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Elements of Design

Linear Marks
Line, simply put, is the path traced by the movement of a single point. Theoretically it has no width as it then becomes a shape. In visual arts practice we can consider the most basic example of a line the simple linear mark made by a pen, brush or pencil.

From loose, expressive gestures to precisely, controlled marks, the lines we make have a huge impact on the emotive force of a painting or design.




Boundary Lines

The meeting of two sharply defined shapes produces a boundary line. This differs from our first example in that it is implied by the contrast between the two shapes and relies on the shapes for its existence.

Boundary Lines



Implied Lines

In this painting by Caravaggio a powerful line runs down the robe of the angel, into the figure below and down the curve of his back. This powerful unifying element doesn’t really exist but is implied by the thrust of smaller lines in the painting. These repeated curves add up to an implied line with more power and impact than any of the smaller individual curves.

Implied Lines – Caravaggio (1571-1610), “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” 1602

Implied Lines – Caravaggio (1571-1610), “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” 1602


The concept of alignment is a process used in many design disciplines. Design elements are aligned along implied lines, usually vertical or horizontal, to give order and unity.


Whether it is text blocks and images on a page, paintings on a gallery wall or windows in a building, alignment adds to the aesthetic appeal and makes the design easier to understand.

The array of sockets and connections on the back of this stereo receiver are ordered and logical due to their horizontal and vertical alignment. The components are also grouped and color coded according to their function and channel allocation. The complexity of the connections are simplified considerably by the use of alignment, grouping and color coding.

stereo receiver showing linear allignment

Stereo Receiver – alignment, grouping and color coding

Lines can create other elements

Lines can exist as elements in themselves or they can be used to produce other elements. Closure produces a shape, hatching produces tone and random buildup produces texture.

Line creating Shape, Tone and Texture

Shape, Tone and Texture – created by the use of line


Kinetic Line

Lithuanian artist,  Zilvinas Kempinas has taken line from a traditionally static element to an infinitely changing kinetic element. His work “DOUBLE O” uses two electric fans to suspend a double loop of thin magnetic tape in the air.

By Zilvinas Kempinas (photographer: Guillaume Blanc) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Zilvinas Kempinas    DOUBLE O 2008

The double loop of tape hovers mysteriously in front of a white background. The effect of this work is mesmerising – the roar of the fans and the fluid movement of the line defying gravity takes some getting used to. After a while the undulating loop completely absorbs your attention.

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