Line Drawing: A Guide for Art Students

Last Updated on September 1, 2023

When we first picked up a pen or pencil and started making marks on paper, we began with line. Whether self-taught, through trial and error, or guided by others, we learned how line defines form, creates structure, divides a frame, traces contour, creates tonal variation (cross-hatching, for example) and leads the eye from one part of a work to another. Initially a mechanism for getting outlines onto paper – identifying edges – we begin to applaud lines for their own merit: celebrate their presence…whether a quiet flick of charcoal on paper or a streak of graphite.

line drawing - a student guide

This article contains exercises for Art students who wish to produce contour line drawings, cross contour drawings, blind drawings and other types of line drawings. It is a teaching aid for high school Art students and includes classroom activities, a free downloadable PDF worksheet and inspirational artist drawings.

Blind Contour Drawing

Definition : A blind contour drawing contains lines that are drawn without ever looking at the piece of paper. This forces you to study a scene closely, observing every shape and edge with your eyes, as your hand mimics these on paper. The aim is not to produce a realistic artwork, but rather to strengthen the connection between eyes, hand and brain: a reminder that, when drawing, you must first learn to see.

Blind Drawing Exercises : Blind drawing is an excellent way to start a high school Fine Art programme. Drawing wobbly lines that bear little resemblance to the chosen object is relaxing and stress-free. Often, a classroom bubbles with laughter at the unexpected results. Blind drawing stretches the arms and soul; eases you into observational drawing without fear.

READ NEXT: How to make an artist website (and why you need one)

blind contour line drawing

Gesture Drawing / Timed Drawing / Movement Drawing

Definition : A gesture drawing is completed quickly – often in short timed durations, such as 20, 30, 60 or 90 seconds – using fast, expressive lines. Gesture drawings capture basic forms and proportions – the emotion and essence of a subject – without focusing on detail. Due to their rapid completion, they are a great way to record movement and action, as well as increase your drawing speed, confidence and intuitive mark-making skill. Gesture drawings are best completed with smooth, easily applied mediums (chunky graphite pencils, charcoal sticks, pastels, soft brushes dipped in Indian ink, for example), without the use of an eraser. They are often completed on large, inexpensive sheets of paper, where you can move your arm fluidly, be bold with mark-making, and not worry about mistakes. As with blind drawings, gesture drawing is an ideal warm-up activity.

Gesture Drawing Exercises : When you begin investigating your subject matter in the initial phase of a high school Art programme, it can be helpful to make several first-hand gestural drawings. The best of these can be selected for your final portfolio (taking advantage of a photocopier or digital camera to reduce in size, if necessary). A small still life scene can be depicted just as easily as a large moving form.

A gesture drawing by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn :

Rembrant gesture drawing

A gestural figure drawing by Chelsea Stebar :

gesture figure drawing

Continuous Line Drawing

Definition : A continuous line drawing is produced without ever lifting the drawing instrument from the page. This means that, in addition to outlines and internal shapes, the pencil must move back and forth across the surface of the paper, with lines doubling back on each other, so that the drawing is one free-flowing, unbroken line. To avoid the temptation to erase lines, it can be helpful to complete a continuous line drawing with an ink pen, varying the line weight, as needed, to indicate perspective and areas of light and shadow. Like the drawing methods described above, this drawing method develops confidence and drawing speed, and encourages your eyes and hand and brain to work together. Continuous line drawings work best with in-depth observation of your subject, without interference from your thinking mind. According to Smithsonian Studio Arts :

…continuous line drawing is actually a very powerful way to create a piece that is both hard edged and fluid, representational and abstract, rational and emotional all in one.

Continuous Line Drawing Exercises : This drawing method is great for sketchbooks and drawing from life. It can be an excellent starter activity, with drawings completed on large, inexpensive paper that can be scanned / edited / cropped and used in other ways within your projects.

An A Level Art sketchbook page by  Lucy Feng  from Hereford Sixth Form College, Herefordshire, UK:

continuous line figure drawings

Contour drawing

Definition: A contour drawing shows the outlines, shapes and edges of a scene, but omits fine detail, surface texture, colour and tone (‘contour’ is French for ‘outline’). According to Wikipedia :

The purpose of contour drawing is to emphasize the mass and volume of the subject rather than the detail; the focus is on the outlined shape of the subject and not the minor details.

The illusion of three-dimensional form, space and distance can be conveyed in a contour drawing through the use of varied line-weight (darker lines in the foreground / paler lines in the distance) and perspective.

Contour Drawing Exercises : Using line alone eliminates the challenge of applying tone, colour and mediums; and instead focuses attention solely upon shape and proportion. After completing warm-up activities such as blind and gesture drawings, slower, more formal contour drawings can be an excellent way to begin more realistic representations of your subject matter. Used intermittently throughout projects, contour drawings can also be helpful for the student who needs to work faster .

A contour drawing by  Ultima Thule :

line drawing of figure by Ultima Thule

Cross contour drawing

Definition : A cross contour drawing contains parallel lines that run across the surface of an object (or radiate from a central point), such as those that appear on a topographical map or a digital wireframe. The lines can run at any appropriate angle (sometimes at multiple angles) and may continue across objects and into the background. Cross contour drawings typically follow the rules of perspective, with lines drawn closer together in the distance and further apart in the foreground. In this type of drawing, the illusion of three-dimensional volume is created entirely with line.

Cross Contour Drawing Exercises : This is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the volumes and three-dimensional forms in your project, producing analytical cross contour drawings that are suitable for sketchbooks or early preparatory sheets.

Cross contour drawing of a shell by Matt Louscher :

cross contour drawing of a shell

Cross contour hand drawings by (from left) Mathew Young, Ryan Acks and Lea Dallaglio while studying at the  San Jose State University , Department of Art and Art History:

cross contour hand drawing

Cross contour drawings by Daniel Servin (left) and Alfred Manzano, completed while studying AP Studio Art at Mt Eden High School in Hayward, California, USA:

cross contour drawing activity

A wireframe contour drawing exercise by Year 9 student Seonmin Lee from ACG Parnell College , Auckland, New Zealand:

cane sculpture design drawings

Planar analysis drawing

Definition : A planar analysis drawing simplifies complex curved surfaces into flat planes, using straight lines. This process helps students to think about the underlying structure of objects and results in an analytical drawing, that is rather mechanical in appearance.

Planar Analysis Drawing Activity : This can be a great introductory drawing exercise, especially if you are moving towards Cubism or abstracting scenes into geometric form.

A planar analysis portrait completed by a student of Cat Normoyle :

self-portrait planar drawing

Wire sculpture drawings

Definition : Wire can be cut and bent into shapes with pliers to create three-dimensional ‘drawings’, often resulting in a work filled with flowing, curved lines. These wire sculptures can be attached to a two-dimensional frame or a flat surface, hung in the air, or be left free-standing, changing in appearance as a viewer moves around the room. Due to their flexible nature, wire sculptures often move slightly in the wind, adding an extra interactive element to the work.

Wire Sculpture Line Drawing Exercise : This is an excellent activity for middle school students and for high school students, if it relates specifically to your project (and does not interfere with postage requirements, for those who need to post work away for assessment). Small wire experiments, using light-weight wire, can also be mounted to sketchbook pages.

Wire sculptures completed by the students of Amy Bonner Oliveri from Allendale Columbia School, Rochester, New York, USA:

wire drawing portraiture

Hatching, cross hatching, and other line techniques

As well as representing contours, line can also be used to apply tone (light and shadow) to a drawing. This can be done by altering the:

  • Gap between the lines
  • Lightness / darkness of the line
  • Thickness of the line

There are many line techniques can be used to create tone, as illustrated in the worksheet below. Common techniques include:

  • Small dashes
  • Hatching (long, parallel lines on an angle)
  • Cross-hatching (parallel lines at right angles)
  • Stippling (dots)
  • Small crosses
  • Small circles

The angle that these techniques are applied may remain constant within a drawing, or it may change in response to the angle and direction of the forms. For example, cross-hatching may flow around the surface of an object in a similar direction as cross contour lines. These techniques are also a great way to create the illusion of texture (see our article about observational drawings ).

Line Techniques Worksheet : The worksheet below has been provided by the Student Art Guide for classroom use only and may be issued freely to students (credited to, as well as shared via the social media buttons at the bottom of this page. It may not be published online or shared or distributed in any other way, as per our terms and conditions . The full size printable worksheet is available by clicking the PDF link below. This worksheet is suitable for middle school students, or senior students who have not had prior experience with line techniques.

free line drawing worksheet - printable teacher resources from the Student Art Guide

Click here to open the full size worksheet as a printable PDF .

