trees, the vertical straight lines.

Diagonals are emotionally "active," meaning they engage the viewer because it is a freeze-frame of motion that has 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 Line
HORIZONTAL - Straight from left to right or right to left
  • Spatially: STATIC
  • Example: landscapes or the line of the ocean in a sunset

Vertical Line
VERTICAL - Straight up and down
  • Emotional: PASSIVE, however, conveys a sense of ALERTNESS
  • Spatially: STATIC but may indicate HEIGHT or ELONGATION
  • Example: a tall tree trunk, building, or the gesture of a person standing up

Diagonal Line
DIAGONAL - Slanted or Angled
  • 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 Line
CURVED OR PARABOLA - not straight, organic, or natural
  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Represents: EXCITEMENT, ELASTICITY, or ACTIVITY; Nonthreatening
  • Example: Found as contours for biological objects or materials

Curved Line
SEMI-CIRCLE OR ARC - Curved with a consistent radius
  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Example: Found as contours for biological objects or materials

Implied Line
BROKEN - A line that is not continous or missing pieces.
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, may express the ephemeral or the insubstantial
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC or STATIC depending on the direction
  • Represents: direction or suggestion of the direction
  • Example: A trail of crumbs, a group of cars one behind another, a group of people in line at a concert, or a grid line

Psychic 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 the direction
  • Example: sign pointing in a particular direction or someone's eyes staring in a specific direction

Squiggle Lines
SQUIGGLE - a short line that curls & loops in an irregular way
JAGGED - not straight, angles or pointed elements
  • Emotionally: ACTIVE
  • Spatially: DYNAMIC
  • Represents: Curved = ORGANIC, not man-made; Jagged = ANXIETY or TURMOIL
  • Example: freehand drawn lines, could be used for shading

Thick & Thin
CONTINUOUS - Solid line that may lead the eye in certan directions
LINE WIDTH - the thickness of the line
CREATION - How the line is made
  • THICK - Represents: STRENGTH
  • THIN - Represents: Fragile or delicate
  • FREEHAND - May express personal energy of the maker and influence the mood or emotion
  • MECHANICAL - Digital or drafting made with a ruler for accuracy or precision, may express rigid control

The Dot and the Line

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

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?

June 21, 2016

Visual Elements of Design

The "Visual Elements of Design," also known as the "Elements of Art," are essential building blocks to translate an idea or message into a visual concept, design, or composition. In visual arts, these elements can be found in drawing, painting, mixed media, photography, or any other two-dimensional (2D) visual communication methods, and the list depends on the source.

Similar to words in spoken language, they are used to express images or visual messages. Each element has its own meaning or can be associated with other elements to convey a specific emotion or emotional response. Use them deliberately to control how visual messages, images, or stories are composed.


Lines are long, thin marks on the surface. Lines may also be created from the edges of shapes. They may be sharp, firm, soft, or lost in or out of focus. Lines may create boundaries or contours defining a shape or form. Lines may also create the illusion of motion or lead the viewer's eye throughout an image. Lines may also be implied, and their quality can be soft or bold. Lines can also convey emotions. For example, sharp or jagged lines portray a different feeling than elegant or smooth lines. Straight lines may be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Organic lines may be radial, spiral, or curved. Line lengths may be long, short, continuous, or broken, whereas the line width can be thick, thin, uneven, or tapered.


Straight lines may be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Organic lines may be radial, spiral, or curved. Line lengths may be long, short, continuous, or broken, whereas the line width may be thick, thin, uneven, or tapered. Lines may also be implied, and their quality may be soft or bold.


A shape is an enclosed area or figure. A shape may also be defined as an area that stands out from the space around due to an implied boundary or edge. Shapes may be enclosed by a line in a drawing. Shapes have the characteristic of length and width. Silhouettes are shapes or forms filled in with a single tone or a color. The outer edge or contour of any shape automatically creates a negative shape on the other side up to the frame or edge of the paper.


The form differs from a shape in that it includes any visual information regarding its location, scale, or orientation. The form is the configuration of a shape in which is well understood how this object sits in space with regard to the viewer. For example, a square is a shape, a cube turned three-quarters becomes a form. There are endless varieties and combinations of shapes or forms including, natural, geometric, abstract, or free form. Whether they are complex or straightforward, the meaning of shapes or forms is derived from the viewer's culture.


Value is one of the many characteristics of color. It describes the lightness or darkness of a shape or object. Variations in light and dark values create patterns. Our vision uses these patterns to determine one shape or object from another, even in low lighting conditions when we cannot determine the hue or color. Value also conveys mood or lighting conditions. For example, values with little contrast evoke a different feeling than values with extreme contrast.


