What is the Job of Line?

Christy Olsen

Lines have strength, clarity, and simplicity. They are the most basic form of communication within a drawing.

Artwork by Christy Olsen

Think of a bird on a wire, 'line' has a pretty fundamental job, to hold up the bird and represent the wire; however, without that one element of visual communication, the bird has no place to rest and would appear to float in the air, leaving the viewer to question the context.

In a comic strip, lines can create the illusion of motion or persuade us based on their characteristics or types, but what other jobs can lines do?

Here's a list of some of the jobs that lines can do.

Contour & Form

A contour is defined as an outline, especially one representing the boundary of a shape. 

In the drawing, we use lines to describe the edges of a particular object. We also use lines to communicate where there is a higher contrast in tone or value.

A form is the visible configuration of a shape within a spatial context. Shapes are flat. Forms communicate where objects are in space with regard to the viewer.

A cylinder, for example, appears as a rectangle when viewed at eye level. However, when the viewer changes their position and looks down upon it, the boundaries change from straight lines into curves.

We can also use a cross-contour line within the object to further communicate this idea. It defines the cylinder's top plane.


Is a course along which someone or something moves.

Lines may lead a viewer's eye throughout the composition or two-dimensional space.


Is the action of separating something into parts or the process of being separated. A dividing line may limit an area or force a divide in space.

A border, grid, or rectangle may be used to organize objects on a page in a drawing or help the draftsperson plan out a composition.

Decoration or Rhythm

Lines may also create a sense of rhythm, a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement that visually affects the viewer.

Lines may also be ornamental, such as decorations or motifs. For decorative purposes only, these lines are sinuous, graceful, cursive lines inspired by flowers & plants, typical of the Art Nouveau style.

Hatching or Tone

Lines close together produce a tonal gradation, shade of gray, or a single tone, depending on how close the lines are together. These can be loose and gestural or structured and controlled.


Lines that repeat predictably create patterns.

They are pleasing to the eye or may have a chosen effect on the viewer.

Patterns can be radial or linear, depending on the type of lines.


Lines that do not repeat predictably create the appearance of a texture or a textured surface.


Or sometimes referred to as a 'schematic,' it is a representation of a plan or theory in the form of an outline or model.

A schema may serve as a structured framework or armature to build a drawing or other lines.

When drawing symmetrical objects, a schema or construction line guides the draftsperson and will help them to determine or correct the proportions of a symmetrical object. 

Construction lines, such as using an imaginary box around an object, may help the draftsperson determine how an object turns in space.

Symbols or Text

Lines may also create symbols or text within a language, which articulate thoughts, memories, or ideas without speech.

Most are familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphics, or the writings of ancient Egypt, where they used pictures to communicate words and syllables.

The more you study what lines can do, the more confident you will become in using them. If you would like to learn more, check out "The Persuasion of Line."

Sponsored by the Art Verve Academy. Enroll in studio art classes for adults in Tucson, Arizona, at ArtVerveAcademy.com.

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