An Indian Ink still life drawing by Kirana Intraroon, completed while in Year 10 at ACG Strathallan College , Auckland, New Zealand:  

drawing with a bamboo stick

An A* GCSE Art sketchbook page by Samantha Li :

analysis of a vincent van gogh line drawing

A final GCSE Art piece by Hannah Armstrong :  

Baryonyx dinosaur drawing

Artist line drawings

Here is a collection of line drawings from famous and less well known artists, to inspire high school Art students and teachers. This section is continually updated. Enjoy!

Pablo Picasso :

picasso bull drawings

Andy Warhol :

Andy Warhol printed line drawings

David Hockney :

David Hockney line drawings

Vincent van Gogh :

Vincent van Gogh line drawing

Leonardo da Vinci :

Leonardo da Vinci line drawings

Aaron Earley :

Cross contour line drawing by Aaron Earley

Peter Root :

Contemporary line drawing by Peter Root

Maurizio Anzeri

Stitched photography by Maurizio Anzeri

Karolina Cummings :

Figure drawing by Karoline Cummings

Daniel Mathers

Scribble drawing using black pen

Roz McQuillan :

line drawing of cats

Wang Tzu-Ting :

figure line drawing by Wang Tzu-Ting

Nina Smart :

abstract horse drawing

Andy Mercer :

Expressive line drawing by Andy Mercer

Vital Photography :

figure line drawings

Matthew Dunn :

lino cut monkey drawing

Rod McLaren :

abstract scribble drawing

Andreas Fischer :

swirling paintings by Andreas Fischer

Nicholas Weltyk :

contemporary line drawing

Liliana Porter :

experimental line drawing by liliana porter

Hong Chun Zhang :

drawings of hair by Hong Chun Zhang

Bruce Pollock :

line drawing by bruce pollock

David Eskenazi

line drawings by David Eskenazi

Matt Niebuhr :

Pencil drawings by Matt Niebuhr

Albrecht Durer :

walrus drawing by albrecht durer

Victoria Haven :

watercolour line drawing by Victoria Haven

Carne Griffiths :

dripping portrait by carne griffiths

William Anastasi :

scribble drawing by William Anastasi

Charles Avery

line drawing by charles avery

Did you enjoy this article? You may wish to read 11 Tips for Producing an Excellent Observational Drawing .

Amiria Gale

Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.


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Lesson 4: Line in the Visual Arts

Jacques-Louis David - The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries.

Jacques-Louis David - The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries .

Wikimedia Commons

In this lesson students will learn about one of the most important elements in painting and drawing: line . Students will learn how line is defined in the visual arts, and how to recognize this element in painting.

Guiding Questions

What is composition in the visual arts, and how do compositional elements guide the viewer's eye around the canvas?

What is line in the visual arts, and how does it affect works of art?

Learning Objectives

Identify line in the composition of a number of art works, and how this element works to make the painting successful as a whole

Explain how the artist's compositional choices guide the viewer's eye to important components of the image

Identify sight lines in several paintings and explain how they influence direction

Discuss ways in which the compositional structure of a painting effects the tone of the painting, or communicates information or emotional content to the viewer

Lesson Plan Details

  • Review the curriculum unit overview and this lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and EDSITEment-reviewed websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Note: All diagrams, line drawings, and questions for this lesson are available for students to download directly through the Study Activity for each activity. You should read through the Study Activity  in preparation for teaching this lesson.

Activity 1. What Kind of Lines?

The tone of a painting is often greatly affected by the artist's use of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines in the composition of a work. In this activity students will investigate these effects in the composition of three different paintings.

Divide the class into three groups. Each group will work on one of the following paintings. When they have completed their investigation and answered the questions in the Study Activity  the groups should reconvene to share what they have found.

Have students view the following painting from The National Gallery of Art :

  • Jacques-Louis David's The Emperor Napoleon in his Study at the Tuileries

Ask students their overall impression of the composition in this portrait of Napoleon—is it horizontal? Vertical? Students should recognize the vertical format and composition, from the shape of the canvas (width narrower than height) to the placement of the figure (standing). Line reinforces the vertical composition in this image. Ask students to describe how line supports the vertical composition. Students may access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Student Launchpad to aid in discussion. Students should note vertical line in Napoleon's figure, as well as the numerous elements which form vertical lines, such as the clock, the bookshelf and decorative elements of the wall behind the figure, the chair in the foreground, and the leg of the desk.

Ask students to think about why David created a vertical composition through repeated vertical lines.

  • What kind of an impression do vertical lines make on the viewer?
  • Why might David have chosen this format rather than an horizontal format?

Vertical lines within a composition often give viewers the impression of strength and stability. As emperor of France in the early nineteenth century, Napoleon, was one of the most powerful men of his day. David, in painting his portrait, wanted to show Napoleon as a strong leader. By depicting the emperor standing David suggests a sense of strength that would not be conveyed if Napoleon was shown lying down or sitting in a relaxed position.

Have students view the following drawing, which is available from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The Metropolitan Museum of Art :

  • Hans Baldung Grien's Man of Sorrows

Ask students to give their overall impression of the format and composition of this image. Is it vertical? Horizontal? Students should recognize the horizontal format and composition. Ask students to examine how line supports the drawing's horizontal composition.

Students may access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Study Activity  to aid in discussion. Students should note the line of the man's body, from the angle of his legs and arms, to the line made by his torso. They should also note that Baldung Grien has drawn horizontal lines behind the figure to imply the presence of landscape elements.

Students should think about why the artist chose to compose this image in a horizontal format, and why his composition includes the heavy use of horizontal lines. Just as the vertical format and composition in the portrait of Napoleon gives the viewer the impression of the emperor's power, the horizontal composition in this drawing also conveys information about the drawing's subject. Christ's prone position, reinforced by dominant horizontal lines in the composition, communicate the his physical weakness, and even a sense of the suffering suggested in the drawing's title: Man of Sorrows .

Group Three

Have students view the following painting, from The National Gallery of Art :

  • Henry Fuseli's Oedipus Cursing his Son, Polynices

As with the previous paintings, Ask students to give their overall impression of the format and composition of this image. Is it vertical? Horizontal? Although the format of this painting is not as obvious as in the previous images in this activity, students should recognize that it is horizontal. But is that format confirmed in the composition's lines? Students may access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Study Activity  to aid in discussion.

Unlike either the David or the Grien images, Fuseli's painting is composed of diagonal lines. Students' attention will be drawn to the outstretched arms of Oedipus, on the right, and Polynices, on the left. Oedipus' and Polynices' arms form a diagonal line that cuts across the composition in a dynamic manner. A second diagonal line is formed by Antigone's (the woman at the top of the composition) line of sight. Students may also note the diagonal line formed by the titled neck of Ismene, who lays her head on her father's knee in despair. Have students read the background information about the story depicted in the painting .

Ask students what kind of an impression these lines make as they view Fuseli's image? Note that while vertical and horizontal lines suggest a static image, diagonal lines transmit a sense of motion and dynamism. Ask students to think about and explain the ways in which the diagonal lines of Fuseli's composition convey motion and action.

Activity 2. In the Line of Sight

Compositional lines do not always take the form of lines actually drawn on the canvas, or created by a form within the composition; lines are sometimes implied by elements in the painting. Artists commonly imply compositional line through the figures' line of sight to direct the viewer's attention. In this activity students will investigate the use of sight lines to direct the viewer's eye.

Having students view the following magazine cover-illustration, from The Smithsonian American Art Museum:

  • William Clarke Rice's October

Ask students to identify compositional lines in Rice's illustration. Students may access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Study Activity  to aid in discussing line within the composition of this painting.

Students might note lines that are formed by the left arm of the woman and the left arm of the man which meet at the point of the basket of grapes that he is holding. They might also note the curve of the woman's neck and back, which leads into her right leg, which also leads the eye to the basket at the center. In addition, they might also mention the curving line that is formed by the tree branches ringing the man's head.

Another compositional line is formed in Rice's illustration: the line of the two figures' sight. When our eyes reach the eyes of one of the figures in the painting we follow the implied line created by that figure's gaze. In this case, the line of sight for both figures leads our own eyes to the opposite figure.

