WHY LINE IS IMPORTANT IN ART

Lines, one of the design elements in art, are descriptive, the backbone of a design. They help to move the viewer's eye around a piece, can convey texture, be musical, or quiet, are harmonious or add vibration. They can be lazy, energic, elegant, rhythmic, and demonstrate emotion - picture an angry line versus a happy line. 

Lines can be hand sewn, continuous, dotted, smooth or ragged, machine sewn, couched, needlefelted, beaded, woven, painted....

Lines are everywhere, if only we take the time to look: the veins in leaves, the marks left by the ash borer beetle on an ash tree, the rings in tree wood, even the edges of stones or ripples in water. In reality the lines on stones and the water don't exist, it's the transition from one surface to another that we see, examples of outlines or contour lines that help form a shape. 

My sew and slash technique is all about lines - and contrast added using colour and texture. My best works are 4 to 6 layers of fabric. And sewn lines, lots and lots of sewn lines, with slashing between the lines through the top layers. After washing and agitating the fabrics, I am left with surprises about how the fabrics fray and fold and twist, showing off the multiple layers. The thread colour matters - sometimes I want it to blend in, other times I want the contrast. And I sometimes add more lines through beading or couching on yarns or bits of fabric. This piece below was based on the lines in a weathered and discoloured piece of corrugated cardboard. 


Horizontal lines in our art convey a serene point of view, although at times can be static. Vertical lines move the eye, while imparting strength and growth and stability. Diagonal lines add movement, as do meandering lines, spirals, and radial patterns.

The two examples below, both based on Van Gogh's Starry Night, demonstrate how lines can lead the eye. The first example is circles from metallic transfer foil, with stitching on and around the foil. Compare this to the second picture, also using transfer foil and stitching on the circles, but with the stitching leading from one circle to the next. Did you find your eye following that stitching to the next circle, then back again?

The first example was not planned, and when I realized the circles were disjointed and the picture static, on the next piece I changed the stitches to lead from one circle to the next. Much better, don't you think, to guide the eye?


Lines going in two or more directions add much more interesting than when they all go in one direction. This example has lots of horizontal and vertical lines, long and short, not perfectly straight but meandering just a bit. Even the short stitched lines add a needed embellishment to the background. Repetition of lines in this example was key to making the piece work. 

There are oodles of examples of lines in nature and manmade. The artistic eye begins to see, not just objects, but the lines all around us. Try making small (postcard size) examples of the lines you spot, and exploring how the addition of lines, whether stitched, couched, felted etc. can make a difference in moving the eye, defining a focal point, adding vibration and energy, or just a slow, meandering, meditative touch.

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