A Simple Line

We all recognize a line. We read lines of text; we walk and drive down the line of a road; we stand in lines; we first learn to draw by coloring inside of the lines; we…

Yes, lines are common and all around us but in the hands of an artist or designer a line can become something unexpected and extraordinary.

I thought it would be interesting to pull a few images from our “Line” Pinterest board. So here are some of the ways that artists, designers and architects put line to use.

Line drawing, pen and ink over chalk

The Italian artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) drew this quick sketch in 1507. Working with pen and ink over chalk he used gestural line to capture the essence of the relationship of mother to child. Shape, movement and value are all defined with a combination of contour line and overlapping lines of various weight.

life size three-dimensional drawing of a kitchen made from steel wire

Compare Raphael’s use of line to this contemporary piece by the sculptor Fritz Panzer. Panzer has made a three-dimensional contour drawing from wire – a room size installation of a domestic kitchen.

photo sculpture

Justine Khamara is another contemporary artist who has used line to make a three-dimensional image – in this case, a portrait. She mounted a photograph onto a board that was cut into thin lines and then partially reassembled.

Pencil on paper, a drawing over a woman and child

A different take on the idea of a portrait is found in this line drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. In this early 19th century portrait of Mme Victor Baltard and her daughter Paule, Ingres worked with pencil on paper, employing a precise and clean contour line that is as vital as the intricate cross-hatched lines that define the three dimensional forms of the faces and fabric pleats.

Bronze sculpture of a woman

I don’t know what Ingres would make of this contemporary bronze sculpture by the artist Alison Saar (I know I love it). It’s a portrait of sorts and like Ingres, Saar uses line as an important aspect of the work. In this instance, the linear strands of hair/branches transform the woman into a mythical figure.

brightly colored lines painted on the wall of a gallery

In all these examples line has been used to make realistic works of art, but it can also be used abstractly, as seen in this wall painting by the artist Sol LeWitt. The vertical lines of color are extremely static and through juxtaposition make the flowing curved lines appear to move.

Line and movement are a natural combination.

aerial view of architectural pavilion

In this last example Foster + Partners has designed a building for the United Arab Emirates pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo. Seen from above the undulating walls of the pavilion suggest movement. At ground level this linear movement becomes real as visitors are guided in a controlled way through the space.

To see more examples of works that use the design element of line visit our Pinterest board.

You can read about line in chapter two of Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.

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