Power in The Line (Design Tips for Beginners)

lines that tell a story art debiriley.com

There is a wealth of untapped Power in the Line waiting for the beginner artist to learn to use. Lines are an intriguing and fascinating part of art design and is one of the most versatile tools the artist has to work with.

The voice of a Line can whisper, beckon, gently guide, hug or shout, scream, shove or,  smack you in the face.   Lines can rough you up,  they can soften you up.  They can make you soar and make your head swim.

A Line can talk to you and tell you a story,  a Line can take you for a walk along the garden path and the Power within a Line may also act as a closed gate  and  stop you from going any further.   Its all in  how you harness that Power.

Ultramarine Blue watercolours Lines

ultramarine blue watercolour painting debiriley.com
Lines of Flight Ultramarine Blue debiriley.com

The expressive language of the Line is as limitless as our vocabulary, nearly infinite as we learn more!    The Power of the Line is a fantastic design tool  that is applicable and of value not just to drawing artists but to the colourists, the painters as well.

There are innumerable types of Lines, but some of the ones I most commonly will use are:  soft blurred lines, hard sharp lines, broken edge lines, solid lines, vertical, diagonal, horizontal, curved lines, jagged lines, straight lines, implied lines, coloured lines, gradated lines. Each of these Lines say something different and unique.

Every type of Line will be unique for each person who uses it.  We each ‘stamp’  our individual voice into it every time we create a Line.  As we create our Lines, it becomes our language. Just like our verbal language, we have inflections, tone, patterns of speech, word choice preferences – so too, will we develop Line inflections, tone, patterns and type preferences.


1. Soft lines create depth  background and distance;   they’re much more ‘welcoming’ and inviting – They are Soft!  Soft edges give respite to the eye, so that when there’s been a hard edge leading us along briskly, the softer blurred edge will give us rest. But the eye will still be moving through the painting, just much slower, gentler.  The soft edge creates balance and harmony.

2. Hard sharp lines draw the eye in. They will act as flags and guideposts to direct your eye towards a ‘something’…. that something, is what you need to have predetermined in advance.  A short series of hard sharp lines will act as arrows and if spaced sufficiently enough apart, will also allow the viewer a bit of time to briefly pause, before their eye travels to that next Arrow (hard sharp edge)  guiding them along the journey through the painting on the route you have planned for them to travel.

3. A solid, thick, unbroken line can be quite dramatic. They can “lead the eye”  to where the artist directs.  They can be Overwhelming. It can take over. Often, the solid unbroken lines done without discretion will give the look of a colouring book outline. These lines need a great deal of judicious planning and kept to a minimum, so they don’t take over.  My example “Leading Lines” in oils illustrates the nature of solid unbroken lines. They Lead. They are quite dominant.

4. Broken lines create more visual interest, provide texture, help guide the eye gently, helps avoid repetition. These also help beginners to not be too stiff and tight when drawing and painting.  The example I chose below in oils,  the white paint broken against the blue paint does create a great texture and makes for more interest in that Line.  Broken lines have a way of inspiring us to be freer, looser, to paint more boldly!   Because we aren’t subconsciously worried about “going outside the lines.”    This is an extremely – important factor for beginners.

5. Vertical lines ‘uplift’ lead the eye up, they will also  create more energy to the painting.  Horizontal lines will smooth and calm the eye, creating a sense a serenity and peacefulness.  Diagonal lines can be quite vigorous, active. They give a lot of Energy.  I think a good design is a balanced ratio of all three of these. Try not to have only horizontals…… this may put the viewer to sleep!  All verticals could possibly be inferred as ‘prison bars’ and an all diagonal design – oh my – let Chaos Reign!!     You get the idea.

6. Jagged lines work along a similar thought as the diagonal lines;  very active, very aggressive. Use wisely. Less is more.  They will evoke a response from the viewer. So you want to make sure, that is the response you are aiming for.

7. Curved lines are quite the opposite. Flowing, soft, gentle, inviting, peacefulness, gracefulness… all these spring to mind when viewing the curved line.  When you look at my image Equine Lines in Indigo,  the curved lines evoke  a lovely flowing gracefulness and elegance to the horse.