Next, ask students to view the following painting, from the The Smithsonian American Art Museum :

  • Frederick J. Waugh's The Knight of the Holy Grail

Divide the class into groups of three or four. Have each group work together to identify compositional lines in Waugh's painting. Have students access the line drawing of this image through the Study Activity  to aid in discussing line within the composition of this painting. Students may note elements such as the curve of the boat's lip, the curve of the angels' wings around their heads, the line of the mountains in the background and the cleavage where they meet which draws the eye down towards the boat. Finally, students should be sure to discuss the lines of sight in this image. The angels all look down, lowering their eyes before the Holy Grail. Following their line of sight one's attention is drawn to the boat, and then to the young knight. Following the knight's eyes one's attention is quickly led back to the grail, which glows in the angel's hand.

Activity 3. Lining Up

While most of the aspects of composition that have been discussed in this curriculum unit, Composition in Painting: Everything in its right place , have been design principles, line is considered a formal element . Formal elements include not only line, but also components such as color, shape, and value or key (lightness or darkness). Design principles generally relate to the way in which the formal elements within a composition are organized. For example, repetition is one way of organizing the arrangement of color or shape.

Two main types of lines in the visual arts to be discussed include:

  • Contour lines : lines which provide the edges to shapes within a painting or drawing.
  • Compositional lines : actual or implied lines within the composition of a painting or drawing which guide the viewer's eye, or which the action within the picture designates.

This lesson will focus on compositional lines .

Have students view the following painting which is available from the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource The National Gallery of Art :

  • Grant Woods' Haying

If you are teaching this lesson as part of the curriculum unit Composition in Painting: Everything in its right place , then you may wish to begin by asking students to identify some of the compositional elements that they have learned about in the previous lessons, such as compositional shape, symmetry, balance , and repetition . Ask them to note which of these elements they find in the Woods painting, and to explain their answers. Students may access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Student Launchpad to aid in discussing the painting's composition.

Remind students of the definition of compositional line, and ask them to think about what kinds of lines—actual or implied—are present in the Woods painting that move the viewer's eye around the picture. Students should note the lines formed by the piles of hay. Starting with the jug at the bottom left of the composition, the eye follows the line of hay piles to the road at the right of the painting. Next, the eye follows the line formed by the road itself as it moves up the side of the hill to the farm house. The piles of hay that come back down the hill to the left of the barn lead the eye back down to the jug in the foreground. Students can follow this path in the line drawing of the painting's composition available from the Study Activity .

Have students view the following painting, which is available from the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource The Smithsonian American Art Museum :

  • Saul Berman's River Front

Ask students to examine the use of compositional line to move the viewer's attention around the canvas. Students should search for both vertical and horizontal compositional lines within the painting.

  • Where do these lines cross?
  • How do these lines move the eye from one corner of the image to another?

Students should concentrate on the lines that are formed by the streets, the paths in the snow being shoveled by the men, the edges of the buildings, the river, and the distant skyline. Have students access the line drawing and diagrams of this image through the Student Launchpad to aid in discussing this artwork with the class.

Next, ask students to compare the use of line in the Berman painting and in the Woods painting.

  • How is the use of line in the two paintings similar?
  • How is the use of line in the two paintings different?

Students may note that in both paintings the artists use formations in the landscape both to move the viewer's eye around the composition and to keep the viewer's attention contained within the space framed by those lines. In both paintings compositional lines draw the viewer's attention back into the foreground from the horizon.

Divide the class into four groups and distribute the following images, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art , The National Gallery of Art , and The Smithsonian American Art Museum , giving one image to each group:

  • Grant Wood's New Road
  • Hans Memling's The Annunciation
  • Lamar Dodd's Along the River
  • Pierre Bonnard's Before Dinner

Each group should examine the image they have been given, working together to find and elaborate upon the use of line in their image. Next, each group should be given a second image from the following list:

  • John Hultberg's New City
  • Caravaggio's The Musicians
  • J. Theodore Johnson's Chicago Interior
  • Frank Edwin Scott's Scene Italienne pres de la Fontaine

Students should then work together again to find and define the use of line in the second image. Then each group may compare and contrast the use of line in the two images, present their findings on compositional line to the rest of the class.

In the third activity of this lesson students learned about the way in which different kinds of line can set the tone or convey information about a painting's subject. You may wish to extend the lesson by having students return to David's portrait of Napoleon painting by David from The National Gallery of Art :

Next, have students view another portrait of Napoleon also painted by David:

  • What impression does each painting leave upon the viewer about the subject of the image? Is it the same impression? Explain your answer.
  • What information does the composition of each painting convey to the audience?
  • How does David's use of line affect the overall effect of the image in each painting?

Related on EDSITEment

Lesson 1: composition basics, lesson 2: symmetry and balance, lesson 3: repetition in the visual arts.


Lines of All Kinds

Categories *Grades 3-5 , *K-2 , *Preschool , Drawing , Painting

Home » Art Lessons » Drawing » Lines of All Kinds

Lines of All Kinds

Students will learn about lines as they create a colorful picture using a variety of lines.

By: Amy Brown and KinderArt

Learning Objectives:

  • To introduce students to the names of different kinds of lines.
  • To introduce students to the vocabulary words: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal.
  • To give students the opportunity to paint with many colors within the boundaries of the lines they create.

What You Need:

  • Paper 12″ x 18″
  • Oil Pastels
  • Tempera Paint (cakes or lique
  • Line Variety Handout

Different Kinds of Lines

What You Do:

Talk about the different kinds of lines – straight, angled, curly, etc. (see diagram)

Introduce the words horizontal (when a line runs side to side, like the horizon), vertical (when a line runs up and down) and diagonal (when a line runs on an angle).

Have the students draw different types of lines on their papers using oil pastels. Do this by saying out loud the type of line and the direction to draw the line.

When each line is complete, ask the children to switch to a new color to get ready for the next line.

Once the lines have been drawn, children fill in the spaces between the lines using brightly colored tempera paints.

Lines Variety Art Lesson Plan for Kindergarten.

About the Art Teacher

Amy Brown teaches art to students from K-5. She received a Masters of Art in Teaching in 2008 and her favorite activities outside of school are gardening, photography, reading, painting, spending time with her family. Find out more at Mrs. Brown’s Art Class.

Lesson reprinted with permission.

Thursday 11th of August 2022

Teaching little learners lines fits well Call of the Horizon Day on July 9th - especially with understanding horizontal lines. This activity is so colorful and fun. It makes me want to break out the oil pastels and tempera paints so I can jump right in and create. Thank you for sharing your colorful and imaginative JOY!

I'm so glad you like it! Thank you for the kind words :)

Monday 8th of March 2021

Thank you so much. As a 2nd/3rd grade teacher who only taught the core subjects, and has to teach ART virtually because of the pandemic, this was most helpful.

Rachel Malay

Wednesday 26th of August 2020

thank you so much for sharing your knowledge or expertise about the elements of arts. your website is very helpful good day ahead.

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art lessons about line

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Art is Basic | An Elementary Art Blog

Learning about Lines

Art Projects about Lines

During the next class period, the students used tempera cakes to paint a variety of lines:  wavy, loopy, dotted, dashed, squiggly, spiral, jagged and more.  Aren’t these lovely and expressive?

Line Painting

After the painting project, we moved into three-dimensional art.  Using wire, pipe cleaners, beads, button and tape the students created line sculptures on a styrofoam base.

Line Sculpture

And now I have some more fun line projects I dug up on the web for you.  Check out the blogs that are linked below.

Hot Air Balloons from Paint Paper

art lessons about line

Take a Line for a Walk by the David Lubin Art Studio

art lessons about line

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About Marcia Beckett

6 responses to learning about lines.

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Where did you get that colorful, thin tape for this amazing project?

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I’ve bought colored tape through Nasco and Dick Blick.

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art lessons about line

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April 29, 2015 8 Comments

Artworks that Show Line

Inside:  This is ultimate list of example artworks that show the different types of line in art for your elements and principles of art lessons. The list of types of line in art includes implied lines, diagonal lines, gesture lines, outlines, contour lines, expressive lines, and more!

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself needing to teach a lesson on one of the elements and principles of art, but it takes a bit of digging to find good examples of art that teach that particular element. To help those in that situation, I have created an elements and principles series that includes lists of example artworks you can use in your elements and principles of art lessons.

art lessons about line

To start, I am going to focus on example artworks that use the different types of  line in art.

