Monday, March 9, 2015

The Ubiquitous Line, from the Caves of Lascaux to Van Gogh

Overlapping Cave Drawings from Lascaux France

What is the significance of a line...? Why do we like what we like when viewing or creating a piece of art...?

Most of the time, we communicate verbally, but visual images are powerful forms of communication which enrich our lives.

Drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Visual storytelling has been around since ancient times when people first sought to communicate visually through the use of lines. Cave paintings, some of which are over 30,000 years old are quite beautiful in their simplicity and leave us with their stories, their thoughts.

As with the cave drawings, everything begins with one line. A point and a line are the foundations for any piece of art or element of design. A line spans a distance between two points. A line creates an identifiable path or movement through space. 

Lines are one-dimensional and vary in width, direction and length. Lines are horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. Once a point becomes a line, the communication process begins and it becomes thoughts and feelings can be expressed. 

So what types of lines are found in art? There are  Descriptive Lines, Implied Lines, and Expressive Lines.  In this article, I'll address Descriptive Lines and save Implied and Expressive Lines for future articles.

Drawing by Pablo Picasso

Descriptive lines give information. They help us understand what we are seeing. Descriptive lines can transform a one-dimensional line into a two-dimensional work, with a three-dimensional quality. 

Types of Descriptive lines are outlines, contour lines, and hatching.

An outline is a line that surrounds a form. It serves to define the outer limits of a form, thus creating a boundary. The line thickness is usually constant as in the drawing by Picasso.

Drawing by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Contour Lines are used to sketch the contour or outline of form. They describe the edges of a shape and develop the illusion of depth within a piece of art. 

With contour lines, the drawing begins to develop mass, volume and proportion but not detail. The lines may vary in thickness and darkness. Typically, when using this technique, you don't use tone, color or value. However, Toulouse-Lautrec often used color in his contour drawings. Both blind contour drawing and gesture drawing use this technique.

Drawing by Edgar Degas

Hatching and cross-hatching are drawing techniques using lines in a parallel or intersecting manner in order to invoke a sense of space, movement, texture and spatial illusion. A series of linear marks are slowly built up with a medium, such as charcoal, to create gradations in value on a form. 

Deeper values can be achieved by placing the lines closer to one another. A lighter value is achieved with wider spacing of the lines. Values can also be heightened by increased pressure, which varies the width and texture of a line. Hatching and cross-hatching are often used at the same time. 

Drawing by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Cross-hatching is used to build up the layers of lines. You lay in your first set of hatch marks going in one direction, and then lay in a second set on top of the first, usually perpendicular to the first layer of lines. This method is effective for creating richer values and density. 

Engraving by Paulus Pontius

Cross-contour hatching lines travel across or with the form. This method enhances a sense of volume and the three-dimensional feel, as well as adding value. 

Parallel-hatching, the most basic form, uses rows of parallel lines placed closely together. 

Fine cross-hatching, which has more layers, is rich, subtle and creates a greater range of tone and value. From a distance, the marks appear smooth and blend together. 

File:Vincent van Gogh - The Harvest (for Émile Bernard) - Google Art Project.jpg
Drawing by Vincent Van Gogh

Basket or woven line is just as it sounds. This method uses short sets of parallel marks in on direction adjacent to another group of lines.

Tick hatching, uses very short parallel strokes or ticks...think Van Gogh. The marks are so small and short that it's easy to create density without having to cross hatch.

Mediums that work well with drawing are pen and ink, graphite, charcoal, conte, drawing techniques, ink wash, watercolor, and colored pencils.

Look at your favorite painting or drawing to see if you recognize any of these. Then perhaps you can learn more about the type of art you enjoy. 

Artist and art enthusiasts pick up a pencil or, pen and sketch pad and head out and use some of these techniques be a Van Gogh. Practice some of them in your next project, draw multiple copies of something and experiment, have fun.

Art lovers, have fun with this too. The next time you go shopping or visit a gallery or museum, look to see what draws your attention.

Thanks for joining me and please continue to send me your comments.  I love hearing your ideas, questions or input. Please leave responses in the comments section below or on Facebook. 

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