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Different Kinds of Lines & Shapes of Art

Updated July 19, 2017

Lines are used by artist to define subject matter, add movement and create depth. Lines have styles that communicate mood. Shapes are much like lines and are an element of design that appears in almost all works of art in one form or another. Shapes add personality and clarity to a piece of art.

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Types of Lines

The placement of lines in art helps to determine the purpose of the work by defining the subject or controlling the viewer's eye. A contour line is a continuous line that outlines a subject or shape. Gesture lines are the quickly placed, light, lines on the paper that capture the subject of the drawing. When drawn or painted, trees are lines, as is a road travelling into the distance. A change in value, texture or colour appears as a line that implies the viewer is observing the edge of something. Contrasting colours, values and textures create implied lines.

Expressive Lines

Line can be used to describe emotion and thought when it is rendered thickly as in the painting "A Starry Night," by Vincent Van Gogh. In "The Last Supper," Leonardo da Vinci used diagonal lines to create perspective in the room, thereby guiding the viewer's eye. The room has visual depth so that the viewer feels that he is being invited into the painting. In this work, lines give the viewer a since of being welcomed to an important event. Line influences mood and message in a work of art.

Types of Shapes

Shapes, like lines, are an essential element in a work of art. There are two types of shapes in art. Geometric shapes have standard straight sides or regular curves. Organic shapes have irregular sides and are associated with shapes found in nature. Sculptures consist of shapes and any negative space inside a sculpture also becomes a shape. Negative space is the area in, around, and above a subject.

Expressive Shapes

Subject matter is often a combination of different organic shapes. Clouds, trees, rocks, leaves, faces and figures are organic shapes. Texture in art is often a combination of line and shape. Marcel Duchamp's famous "Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2," is an excellent source to observe the use of lines and shapes by an artist. The shapes in this work are both geometric and organic. The use of line in the work creates a powerful sense of movement.

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About the Author

Linda Vining

Linda Vining began writing for publication in 1983 while working in public relations for a private college. She has composed instructional material targeting high school and adult audiences and has in-depth knowledge of visual arts, decorating, crafts, health and wellness and technology. Vining holds a Master of Arts in Education from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

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