I will add to this list of the types of line in art when I find more, so this is a good one to pin or bookmark! The horizontal picture collages do not have all the pictures from the categories, FYI.

Download the Free Elements and Principles Printable Pack

art lessons about line

This pack of printables was designed to work in a variety of ways in your classroom when teaching the elements and principles of art. You can print and hang in your classroom as posters/anchor charts or you can cut each element and principle of art in its own individual card to use as a lesson manipulative.

art lessons about line

Examples of Types of Line in Art

The Art Curator for Kids - Example Artworks the Show Types of Line in Art - General

Artworks that Show Line, General

  • Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking , 1967
  • Richard Long, Cornish Slate Line , 1990
  • Frank Stella, Jarama II , 1982
  • Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke , 1965
  • Charles Sheeler, Classic Landscape , 1931
  • Joan Miró, The Farm , 1921–1922
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Two Studies Of A Bird Of Paradise , 1630
  • John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo , 1882

Horizontal and Vertical Lines in Art

  • Stonehenge , ca. 2600-2000 B.C.E.
  • Ancient Greece, The Parthenon , 447-438 B.C.E.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater , 1936-7
  • Piet Mondrian, Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow , 1937-42
  • Byzantine, Justinian and his Attendants , Basilica di San Vitale, 547 C.E

Diagonal Lines in Artworks

  • Edgar Degas, Blue Dancers , c. 1899
  • Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de L’Europe , 1881-1882
  • Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes , 1614–20
  • Franz Marc, Fate of the Animals , 1913
  • Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Peter , 1600-1601
  • Francisco Goya, The Forge , c. 1817
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, known as the ‘Night Watch’ , 1642

Contour Lines and/or Outlines

  • Leonardo da Vinci, Self-Portrait , c. 1512
  • Paul Signac, Still Life with Pitcher , 1919
  • Carl Krull, Olmec Drawings and Scroll Drawings
  • Yoruba artist, Shrine Head , 12th-14th century
  • Andy Warhol, Red Lenin , 1987
  • Amedeo Modigliani ,  Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz , 1916

Gesture Lines, Lines that Show Movement

  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing , 1767
  • Utagawa Hiroshige, The Whirlpools of Awa: Naruto Rapids , ca. 1853
  • Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (Leash in Motion) , 1912
  • Natalia Goncharova, The Cyclist , 1913
  • Henri Matisse, Dance (I) , 1909
  • Marino Marini, Miracle ( Miracolo ) , 1952
  • Jacob Lawrence, Harriet Tubman Series, No. 4 , 1939-40
  • Keith Haring, Untitled , 1985

Lines that Help Guide The Viewer’s Eye through the Picture and/or Implied Lines

  • Marc Chagall, I and the Village , 1911
  • Georges de La Tour, The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs , late 1620s
  • Frederic Remington, Dash for the Timber , 1889
  • Suzanne Caporael, Seeing Things: Rain , 1990
  • Fernando Botero, The Musicians , 1991
  • Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable , 1939

Lines that Show Feeling/Emotion, Expressive Lines

  • Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night , 1889
  • Mark Di Suvero, Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore) , 1967
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled , 1984
  • Egon Schiele, Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh , 1918
  • Odilon Redon, Death: “My irony surpasses all others!” , 1889
  • Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist No. 1 , 1950

Repetition of Line, Pattern Using Line, Decorative Line

  • Henri Matisse, Purple Robe and Anemones , 1937
  • Berenice Abbott, El, Second and Third Avenue Lines from the portfolio Retrospective , 1982
  • Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt , 1893
  • Albrecht Dürer, The Rhinoceros , 1515
  • Benin, Memorial head , 1550-1650
  • Richard Anuszkiewicz, Deep Magenta Square , 1978

Lines in Architecture

  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum , NYC
  • Frank O. Gehry, Guggenheim Museum , Bilbao, Spain
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater , 1936-1937

Lines in Sculpture

  • Kenneth Snelson, Needle Tower , 1968
  • Songye, Mask (kifwebe) , 19th century AD

Lines that Show Texture and/or Shading

  • Vincent van Gogh, Garden of Flowers , 1888
  • Rembrandt Van Rijn, The Three Crosses , 1653
  • Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait , 1921

Lines that Show Space and/or Linear Perspective

  • Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers , 1875
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper , 1498
  • Pietro Perugino, Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter , 1481–1482
  • Dorothea Lange, The Road West , 1938

Lines the Show Emphasis

  • Francisco Goya, Third of May , 1808
  • Jonathan Borofsky, Walking to the Sky , 2004
  • Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper , 1494-99
  • See more artworks that show emphasis .

art lessons about line

Elements and Principles Teaching Bundle

This extraordinary bundle includes the best resources for teaching each of the elements and principles—37 worksheets/handouts, 15 lessons (with accompanying PowerPoints and Handouts), 3 ready-to-go art analysis activities, 3 art analysis videos, and 13 elements and principle PDF articles.

There you have it! The best types of line in art examples for your elements and principles of art lessons. Want more elements and principles of art teacher resources? Check out the below posts.

art lessons about line

Photo Credits:

  • Stonehenge, Diego Delso
  • Parthenon, Steve Swayne
  • Laocoön and His Sons , LivioAndronico
  • Needle Tower , Onderwijsgek

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art lessons about line

Reader Interactions

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April 30, 2015 at 9:43 am

Thanks! I can’t wait to see more. I’ve just spent hours looking for good images for a pre/post test on the elements and principles! This will be a great resource!

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May 4, 2015 at 9:27 am

Awesome! I mean not awesome that it took you hours, but I so feel your pain. I hope the series saves you and other teachers a lot of time!

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April 30, 2015 at 11:48 am

Oh, this is an excellent source! I teach art to middle and high school level. When I teach elements, I’m always looking for art work that clearly shows the students the element we are exploring. Not only do you give many, you even divide it into types of lines. Love, love, love this! Thank you and I look forward to seeing the other elements you cover.

May 4, 2015 at 9:26 am

Yay! Thank you! I figured I wasn’t the only one out there with this problem! 🙂 I am working on another one for this week. It took forever to pull together, so I am shooting for one a week until I get through them all. 🙂

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May 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Wow!!! Cindy, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You have done my work for me for September. This was on my priority list for the summer. We discuss the elements and principles in relation to every art lesson, which portrays a specific artist. Cindy, I am ever so grateful to have come upon your website. You have a plethora of art information in that sweet young head of yours and your kindness in sharing is awesome. Thank you so very much for all of your research efforts that you share with us. Ms. Liz

May 9, 2015 at 10:50 am

Thank you so much for your kind comment. 🙂 I’m glad my hunch was right that other teachers had this same struggle! I’m glad I saved you some work. I’ve got drafts of all the other elements and principles already started so stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. 🙂

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August 13, 2015 at 2:21 pm

LOVE your site! I can’t figure out the artist and title of the sculpture of figure falling off horse…please tell me….THANK YOU!

August 14, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Thanks! The artist is Marino Marini. Pretty much all of his art is people falling off horses, lol. Marino Marini, Miracle (Miracolo), 1952

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art lessons about line

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art lessons about line

Easy Color & Line Art Lesson

art lessons about line

I needed a quick art lesson for my last day of art with my first graders. Something fun, engaging and applicable to our unit on color & line. My Kinders did a similar line lesson at the beginning of the year with liquid tempera paint and oil pastel and it worked really well. To reduce the amount of prep, I used puck tempera paints instead of liquid tempera.


We started by jumping right into taking our line for a walk. No explanation of lines was necessary as this was the last day of art and lines had been covered extensively over the course of the year. But if you do this any other time, looking at a line chart or drawing different types of lines on the white board is not only fun but provides the basis for this lesson.

Taking a line for a walk….


On a sheet of white paper, draw a “frame” or border around the perimeter of the paper.  This is so the kids won’t paint off the edge of the paper thus reducing the need for placemats. Hey, what can I say.  It was a busy day.

Starting at one section of the border, draw a line…any old line…and see where it goes. The kids had fun with this and much to my surprise, were quite disciplined with how many lines they made.

After the lines were drawn, the kids painted the resulting shapes with any combination of colors they wanted.

I loved the variety of colors they chose. Each one different and unique to the artist. A great way to end the year.

Check out these finished projects using the element of color & line.


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Love your lessons. Always beautiful and age appropriate.

art lessons about line

This sounds perfect for my last K/1 art project of this year. I love tempera cakes! Thanks for posting!