Tones can be light, dark, or in between. A tone is a single color swatch or a single shade of gray, which may be compared to another tone or a single step on a value scale. A gradation is a gradual change from one tone to another, used to depict an object's volume or three-dimensional characteristics or shape. Gradual changes in value create the illusion of a 3D object on a 2D surface.


The texture is both a visual and tactile phenomenon, including the surface or substance's feel, appearance, or consistency. Without a sense of structure, the texture is just a pattern that may create a variety of visual interests. Texture also conveys moods. For example, rough texture evokes a different feeling than soft or smooth.


Natural texture is the appearance of a material, such as wood grain, metal, glass, or leather. The tactile or physical texture is the variations of a surface or material, which may also be felt by the touch, such as animal fur or reptile skin. When light hits the variations in the surface, it castes small shadows. Visual texture or inferred texture is a realistic illusion of a physical or natural texture on a 2D surface, usually by alternating values.


Color is a characteristic of human visual perception producing different sensations on the eyes due to the way an object reflects or emits light. It is described as a hue and contains a spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple. Color also has other characteristics such as value, intensity, and temperature.


Colors are capable of affecting our mood. They can also create a feeling of warmth or coolness. Hue combinations may cause harmony or disharmony. Scientists have found that physiological changes occur in human beings when they are exposed to specific colors. The meaning of hue or color is always derived from the viewer's culture.


Space is a continuous area or expanse that may be free, available, or unoccupied. It refers to the distance between shapes or objects. 3D space is recognized as having height, width, depth and is referred to as space. Nothing exists without it and is the distance or area around each object, between, above, below, or in real places.


2D space is the illusion of depth. Visual Arts, it is primarily limited to height and width. It can be created by linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, magnified perspective, placement, elevation, or overlap.

The "Elements of Design" are different from the "Principles of Art," including various ideas or ways to organize the elements. Composition is the art of organizing these elements into a harmonious or pleasing whole.

June 17, 2016

What’s an Art Verve?

No, it’s not an energy drink or a rock band…'verve' is a noun synonymous with 'vigor' defined as:

  1. energy or enthusiasm in the expression of ideas, especially in artistic performance or composition, an example would be “the revival lacked the verve of the original musical.” 
  2. vitality; liveliness

Artists whether they know it or not, need this type of stuff in order to keep on creating and notice how we said, “keep on creating”…

(Vermeer, Johannes. The Art of Painting. c. 1666. oil on canvas.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.)

Have you ever taken a class and created something you really liked or were really proud of then thought to yourself, “I can do this!” You then proceed after the class with an enormous amount of motivation to go home or out into the world and create even more. Do you envision yourself creating a huge quantity of work or practicing day after day honing your skills to become a master, only to find yourself a few weeks later staring at all of your art supplies collecting dust?

You may be missing the artistic verve!

Folks that create art whether they are new to the process or masters need inspiration, support, or a community in which to create. No one tells you that in art school, there is a romantic idea that you will graduate with your degree in art, step up a workspace, start creating, and presto you become a professional artist.

On the other hand for beginners or those who are self-taught, there are so many reasons to create but nothing seems to be happening in your workspace. It's a similar situation to what's commonly referred to as writer’s block but for visual artists. The secret ingredient is that a community or collective group of people are part of the equation and you need that to be inspired, create with vigor or get the enthusiasm behind an idea.

Whether you recognize it or not, when you participate in an art class, you are getting the verve. This is why you get so motivated afterward beyond going to class or doing your homework. Art guilds can also have the same effect, they facilitate events for people to draw or paint together.

History repeats itself over and over, ever wonder why all of those really famous artists throughout history were always found hanging out with one another? A great example of this was the French Impressionists and their artistic movement. They all knew each other, hung out together, and in some cases even shared studio spaces with each other. Together they changed the world!

Some of the most famous artistic movements have also been spawned by art schools where the students collaborated with each one another collaboratively. The Bauhaus was a famous art school in Germany and a perfect example that combined crafts with the visual arts. In the early 20th century, their students were responsible for the Art Deco movement and its incredible architectural designs that reflect in New York's Chrysler Building.

These folks were all sharing ideas, artistic techniques, and collectively without awareness, they formed the “verve” for one another, which gave them the motivation to continue creating. Barbara Streisand said it the best, in the movie Funny Girl, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

So if you are unhappy with the quality or quantity of what you are creating, take an art class! Join an art guild, or teach a class and you will catch a “verve” that will inspire or propel your artistic journey forward!