What Is 'Line' in Drawing?

Explore the Many Uses of Line in Art

Hand drawing curvy lines with a pencil
Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

The 'line' is one of the seven elements of art and some would argue that it is the most important. In reality, you know what a line is, but when it comes to art and drawing, the definition can be a little more complicated.

What Is a 'Line'?

The famous Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) gave line its best description to date: "​A line is a dot that went for a walk." It's such a true statement and a bit of wisdom that has inspired generations in their pursuit of art. Yet, we must get a bit more formal than that.

Line is the most basic design 'tool' on which almost every piece of art relies. A line has length, width, tone, and texture. It may divide space, define a form, describe contour, or suggest direction.

You can find a line in every type of art. There are, of course, line art drawings and even the most abstract painting uses line as a foundation. Without line, shapes cannot be noted, texture cannot be suggested, and tone cannot add depth.

Almost every mark you make is a line as long as it is not a dot, of course. A cluster of lines (or dots) can make a shape and a series of lines (or dots) can make a pattern.

Types of Line

Artists use the word 'line' all the time and it is used in many different contexts. Yet, each builds off the basic definition of line.

  • Lineweight - Used to describe the strength of a line, or how light or dark it appears on paper.
  • Horizon Line - Controls the height of the viewer's eye. This is most apparent in landscapes but can be applied to other subjects as well.
  • Orthogonal Line - Used in perspective drawing, orthogonal are the lines that reach back to and converge at the vanishing point.
  • Implied Line - Occurs when you continue a line after a small break and that line proceeds in the same direction.
  • Contour Line - Using line to define the edge or form of an object. Quite simply, it is used to create an outline drawing.
  • Hatching and Cross-Hatching - Using a series of simple and parallel lines to imply shade or tone changes.
  • Structural and Center Lines - Used in animation to ensure figures are symmetrical and balanced.