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What brand of tempera cakes do u use? The ones I purchased are dull and flakey when they dry.

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I don’t remember the brand but they are probably Crayola or Prang. Mine are chalky too. That’s the drawback of dry tempera cakes.

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Alphacolor “Biggie” cakes (square) are less chalky than the round ones I have used. If you teach the students how to gently ‘stir’ the paint to get a good consistency, they are fantastic.

The pink and purple can stain, though. And the green is kind of an ugly Pthalo until you add a little yellow. Otherwise, I really like that brand a lot.

Thanks Ingrid. I’m going to try these. I love how the cake tempera glides over the paper and for kids, it’s a really satisfying medium. But the finish is terrible! Glad to know there is another product out there.

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Is there any kind of spray or top layer that can make the tempura cakes shiny and not chalky?

You could use any type of craft spray or even paint mod-podge but be careful when deciding if that extra step is worth the effort. I leave it as is and allow parents to decide if they want to “finish” the piece.

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Richesons Tempera Cakes are nice

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Love your photo of kids’ work. What a great burst of color to end the year!!

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Patty, Do you cover all of the elements with each grade level? Jodi Beavers

Yes, I try to.

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Have you seen the new connector watercolour paints from Faber-Castell. So you can choose your warm and cool colours, replace old pods. They are really amazing!

Thanks, Tracey

No, I haven’t seen these. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for the tip!

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Loved your ideas about lines and colours. Will try with my 3 yr old daughter who can just sit and paint whole day through

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I love this project! I was also reading a previous post of yours on open ended art lessons. Although I’m not a fan of open ended lessons, (or TAB) I think this qualifies as a lesson I couLd use and be passionate about. I am going to throw in a few TAB style lessons starting in the fall!

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Love this one too! Brilliant!!!

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I am the art teacher at the Bay Head Elementary School In New Jersey. When the Sandy storm hit the art room was six feet under water. Thanks to many people that donated art supplies I was able to get the art program up and running. Thank you for your wonderful web site. I used a lot of your lesson plans and they were an inspiration to many students when recourses were slim. Donna Ray

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I used Tempera paint is that the same as the cakes? My paint covered up the lines maybe I’m doing it out of order. I used a black crayon and made all of my lines and then I painted but it seems like the paint just covered my lines. Help I’m doing this project tomorrow for my first graders and I thought it would be pretty straight forward. christina

If you use liquid tempera paint, the paint may be so thick that it covers the lines. Tempera cakes, like the ones shown in the post, don’t have as much coverage. Either way is no problem though. If the paint is thick and covers the lines, wait until the paint dries and then trace over all lines (or where the paint meets) with either a black oil pastel, crayon or black paint.

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Thank you so much for sharing all the wonderful artwork your students created. I am sharing what my students created. You have inspired me today! Thank you.

Forgot to include link with pictures. Here it is:

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It’s so cool!

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i like color lines.

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I love this!

art lessons about line

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Elements of Art: Line, Art Lessons, Projects and Activities

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10 Lessons on the Element of Art: Line for your students! Students will learn and apply the elements of art through a variety of instructional and informational lessons and worksheets! Learn a variety of techniques and apply the element to art projects or sketchbook work.


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Art History Timelines

  • Art Timelines - Introduction
  • Western Art Timeline Part 1
  • Western Art Timeline Part 2
  • Modern Art Timeline Part 1
  • Modern Art Timeline Part 2

Art History Slide Shows

  • Art History Slide Shows - Introduction
  • Early Renaissance Art
  • High Renaissance and Mannerism
  • Baroque and Rococo Art
  • Northern Renaissance Art
  • Neoclassicism and Romanticism
  • Realism and the Preraphaelites
  • Impressionism and Post Impressionism
  • Fauvism and Expressionism
  • Cubism and Futurism
  • Suprematism, Constructivism, and De Stijl
  • Abstract Art
  • Dada and Surrealism
  • Abstract Expressionism

Paintings by Great Artists

  • Paintings by Great Artists - Introduction
  • Paintings by Giotto
  • Paintings by Rembrandt
  • Paintings by Claude Monet
  • Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh
  • Paintings by Frida Kahlo
  • Paintings by Francis Bacon
  • Paintings by Chuck Close

Still Life Artists

  • Still Life Artists - Introduction
  • Harmen Steenwyck
  • Willem Kalf
  • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
  • Henri Matisse
  • Giorgio Morandi

Animals in Art

  • Animals in Art - Introduction
  • Animals in Art - Albrecht Durer
  • Animals in Art - George Stubbs
  • Animals in Art - Franz Marc
  • Animals in Art - Pablo Picasso


  • Design Lessons - Introduction

Repeat Patterns

  • Repeat Patterns - Introduction
  • Repeat Patterns Lesson 1
  • Repeat Patterns Lesson 2

Color theory for Art and Design

  • Color Theory - Introduction
  • Color Theory - Color as Light
  • Color Theory - Color as Symbol
  • Color Theory - Color as Emotion
  • Color Theory Terms -1
  • Color Theory Terms -2
  • Color Theory Quiz
  • Color Symbolism Quiz

Graphic Design

  • A Graphic Design Workout
  • The Art of Typography
  • Designing a Logotype
  • A Short History of Logos
  • Evaluating a Graphic Design

Famous Graphic Designers

  • Graphic Designers - Introduction
  • William Morris
  • A. M. Cassandre
  • Abram Games
  • Niklaus Troxler

Isometric Drawing

  • Drawing Isometric Forms
  • Isometric Poster Design
  • An Isometric Alphabet

Look between the lines

  • Education Resources
  • Art + Merch

art lessons about line

Elements of Art Elementary Art Lessons

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, texture

Elementary art has to be the most fun to teach, kids just love art. While I haven’t taught elementary art beyond volunteering and student teaching, my mom is the elementary art expert with over 35 years under her belt. Today I want to share a handful of her elementary art lessons that focus on the elements of art.

When developing an elementary art curriculum, it’s important to look at the structure of the course from a macro view. Projects need to scaffold on each other, with students learning a skill, mastering it, and building on it. My mom likes to organize her curriculum around the elements of art and principles of design.

In addition to using the elements of art and principles of design as a base, she also groups materials and topics together in every grade level. For example, when she focused on depth and perspective in art she would teach those concepts across grade levels, focusing on different techniques and skill levels. When she taught clay she would focus on clay through all K-5 classes. This helped simplify materials, not having too much out at once and on skill sets. If her first graders were struggling with a concept on perspective in art, she can look to how the kindergarten lesson can help build towards those concepts and make the next lesson more successful in first grade.

My mom and I have collaborated on elementary art lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers for the last few years. I have pulled together what we currently have available (and plan to add to the list as our elementary art lessons grow) and organized them under the elements of art to show how you can highlight the elements of art through your elementary art lessons.

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, line

The element of art, line, is an important basic concept for students to understand. I define a line as simply two points that are connected. I demonstrate how you can press your pencil down to create a dot, but if you move your pencil while pressing the dot is transforms into a line. Lines are used to create shapes and patterns, two more important building blocks of art.

The two project packs I love for line include a zendoodle activity pack and a printmaking pack. If you are looking for a one-day activity that can be used in all grade levels, zendoodles are a great option. Students can loosen up and have fun exploring how repeating lines can create tangled patterns. A bonus is this activity is low supply. Students can stick with pencils, markers, and colored pencils. You can do a demonstration, then let students free-doodle, or you can use activity packs to keep it more structured. Check out my Zendoodle activity pack on TPT here and on my website here .

Once students have an understanding of line bringing in a scratch foam printmaking project is a great way to test their understanding. Although the subject matter may differ across grade levels, students are all focused on developing their skills using line and scratch foam. Check out my K-5 scratch foam printmaking pack on my TPT here.

If you want to introduce line as a quick activity before a project, check out my line activity and poster set here .

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, shape

Once students understand how line is used in art, it’s an easy transition to shape. When lines create an enclosed space they create a shape. Shapes are naturally part of any elementary art lesson, but there are a few that really highlight the importance of shape. I also have a shape activity students can work on before a project, as an early finisher, or an art sub plan.

Symmetry is a great way to introduce the importance of shapes. By repeating shapes and lines you can create patterns. By repeating them in specific ways you can create symmetry and asymmetry in art. In kindergarten, art students look at natural symmetry in butterflies. First-grade art students look at the symmetrical qualities of buildings and the asymmetry of a skyline. Second-grade artists look at creating abstract art through symmetry and collage. In third grade, students create a face/vase optical illusion and return to line for decoration. Fourth-grade art students create symmetry using their initials. Fifth graders can repurpose CDs or work on round cut-outs to create radial symmetry.

