This is the second in a new series by Andrew Borloz which covers the exploration and application of design elements and principles. Each column will cover one basic design element and/or principle, and will contain descriptions, examples, tools and techniques, and exercises that can be used for art journaling, photography, collage, book arts and other creative disciplines.
Lines are ubiquitous. Literally everywhere. Both real and imaginary. From my college days as an industrial design student, I could never forget an emphatic statement made by an instructor in his semester-long course, “Structure Visualization I” (a fancy schmaltzy academic name for the drawing classes): “There are no straight lines in nature.” For years, I have looked long and hard to see if this statement is really true for the natural world, and indeed, it is true that I have not yet find a perfectly straight line. However, there are plenty of evidences for the so-called “straight lines” in man-made worlds. Before we go and find them, let’s define what a line is, visually speaking.
Line is a path created by a moving point on a surface or through a space. Keep in mind that a line is not necessarily an edge, but is often used in visual media to represent edge of any object.
Lines have personality. They can be thin, thick, straight, curvy, solid or “broken”. They also can be individualistic or grouped. They also can give us a sense of direction – going forward or backward. Or give us some form of orientation – horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Like the dot mentioned in last month’s column, the placement and the size of a Line or a few can considerably alter the visual perception of the images. For example, shown below are five images with the different number of lines of equal thickness. Use your imagination to make them represent something.
For me, the first image on the far left (1) gives an idea of a pole, a post, or silk thread. The second one (2) gives an impression of the double lines often found in the middle of roadways, and the third one (3), vents of an air conditioner. The fourth one (4) reminds me of fences, and the last one (5) part of the bar code, grid, or rumble lines for slowing the approaching cars at the toll booth.
The same element can be used to represent other concepts by creating a group of lines of same or varying lengths: signal strength (1), pause (2), volume (3 – either horizontal or vertical), and radiance (4).
In Search of the Lines
Let’s go on a visual expedition and see what can be found in the physical world. We find that lines of varying thickness are often used in the fabric/fashion industry: pinstripe, bold stripes, gingham, pin cords, to name a few.
In the art world, they are often used to delineate the objects, or may be used alone as pure lines. Sol DeWitt used them a lot in his art installations – mostly on the flat walls. Excellent examples of his work can be found at DIA Beacon in Beacon, NY and at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). In some of the other artists’ installations that I have seen, either yarn or string is often used to divide spaces or provide a sense of direction.
We also saw them in candy stores, bakeries and restaurants such as cake decorations, food platings, taffy, pies, bread lines, and grill marks.
In various publications (magazines, books, newspapers – both printed and electronic), we find that lines are often used as fillers, contours (maps), separators, etc.
At play, school, home, or office, we can find them by looking at the notepaper, wrapping papers, security envelope, floorings, rugs, kitchenware, measuring cups, rulers, towels, dinnerware, fences, blinds, ceilings, medical equipment screens and many others.
Lines are more likely to be plentiful and straighter in the urban & suburban environment than in rural environment. The photos above were taken from a local county park, and provide evidences of straight lines: 1. garbage can; 2. storm drain; & 3. crosswalk (the lines are used as “fillers” to define space of a crosswalk). The lines found in rural environment are sometimes sinewy or curvy especially on the farmlands.
Like I said at the beginning of this column, lines are everywhere. The above discoveries cover only the tip of an iceberg. Once you start to think about lines, you will begin to notice many more examples of lines out in the physical world, both man-made & natural.
Now that we have seen many examples of the lines found, let’s go back to home or studio and start doing our own visual explorations.
Let’s gather various tools that we can use to either record or make the lines for our projects: cameras, mark-making tools, stencils, tapes (washi, duct, paper), lined notepaper, paper ephemera with lines, bone folder and various cutting instruments. With these tools, we can develop our own techniques within the following creative disciplines:
- photography – find objects or structures that provide illusion or appearance of lines.
- drawing & hand-lettering – thick/thin
- art journaling – straights & curves as embellishments or highlights
- digital manipulation – cut or crop digital photos that provide strong lines.
With the above tools and techniques in mind, I have developed three exercises for your visual explorations:
Photography: backgrounds for collage/mixed media
Create backgrounds for the journal or photo composition by taking pictures of fences, window blinds, shutters, corrugated cardboards, sidings or any standing structure or object that provides strong lines.
The above photo shows the pages that I created for my board books – they are actually color
photocopies of the digital photos. I used the wooden fence for the first page layout, corrugated steel
siding for the second one, and metal fence (dog run area) for the last one. These pages are not
completed, but I will be adding tapes and paper ephemera to these pages later in the future.
Drawing and hand-lettering: thick/thin
Using any mark-making tools, draw lines with varying thickness to give depth, highlights, or contrast. I found a great example of this technique at a local county park shown below.
Utilizing the same concept of thick/thin, I have drawn some sort of fantasy floral for a woodcut block printing project and also for a coloring book project:
The same concept can be utilized in the hand-lettering project. I have created my own alphabets with varying line thickness:
In your existing journal pages (or create a new one), add highlights or visual embellishments by
drawing the lines, either freehand or with rulers or templates on the pages. Shown below are the
examples of how I used the lines to add visual interest. The personal writings were blurred on
In my journal pages shown above, I often draw the lines as separators or to cover the writings for privacy. The lines can be either straight or curvy depending on the visual effects that I wish to achieve:
Select several digital photos containing lines, cut and paste them together to create interesting linear composition. An example is shown below where I created a composition of various railroad-related photos for a screen printing project:
I hope this post will inspire you to see and use the lines in a different ways in your creative work. Coming in the next column is another design element.
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