Learn how to enhance the line of your drawings

In this article we will deal with lines, from their origin and meaning, to their different and varied forms.

Hidden meanings in lines? Yes, that’s right, they have a hidden meaning, but to get straight to the point, continue reading the article.

Image: Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli. 2009, Pantheon Books.

What is a line? Discover the different meanings

One of the most important elements in drawing, along with the point and the plane, is the line. In nature, lines do not really exist: they are abstract elements created by human beings, but then, what is a line?

According to the artist Kandinsky, a line is the result of the movement of the point in space. In his own words, “it is the trace left by the dot as it moves and is therefore its product”. Other artists have defined the line poetically, such as Paul Klee: “the line is a dot that has gone for a walk”.

Apart from being a moving point with enormous dynamic energy, the line can express different meanings.

What are the different types of lines?

Lines have an expressive potential, their meaning is determined by their shape and their arrangement.

Let’s see what are the different lines and their meanings, according to the master Rodolfo Sáenz Valiente, so you can choose which one you need to use in each occasion:

  • Straight: Strength, masculinity.
  • Smooth curves: Femininity, delicacy, solemnity, tranquility.
  • Pronounced curves: Action, joy.
  • Long vertical curves with sharp ends: dignified beauty, melancholy.
  • Long and horizontal: Rest, rest. Paradoxically, they also suggest speed.
  • High verticals: Strength, dignity.
  • Parallel diagonals: Action, energy, violence.
  • Opposite diagonals: Conflict, power.
  • Strong, thick and clear: Brightness, laughter, excitement.

These meanings are often explained through the concept of gravity. If a line is slanted, it can suggest instability, and, therefore, something that stopped being still and started to move.

Keep in mind that you can combine the different types of lines to obtain new meanings.

The 3 parts of a line

Wucius Wong talks about three aspects to consider in the line: the overall shape, the body, and the limbs. Let’s see what each one refers to:

  • The total form: this is the overall appearance of the line. As we have already seen in Saenz Valiente’s classification, a line can be straight, curved, but also broken, irregular or drawn by hand.

Do not rule out the use of irregular lines, remember that each line has its own meaning! For example, a broken line can highlight that something is weak or unstable.

  • The body: The width of a line is extremely narrow. However, it still has a width, so the line also has a body that is contained between the edges. The shapes that the edges have and the relationship between the two will determine the shape of the body.

In the comics we usually read, cartoonists usually use smooth and parallel edges. As we said, it is important to point out that we can generate special meanings, by means of line bodies that are sharp or irregular.

  • Extremities: When we use a very thin line in our drawings, it becomes impossible to observe their extremities, but, if we use wider lines, the shapes of their ends can grab the attention to a greater degree.

The ends of the lines can be square, round, pointed or any other simple shape.

You can use brushes of different tips and thicknesses to achieve variations in the ends of the lines.

Lines bordering a plane and their shapes

If a shape is too wide, it is no longer a line and becomes a plane. The plane shapes we use also have lines on their edges.

Image: Wong, Wucius (1998). Fundamentals of Design. Barcelona, Spain: Gustavo Gili.

These forms then, according to the lines that compose it, can be:

  • Geometric: These are the shapes whose lines are mathematically constructed. For example, when we draw windows of a building by means of the rules.
  • Organic: They are those forms surrounded by free curves, which suggest fluidity and development. We can use them in elements of nature, such as water drops.
  • Rectilinear: They are surrounded by straight lines, but are not mathematically related to each other.
  • Irregular: They are shapes whose limiting lines are straight and curved, which are not mathematically related.
  • Manuscript: Shapes that we create freehand or by calligraphy.
  • Accidental: Those that arise by the effect of special processes, and, of which we have no control over the result.

You can try to create new accidents using unconventional tools! A little Chinese ink on a sponge, or a toothbrush, can help us to achieve surprising effects in our drawings.

Conclusion

Lines are the beginning of every drawing, as we saw and mentioned during the article, they come in different shapes and each of them has different parts and meanings.

These are just some of the categories created to define the expressive potential of lines.

Comic artists have given us works using each of them. Some are more comfortable with curved, irregular lines, while others are more comfortable with straight or geometric lines.

Joining the dots and strokes form the lines that will later give life to our drawing, and all of them are important and essential.

And you, do you dare to exercise and discover what are your own types of lines?



Bibliography. Wong, Wucius (1998). Fundamentals of Design. Barcelona, Spain: Gustavo Gili / Sáenz Valiente, Rodolfo (2006). Art and technique of animation: Classic, corporeal, computerized, for games or interactive. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones de la Flor.

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