Although all of these projects use different materials, the materials are low supply, and all students are focusing on shape and symmetry. Check out my K-5 elementary art lesson pack on shape and symmetry here .

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, color

Color is another element of art that is incorporated in most of my elementary art lessons. However, it is the primary focus early in the year to get students thinking critically about the colors they are using. When introducing color we discuss hue, value, and intensity. We look at the color wheel, color mixing, and discuss basic color schemes.

I love referring to this activity and poster pack on color . It covers the basics to help students understand the color wheel. Once students have the base knowledge of color one of my favorite lessons is my mom’s fall leaf painting project. Students get to explore watercolors and look at warm and cool colors. The finished products are frame-worthy and students love it. Check out the full lesson pack on my TPT here .

For upper elementary students, I like to focus more in depth on color schemes. One of my go-to projects for focusing on color with these students is a stained glass painting. Students learn about the Sagrada Familia and create their own design on roofing felt (you can also use thick black paper). With a color scheme in mind, they paint their designs leaving their pencil lines showing to create a stained glass look. You can read more about this project on my blog or grab the project pack on my TPT here or on my website here .

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, value

After the base understanding of color is built it’s time to focus on value, or the lightness and darkness of color. Value is an important building block to creating a sense of space in a work of art.

Another wow elementary art lesson is this op art squiggles activity. It’s one to two days, low supply, and creates amazing results. Students in a wide age range can do it, and it’s fun to loosen up and create an abstract design. Students fill a sheet of paper with vertical squiggles and then connect the lines using curved lines. The lines should curve in opposite directions every other squiggle. They then create the op art wow by coloring darker near the vertical squiggle lines and lighter in the center of the lines. You can check out this lesson pack on my TPT here.

Stay tuned for more value projects, my mom just sent me the most amazing looking still life painting project for upper elementary students.

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, space

Space is anything above, below, between, and in elements of a work of art. Simple to teach, right? Even with my high school art students creating depth and perspective in art was one of the trickiest elements of art to understand. This is the best example of how important scaffolding art techniques are. Check out my quick activity sheet on space to help introduce the concept.

With my mom’s depth and perspective in elementary art lesson pack, students focus on lower supply projects, using materials they are familiar with while creating artwork using more complicated techniques. Kinders focused on how color can create depth in art. First-grade art students looked at how placement can impact depth. In second grade students look at how placement and color can create depth in art. In third grade, artists create atmospheric perspective using value and placement. Fourth-grade art students focus on perspective to create a person going back in space. Fifth-grade artists learn about vanishing points to create 3D letters.

In every class students are learning, practicing, and mastering an art technique before building on it the next year. With space, you must think about how you can scaffold your projects. Get the depth and perspective in art K-5 lesson pack here .

Elementary art lessons on the elements of art, form

Form can be created in 3D or 2D art. It can be an actual three-dimensional sculpture, occupying space; or it can be on a flat surface creating the illusion of form. With younger artists introducing form as a 3D sculpture is the best first step. Enter many elementary artist’s favorite projects: CLAY!

Although clay is messy and intimidating, it’s so important to give students the experience of building forms. Once you learn how to best set up your classroom and manage students while working with clay, it will become much less scary. Don’t let the lack of a kiln keep you from teaching clay! I offer no kiln versions of both my clay packs. There are many options that produce beautiful results kiln or no kiln.

Teaching clay needs to start with hand-building basics. I have two elementary art lesson packs that focus on clay, starting with the handbuilding pack and building to a clay animals pack. Although hand-building techniques are used in both, they are the main focus in my hand-building pack. Clay techniques are scaffolded by starting with creating spheres and chunky coils, transforming them into flat, slab designs. Next, students work on coil rolling, creating patterns, and molding it into a 3D form. More coil practice comes into play creating coil frames. Once students have mastered coil rolling they begin pinch pots to create forms and decorate them with coils. Pinch pots are continued in fourth grade introducing more sculpting techniques with a face pot. Finally, students are introduced to combining pinch pots to create hollow forms and decorating them with coils, slabs, and sculpting techniques.

You can check out my K-5 hand-building pack with kilns ( on TPT or on my website ) and without kilns ( on TPT or on my website ). Once students work through these projects check out my animal sculpture pack with kilns ( on TPT or on my website ) and without kilns ( on TPT or on my website ).

art lessons about line

Similar to form, texture can be the way something actually feels or how it looks like it will feel. Texture is easier to explain through sculpture, but it also naturally occurs through paint and printmaking.

Texture is often discussed as students work with clay. However, one of my favorite ways to focus on texture is the surprising quality of texture in different printmaking techniques. My K-5 printmaking pack focuses on a different printmaking technique in every grade level and each project either has actual texture or implied texture created through the process. All of these projects have been used and tested in my mom’s classroom. Plus, you get my mom’s insights on successfully setting up and managing students while printmaking in the teacher notes. Check out this pack on my TPT here .

Another way to incorporate texture outside of sculpture projects is through watercolor. If you have students incorporate salt into a watercolor painting it creates the perfect time to discuss texture. Students will feel the grains of salt as they drop them on the watercolor. They have to wipe away the salt once the painting dries, once again feeling the rough texture of the grains. What’s left behind is a beautiful, organic pattern that creates a sense of texture. The smooth watercolor is transformed into a rough surface and interesting pattern.

My mom’s snow scene art project is a beautiful example of using salt in a work of art. Check it out on my TPT here .

If you made it here I am impressed with your dedication to reading my small book on elements of art-inspired elementary art lessons. I hope you have ideas for your next art class and feel more confident in how to scaffold lessons. Please reach out with any questions or comments!

Thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget to follow me on  Instagram  and  TikTok  for weekly visual journal demos and other project ideas.  Subscribe here  to get freebies, project tutorials, and more straight to your inbox. Until next time!

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10 Line and Wash Sketching Tips

Tips for Drawing with Pen and Ink banner

Line and wash is a wonderful medium for portraying scenes in a loose sketching way.

It is also great for drawing highly technical scenes as well as architectural projects. In this article, however, we will only be concentrating on the artist’s side and not on the architect.

Pen and ink sketches can infuse an enormous variety and subtlety into any line and wash drawing. It can vary from a simple cartoon-like sketch right up a highly complex drawing.

It is a wonderful method of capturing a scene complete with all the relevant colours. Many artists use this method to make a preliminary planning prior to a fully completed painting. Rembrandt did many rough sketches for the planning stage of his famous paintings. Leonardo da Vinci was also famous for his multitude of sketches.

Pen and ink is an excellent means for the beginner artist to get to grips with drawing and painting. It does not require complete accuracy to start off with. Accuracy come with lots of practice.

Tip #1 - Start with Simple Subjects

I advise beginners to start with simple subjects first. Imagine these as bricks in a building. Once each brick is completed, they can then be bonded together to form a completed painting. Take for example the sketch below:

Line and Wash Tree

You’re strolling somewhere and you see a tree you like. You haul out your small sketch pad and pencil and sketch the trunk and the branches, and lightly rough in the profile and the leaf masses to indicate the highlight areas. You use your 0.3mm black waterproof pen and sketch in all the outlines and squiggles for the leaves and the bushes. Maybe some minor lines and hatching to bring out some texture in the trunk and branches. Smaller branches and twigs are directly sketched in with the pen.

If you had taken a small satchel with paints, a small screw-top bottle with water and a brush with you, then you could immediately add the washes to complete the sketch.

Each of these small sketches (bricks / building blocks) can be mix and matched later to make up larger paintings.

If you don’t happen to have your paints with you, no matter, add the wash later at home.

Tip #2 - Simplify

Line and wash painting of a tree trunk with a tyre swing

When sketching outdoors you can often get overwhelmed by the amount of detail. One way to overcome this problem is to "zoom in" on a portion of a subject.

A typical example would be the trunk and branch depicted in the sketch above. The trunk texture and coloring can be used as an example for other trees in a later painting.

Notice the simplified background in the sketch as well. The tree trunk is the focus point. Add less detail and lighter washes to the distant objects to create the illusion of distance.

Line and wash painting of sparrows with the background simplified

This sketch of the sparrows at the feeder was completed in ¾ of an hour.