By understanding and harnessing the Power of the Line you can  communicate ideas, moods, stories with greater depth and expression.  Broken Edges Lines using Blue and white oils create a vertical broken line, the broken edges provide a ‘relief’ from a stark solid unrelenting sharp edge.  The broken edge gives the viewer’s eye a bit of a rest.

Broken edge lines oil paints debiriley.com
Broken Edge Lines oil paints debiriley.com

Beautiful Indigo blue curving lines form the graceful shape of the Arabian horse with flowing mane and tail.

arabian horse print indigo debiriley.com
Equine Lines in Indigo debiriley.com
Leading Lines Oil paints debiriley.com
Leading Lines Oil painting debiriley.com
lines oil canvas debiriley.com
Lines can create a magic carpet debiriley.com


Lines To Tell A Story  –   The Girl Hiding

Very few lines and yet intense mood, tension, atmosphere has been created. Her huge  eyes peering over the chair express a wealth of emotion.  The chair had 5 Lines to create it.  It starts a story.  It elicits a response in the viewer.  Even I who created this, now want to know more. I’m inspired to find out more.  Who is she?  Where is she?  Why is she alone?  What is she afraid of?  Its intriguing,  how a few simple lines – can capture the imagination so.

This is the Power in The LINE.

lines that tell a story art  debiriley.com
Lines to tell a Story debiriley.com
lines of dejection  debiriley.com
Lines of Dejection debiriley.com

Lines of dejection was created with 3 Lines;  body, arm, head. More space behind the person, less in front increases the mood.

Lineman-  lines to circles debiriley.com
Lineman – lines to circles debiriley.com

Straight Lines are by nature rigid. Stiff. Tight.    Straight lines aren’t  inviting or welcoming.

They don’t make they viewer want to  ‘come in’  and visit!   Straight lines often act as pointy ‘bristles’  which deters people,  a Hedge that turns them away.   But,  the artist  WANTS the viewer to come in   and Look and stay a while. …….. oh dear.  its a dilemma.

I came up with a Challenge.  In this challenging exercise  I gave myself the Objective: make an image using Straight rigid Lines, plus some dots,  that created a sense of fun and movement and energy.    I’m much more at ease and at home with inviting, welcoming, happy flowing lines, curves, merging of shapes and Impressionistic splashes of paint. So this was a challenge. But I actually once I got in the zone, I had fun, enjoyed the process and plan to do more in the future for myself as well as in workshop formats. They are quite relaxing and imaginative.

Lines (used mindfully and effectively)  communicate and express so much more than words.  Perhaps  that is  where the phrase   “a picture is worth a 1000 words”  got its start.   Lines are a useful, relevant and fun language to learn. You learn as you go that there is:  Power in The Line !


This has been the longest post I’ve created todate.

I hope  you’ve  found it:     entertaining?     intriguing?    informative?     humorous?     not too long?     Your comments on any of those   – will be helpful for future posts and is  Appreciated!

straight lines can move! debiriley.com
Straight Lines Can Move! debiriley.com

Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at society6.com/debiriley and, redbubble.com/people/debijriley/shop

7 thoughts on “Power in The Line (Design Tips for Beginners)

  1. This post is worth a thousand pictures Debi 🙂 You write so well, and brilliantly illustrated. I think you should plan to turn your blog into a book. It will be a best seller. Best wishes, as always. Have a great creative week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Andrew 🙂 I have plans…. lol I do like to write. A lot. Thanks for your comments. Do you have any topics that you’d be interested in seeing in my posts? prefer Long post? short? Thanking you for commenting, I Thought I’d let my 2 responders put in special requests for some of their post ideas for me to think on for future posts! Have a lovely week.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoy your posts, short or long. You and I seem to think alike in so many ways so anything you write about is just fine. I’ll think about a special request for you. One of the things that always intrigues me is serendipidy, both in photography and painting. I’ve thought about writing a post about it myself, but there’s something to thing about.


  2. Hi Debi, Keep up your excellent postings. I find them very helpful and it is so good to hear from you, too. Your explanations and paintings are perfect complements to one another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Leslie! just curious…. any particular subjects/ problems that you might like to see posts on in the future? and short or the longer in depth posts?


  3. Your post here makes me want to give more thought to my quality of line, the why or wherefore…..I have a tendency to use line to get me to the end product. Thank you for provoking some awareness to this subject. I’ll take that some awareness into my next watercolor and slow the heck down! lol that was a note to myself, not directed at you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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