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Line, Shape and Form

Lines provide direction for the viewer's eye through the picture. Most people will begin in the bottom left corner, and continue through the picture to the right. A good composition will lead the viewer back into the painting in a flowing motion and towards a focal point.


Lines vary in length, width, curvature, direction and colour.


They may be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Vertical lines suggest height, stability and strength. Horizontal lines provide order and move the eye from left to right and are perceived to be are peaceful and calming because they are parallel to the top and bottom of the image (earth and sky). Diagonal lines express spontaneity and stimulate the eye because they appear unstable or in motion, providing action and movement in the image.


Descriptive lines are used to depict objects that are recognisable.


Introduction to Modern European Art Chagall

Marc Chagall, I and the Village, 1911

Introduction to Modern European Art

An outline is a contour and presents exterior edges of objects (such as a face).

Lines will also be straight, curved or in a ‘zigzag’. Soft curves are pleasing to the eye because they are reminiscent of the curves of a human body and therefore have a sensual quality. However, sharp curves or twists will give an impression of turmoil. Zigzags may convey enthusiasm, anger or energy.


Repeated lines may form patterns and may provide a sense of rhythm.




Shapes are formed when lines meet, that is, a shape is an area enclosed by one or more lines.


A shape is flat and is two dimensional (that is, it has height and width) and may be geometric or organic.


Geometric shapes include circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, and triangles.


Organic shapes mean those usually found in nature and are usually asymmetric or irregular (for example the shape of a tree, or stone).


Repetition of shapes may create patterns.

Introduction to Modern European Art




Forms are similar to shapes but are three dimensional — they have height, width and depth and may be geometric or organic.


Common forms includes:

John Constable, Trees at Hampstead: The Path to Church, 1821

Introduction to Modern European Art Constable


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