The background was simplified into a unified colour to contrast against the light colour of the birds and the feeder. Adding in the background trees, etc, would only deter from the focus point of the sketch.

Tip #3 - Know Your Equipment

It sounds like such an obvious thing to say, but not using the correct tool for the job can make the difference between a good and an average artwork.

For example, in pen and ink, line weight (the thickness of each line) plays an important role in focusing attention on items in your drawing. The thicker the line, the more attention it will attract.

Another example would be to inadvertently use a pen with water soluble ink which would dissolve, run or bleed when you apply your watercolor wash, ruining the painting in the process.

Getting to know your equipment is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but I do have a very comprehensive lesson covering the equipment used for Pen and Ink drawing which you can follow.

Tip #4 - Experiment with Wash Mediums

Although I have used watercolour for the illustrations in this article, it is by no means the only medium that can be used.

In the past I have successfully used waterproof inks as well as thinned down acrylic paints.

Acrylic inks are also an option.

All washes are typically applied as translucent layers. There is however no right or wrong way in applying the washes.

Tip #5 - Correct Mistakes Sparingly

Line and wash painting of piano keys with flowers on them

Line and Wash is a very loose and forgiving style so don't be shy to leave mistakes in place as they often add to the spontaneity of the painting.

Ink mistakes are best left alone as they usually just blend into the scenery after the color has been added. Other times a little bit of creative thinking can save the day. An example of this could be an accidental dot of ink in the sky becoming a bird.

When adding the washes you would also generally leave them as is. You certainly don't need to stay inside the lines,

Sometimes though you do make a glaring mistake so when you do try to correct it instantly before the paint gets a chance to dry. I usually use a tissue or piece of paper towel to lift out the mistake.

Tip #6 - Don't Fiddle

Line and wash monochrome painting of a dolphin

Building on from the previous tip, this one will also help to keep your painting spontaneous.

Start with the light colours and build up to the darker colours. Try not to go over a wash too often. Once it starts to dry, any further work in it will result in streaking.

Fiddling has never done a painting any good. Know when to stop. Trying to “finish” or fine tune a painting could easily lead to its ruin.

Often only a single one colour wash is all that is needed to add sparkle to your pen and ink sketch and you can see in the photo above.

Tip #7 - Use Line & Wash to Plan Larger Paintings

Line and wash painting of a couple walking down a forest path

Line and wash paintings make fabulous thumbnail sketches for larger paintings. They allow you to quickly test various compositions and layouts before committing to the final artwork

The sketch above looks complicated, but it is not really. The main ink lines are the trunks, a few lines indicate the road then a few rough squiggles for the leaf masses. Only a limited amount of colours are needed to complete this sketch. Even then, you can see how roughly they are washed in.

This is one example of planning for a larger painting which will have much more detailing and colours. In the final painting I will have the road coming in slightly from the side and make it curve back to the focus point 2/3 to the right as the sketch is currently too symmetrical. The straight path also leads your eye through the painting too quickly so the curve will allow the eye to meander through the scene.

Line and wash painting of a couple walking down a forest path with modifications made

These are the basic changes I would make. You can see how I have quickly corrected the composition with additions of paint and few scribbles here and there to remind me when I go ahead with the final artwork.

Tip #8 - Go Large

Many artists think that line and wash is only good for little sketches, but they are not.

In fact it is a fantastic way to quickly product large vibrant paintings for sale.

These painting can then be sold framed or unframed or turned into prints.

Whether you are sketching large or small paintings, remember to have a good balance between the lines and the colour washes, as well as a wide range of contrasts.

Tip #9 - Remember the 3 Rules

Rule #1 - There are no rules Rule #2 - There are no rules Rule #3 - There are no rules. The floor is all yours!

In art there are no rules, play around and try different things and most of all, have fun with it.

Tip #10 - Ink is Used for Details

Line and wash cat

Animals are perfect subjects for pen and ink sketching. Here I have simplified the background then added a light wash for the colouring on the cat.

The watercolour paint was not used at all for detailing. Add just enough lines to indicate the direction of the fur. More in the darker areas and less in the lighter parts. I drew in all the very thin lines by holding the 0.3 mm pen at a 45° angle and pulling it sideways.

Line and wash of a statue

Monuments, statues, and buildings are a natural subject for pen and ink work. I have done many of them in the past. Whether you live in a city, small town, village or a farm there are ample opportunities for sketching. Even small sections of large objects are candidates for sketching.

As before take a look at how I have used the ink to add the detail. The watercolor wash adds color and depth.

Whether for serious work or as a hobby pen and ink can be very relaxing. Why not grab hold of your sketchbook, a pencil and a pen and get out into the open and capture the details of life.

If you want to learn more about sketching then you can follow Nolan's Sketchbook Basics course .

10 Line and Wash Hints and Tips for Beginners. Follow there tip, hack and tricks to improve your line & wash paintings, tricks and hacks. pen and ink lessons, line and wash classes, dennis clark, online art classes

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A dapper couple on the streets of New York prepares for a night out, with a sliver of an orange moon over the apartment buildings.

Critic’s Pick

The Met Aims to Get Harlem Right, the Second Time Around

The museum catches up to the vital lessons of the Harlem Renaissance, with its American, European and African exchanges and its cultural solidarity.

William Henry Johnson, “Street Life, Harlem,” circa 1939-1940, from “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism.” In Johnson’s buoyant painting a dapper Harlem couple steps out for a stroll beneath a tangerine slice of a moon. Credit... Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Supported by

Holland Cotter

By Holland Cotter

  • Feb. 19, 2024

Notoriously, in the winter of 1969 the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its first exhibition devoted to African American culture, but with a show devoid of art. Called “Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900—1968,” it was a photomural-with-texts affair of a kind found in ethnology museums.

As a student in town on a visit, I wandered into the galleries, and even with scant knowledge of Black history, I knew something was off. I soon learned I wasn’t alone. The show was being slammed by pushback.

A cohort of Black contemporary artists, some living and working in Harlem, calling themselves the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition , had been picketing the museum, and directing their protest to other museums, lighting a fuse that would eventually detonate in the multicultural wave of the 1980s, with its demands for inclusion, and its affirmation of cultural identity, in art as in life, as a force.

A portrait of a young woman in a white-collared dress, holding a pomegranate like the ones in a bowl on the table beside her.

This week, more than half a century on, the Met opens its second survey of Black art, this one called “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism,” and it’s a whole other thing. It’s all art: more than 160 paintings, sculptures and photographs, many quite fabulous. The museum isn’t framing the show as an institutional correction, though how can it be viewed otherwise? At the same time, it’s more than just that. It’s the start — or could be — in moving a still-neglected art history out of the wings and onto the main stage.

That history, from roughly 1918 through the 1930s, has complications. The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a “thing” in the sense of being a structured movement, though it did have its architects, notably two sparring Black public intellectuals, W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke. Nor was it confined to Harlem, or even New York City. Many of the artists closely associated with it lived and worked elsewhere — Chicago, Philadelphia, Paris. Finally, it wasn’t strictly, or even chiefly, a visual art phenomenon. It was initially defined in terms of new directions in Black literature — Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston were emergent stars — and music, particularly jazz.

What it was, was a kind of atmospheric condition, a transcontinental and transatlantic vibe, an ideal of racial pride embodied in the term “New Negro,” a concept given instant currency through essays written by Locke and published in the progressive political journal “Survey Graphic,” which devoted its March 1925 issue to the theme of “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro.”

Locke’s ideal, shaped by the Great Migration and World War I, of a new cosmopolitan Black aesthetic blending Western classicism, European modernist innovation, African art and Black folk culture, dominates the show, organized by Denise Murrell, a Met curator at large. And a painted portrait of Locke by the German American artist Winold Reiss is the first thing we see before being plunged into the hubbub of Harlem itself.

One of the guides Murrell has assigned us is the supreme photographer of the neighborhood, James Van Der Zee. In one of his pictures he takes us to tea at a beauty salon run, out of her home, by the hair-care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, sometimes credited as America’s first female self-made millionaire. In the company of her genteel clientele, Du Bois, who had conservative tastes in culture, would surely have felt at home.

By contrast, he would probably not have relished time spent in Jacob Lawrence’s watercolor “Pool Parlor,” a Cubistic crazy quilt of ricocheting lines from 1942, or in Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s 1933 picture titled “The Plotters,” which has us sitting in a backroom somewhere with a huddle of tough guys who seem to be exchanging secrets we’re better off not hearing.

