The New Little Oxford Dictionary defines line first as a “long, narrow mark traced on surface.” It goes on, of course, to mention a wrinkle, a furrow, a line of people, a line in a script…as well as all of the geometric applications of line.
In art, line is the first, most basic component of any image. Children learn early to drag a line in a circle to make the head of a person. Lines radiate from it to indicate arms and legs. A slash for a mouth, dots for eyes. I can hear the voices of my little daughters: “eye…eye…nose…great big happy smile!” Scribbled lines for hair, or whiskers and, before you know it, a two-year-old has created a reasonably identifiable portrait! Every child does this, I think.
Forty years later, that same human (though not my daughters!) will say, to explain their lack of any artistic ability, “I cant even draw a straight line!” What, I ask you, does a straight line have to do with art? That is geometry. Math. Or, perhaps, architecture. That is not art.
We are soft, fluffy humans living on a round planet filled with curvy and sinuous inhabitants, both moving and still. We see our own unique vision of what’s out there through our own eyes. We interpret it with our own mind, filtered with our individual histories and circumstances. We don’t need straight lines!
Give me, instead, the gracefully curved line, the crabbed line, the aggressive, analytical, or whimsical line. I’ll accept the blurred line, the smudged line, and the erased line. An incised line. An implied line. A dotted line.
Drawings are often used simply as businesslike illustrations to expand on the written word, or as preliminary sketches for painting or sculpture, the “real art.” Because of this, the potential of the line, the most important component part of any drawing, is often overlooked.
A good vocabulary of lines can elevate a simple sketch to the realm of fine art. Where is the tension in a drawing? Let the line reflect it. Where is the weight? Where is the movement? Where can an almost weightless line work to define calm, light, or airiness? In a drawing, lines can tell a story. Let them speak!