Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Create a Visual Language - Mastering Horizontal and Vertical Lines

Apple Trees in Blossom, Isaac Ilyich Levitan

"Line is used primarily to contain where things go, to contain the form." Jeffrey Watts

The ubiquitous line...Everywhere we look, we see lines. The next time you gaze at a landscape, a cityscape or engage in people-watching, look a little longer and closer.

As we mature and have a more active life, visually speaking, we begin to collect information almost unconsciously. Only when something is out of the ordinary do we stop and do a double take. To retrain ourselves, we need to slow down and become an active viewer of the information that's being communicated through our visual senses.   

Beach at Trouvill, Constant Troyon
This article is third in a series. The two previous articles are Seeing and the Art of Drawing and The Ubiquitous Line, From the Caves of Lascaux to Van Gogh

The focus of this article is how horizontal and vertical lines affect our aesthetic understanding and appreciation of the world.

So...more about lines... A line is many points moving through space. Lines create a visual pathway for our eyes to analyze, inspect, and navigate.

Lines are one-dimensional and vary in width, direction, and length. Lines contain the formless and define the edges.

The different types of directional line are, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and zigzag or curved. Implied lines guide your eye around and through a composition. 

Vertical Lines
Bauernhaus in Kammer am Attersee, Gustav Klimt
Lines can be used to build patterns, to create shading and texture, and to control value. In Klimt's painting, Bauernhaus in Kammer am Attersee, the lines on the building indicate bricks, and the lines in the foreground indicate fencing. His use of a shallow depth of field leaves us feeling as if we are standing in the painting gazing upwards. We don't need to see each brick or each fence post because we understand his visual shorthand.

Lines can be used to create a sense of perspective, as shown in Klimt's painting and in Boston Common at Twilight by Hassam. 

In Hassam's painting, the use of vertical lines in the trees, the buildings, and buses, provide a sense of balance. Visually, we are led down the sidewalk with the rest of the pedestrians and come to rest at the treeline just as the sun is setting. 

Boston Common at Twilight, Childe Hassam

Repeated lines give a sense of order or harmony. Hassam uses parallel lines with uniform spacing and width, as in the trees to create a static and orderly effect. This also creates a sense of motion and movement. As the width of trees, buildings and post get smaller, we move further into the painting and participate in a glowing winter landscape.

Tannenwald Pine Forest, Gustav Klimt

What do we see when vertical lines meet the horizon? Vertical lines are awake, and alert. They are strong and rigid, often defying gravity. 

Vertical lines such as those in Klimt's Tannenwald Pine Forest communicate a sense of stateliness, nobility and spirituality. The trees seem to extend upwards beyond human reach, towards the sky.

Harney Desert, Childe Hassam 

In the modern world vertical lines imitate nature and dominate city skylines and public urban architecture.

Before skyscrapers, this earth to heaven connection was successfully incorporated into the designs of cathedrals and palaces. Stretching from the earth to the heavens, we often equated this type of architecture with religious sentiments and the divine right of kings.

Rouen Cathedral, Claude Monet

Monet's Rouen Cathedral appears solid, massive and immovable. The lines found in this painting reinforce the perceived relationship with the heavens much like Klimt's forest

Monet's cathedral's resonates with glory and dignity, and we are filled with awe by the subject and his talent. To see more of this architecture, visit Duomo di Milano, Cathedrale Notre-Dame de RiemsGaudi's Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.

Horizontal Line
Village at the Riverbank, Isaac Levitan 

Horizontal lines are aptly named they are parallel to the horizon where the earth meets the sky. If you are mathematically inclined, they have no slope. Or another fun way to think of it is a horizontal line has the same height at all points on the line.

Russian artist Levitan makes great use of this in his Village at the Riverbank. The lines appear as if they are lying down, at rest. The lines suggest the sleepy little village is a calm and quiet place to relax. There is a sense of comfort and repose. The slow curved line adds to this feel.  

Spring, Alexey Savrasov

Unlike vertical lines, horizontal lines are closely associated with the earth. 

Alexey Savrasov's Spring painting accentuates the expansiveness of nature, her stability, and her sense of security. On this spring day, there is no trace of conflict - just balanced harmony. Savrasov was Levithan's teacher.

Constant Troyon, Cattle Drinking
In compositions where horizontal lines dominate, objects parallel to the earth appear to be in a harmonious relationship with the environment. Strong horizontal elements support the relationship of the objects or structures to the land as in the painting Cattle Drinking by Constant Troyon.

Troyon began as a porcelain painter and later became interested in pastoral scenes. Troyon's scenes featured peasants and animals in everyday life. This type of painting was a novelty at the time. However he became very successful within this oeuvre.

In Cattle Drinking, he uses horizontal and vertical lines to communicate stability and solidity. The 90-degree angle of the forest suggests permanence and reliability. The sky is expansive and somewhat dynamic. 

As you can see horizontal and vertical lines  bring their own unique quality to a composition. Each one communicates visual cues to the viewer

What type of lines and compositions are you drawn to? What has developed your aesthetic understanding and appreciation of the world" What excites you?

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which will be on the more dynamic lines -  diagonal, zigzagged and curved.   

Thanks for joining me, and please continue to send me your comments. I enjoy receiving your emails, comments on the blog and Facebook. If you like this article, please share this post with your friends or on Facebook.

Until next time...

Artfully Yours,

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