Back out on the street we encounter marching bands, and funeral homes, and, in “Street Life, Harlem,” a painting by the great William Henry Johnson — a highlight of this show and an amazement in any show he’s in — of a spectacularly dapper Harlem couple stepping out for a stroll beneath a tangerine slice of a moon.

In a large adjoining gallery devoted to portraiture we see Black individuals up close and rich in stylistic diversity. The self-taught painter Horace Pippin’ s delightful, limner-style likeness of his wife Jennie Ora Fetherstone Wade Giles, wearing the equivalent of 1970s aviator glasses, sits across the room from one, done in virtuosic academic mode, by the underknown Philadelphia artist Laura Wheeler Waring of a pensive young woman cradling a pomegranate, which in turn sits close to a portrait of another young woman in red, this one by the Harlemite Charles Henry Alston , with a face resembling an African mask.

The exhibition includes a cluster of thematic micro-shows, all ripe for future elaboration, though sketchy here. One picks up the African thread in Harlem Renaissance art, taking an abstract Afro-Deco copper mask by the San Francisco artist Sargent Claude Johnson as evidence. Others suggest, in their shorthand way, Euro-American exchanges of influence. The political-painter-to-be Hale Woodruff creates modern impressionist landscapes; Henri Matisse, who hung out in Harlem on trips to New York, paints Black models.

More dynamic by far, are the show’s concentrations on works by individual artists. A nooklike arrangement of four side-by-side figure-packed paintings of Parisian streets and nightclubs by Motley, done on a stay there in 1929, really jumps. A spacious, enclosed hanging of seven monumental history paintings by Aaron Douglas generates a mood different from everything else, with its chapel-like quiet. And the source of some of the Douglas work is of interest in itself: three of the painting are on loan from the still little-studied collections of historically Black colleges and universities (H.B.C.U.s), namely Fisk University in Nashville (where Douglas taught for almost three decades) and Howard University in Washington, D.C. (A major traveling exhibition, “African Modernism in America,” drawn from these and other H.B.C.U. collections, is at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati through May 19.)

But it’s in three displays at the end of the show that specific political themes of the New Negro era are finally touched on. One section addresses the pervasiveness of colorism — social exclusion based on skin tone — within the Black community. Waring’s 1920s painting “Mother and Daughter,” of two women, one light-skinned, one darker, seen in overlapping profiles, coolly alludes to this.

Sexual politics could also be a minefield. The Harlem Renaissance “was surely as gay as it was Black,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. once wrote. Locke was gay, as were the sculptor Richmond Barthé and the painter Richard Bruce Nugent. An installation with a sampling of their work, along with Beauford Delaney’s rainbow-hued nude portrait of the teenage James Baldwin, confirms this reality, though you have to go to the catalog to learn about the homophobia shared even by progressive Black thinkers of the time, including Du Bois — one of the shortcomings of the show.

A concluding small display, “Artist as Activist,” asserts the risks inherent simply in being Black in America, risks that no effort at social uplift — even the current one — can mitigate. The illustrative material, at a glance, looks unsurprising: a photo of Marcus Garvey by Van Der Zee, a drawing of the Scottsboro Boys by Douglas, a print of a picket line by Roy DeCarava. But in a case in the center is a small sculpture of a female figure who seems to be rising from flames. Created in 1919 by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and titled “In Memory of Mary Turner As a Silent Protest Against Mob Violence,” it was made in response to the death of a young pregnant Black woman who was lynched and torched in Georgia the previous year. And once you know the story, Fuller’s figure radiates like an emergency flare that won’t go out.

Like several other pocket-size displays, this one could serve as a rough draft for bigger, deeper shows to come. And it underscores, as everything in Murrell’s mind-prodding survey does, the functional value of what is now often referred to — with increasing disdain in the mainstream art world — as an art of “identity politics,” that is, an art that asserts, actively or incidentally, some measure of anti-assimilationist cultural solidarity.

What Locke wanted for a new Black art was the same visibility that white art has always had in the public consciousness, in the market, in the history books. But he also insisted that, in this new art, a Black identity be foregrounded, maintained and nurtured, to create a fresh and distinctive cosmopolitanism. That’s a dynamic evident in the Met show, and it was also the bottom-line goal of the radical, and now undervalued, multiculturalist thinking of the late 20th century, which was a renaissance of its own and feels ripe for reassessment.

The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism

Opens to members Feb. 22 and to the public Feb. 25, through July 28, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., (212) 535-7710;

Holland Cotter is the co-chief art critic and a senior writer for the Culture section of The Times, where he has been on staff since 1998. More about Holland Cotter

Art and Museums in New York City

A guide to the shows, exhibitions and artists shaping the city’s cultural landscape..

The Met’s second survey of Black art, “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism,” moves a still-neglected part of art history  out of the wings and onto the main stage.

Seismic world events in Ukraine and the Middle East have shaped Zoya Cherkassky’s life and art. Her drawings are now on view  in a small gallery at the Jewish Museum.

The British painter Harold Cohen spent decades refining his artistic collaborator, an image-generating robot called AARON. Is it more than a gimmick ?

Chuck Close’s longtime gallerist, Arne Glimcher, has organized an exhibition of Close’s final portraits at Pace Gallery in Chelsea. Will it help restore his reputation ?

Sixty years after the Beatles appeared live on “Ed Sullivan,” Paul McCartney reflects on his photos capturing those halcyon days . The Brooklyn Museum will exhibit them, and some will be for sale later.

Looking for more art in the city? Here are the gallery shows not to miss in February .


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art lessons about line

Cassie Pataky

Opinions Editor

At 6 p.m. I was hungry . To my dismay, I learned that dinner would not be served until 9p.m. Instead, my host family invited me to introduce myself over tea and biscuits. We sat talking for the better part of an hour, and it was a great way to connect with the couple I would be living with for the next two months as well as tide me over until dinner. I was studying abroad in Argentina and Chile, and almost immediately began partaking in an Argentine custom called merienda . 

What constituted my first instance of culture shock, merienda , is a mealtime in the afternoon, typically after work, when people have tea or coffee and a small pastry or cookies. This is often social, like my experience with my host family, but can also be taken solo. Either way, the purpose is to sit and decompress from the day.

A time for relaxation and revitalization: there is no rush to finish your beverage. Instead of being “unproductive,” as U.S. culture would view it, you are spending your time in a fulfilling way, which is more important, naturally. Who cares if you are productive if you are not satisfied?

Merienda is time well spent. Whether you’re chatting with friends and family or letting your mind wander, you are allowed to slow down and embrace the moment. In the U.S., we often get caught up in our busy lives, so we end up scheduling our social time, our relaxation time, even our downtime.

Argentina’s merienda is not the only custom in South America that emphasizes rest. In Chile, there are many federal holidays in which almost everyone takes the day off, not just government workers. Even my host mother, who was retired, wouldn’t do any chores on these holidays. This was hard for me to comprehend — and inconvenient when I was running out of clean clothes — because the emphasis on using every free moment as an opportunity to be productive had been ingrained into me by our cultural expectations. Like many others, I felt guilty whenever I wasn’t knocking things off my to-do list; I felt like I was wasting time.

Accepting that I could take a whole day away from my nagging responsibilities was difficult. While mental health days have become increasingly common in U.S. culture, we still categorize them as productive: the individual taking one needs time to recuperate so they can be more attentive when they return. Like a sick day, we take one because we need it, not because we want it. Rather than building rest into our schedules, we only indulge the need when we feel it is earned.

Contrarily, the Chilean government almost forces inactivity by giving everyone the day off during federal holidays (which also occur more frequently than in the U.S.), building the notion that relaxation — what the US would call “wasting time,” is okay — necessary, even.

Similarly, merienda is a cultural expectation. The Argentine way of life promotes spending so-called “unproductive” time socializing with others or having a moment to yourself. As I walked by the many people sitting at restaurants and cafes with their friends and family, I too felt compelled to take a moment for myself, whether by contacting a friend or buying myself a fresh pastry. Soon, this moment became a frequent occurrence, yet it never lost value as time well spent.

Now back at UC Santa Barbara, I don’t feel bad about spending an hour decompressing after a long day of class. I often notice myself feeling more energized — or simply more content — after scrolling for a few minutes, bingeing a new series, or baking a sweet treat. College life has continued to be hectic, but when I reflect upon my day, I find more moments of peace than anxiety, and I welcome this change.

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  • Science & Tech


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