Four Types of Linear Composition

The contour and tilt of the lines in linear compositions create mood. The moods can be very complex but are based on the four simple principles listed below. Rarely is a composition based solely on on one of these types; usually there is some combination of the four:

  • When horizontal lines dominate, they create a sense of peace and relaxation. (Think of a calm ocean and the distant horizon.)
  • When vertical lines dominate, they create a sense of alertness and order. (Think of soldiers standing in a row.)
  • When diagonal lines dominate, they create a sense of drama and swift movement. (Think of a tree falling.)
  • When curving lines dominate, they create a feeling of sensuality and leisurely movement. (Think of a round woman lolling on a curved sofa.)

In a linear composition, a great variety of expression and mood can be created by thoughtfully controlling:

  • different tilts of lines
  • placement of intersections
  • proportions of areas created by lines
  • repetition of shapes
  • proportions of positive and negative shapes
  • distances from elements within a composition to its four outside edges

A composition dominated by horizontal lines conveys a sense of peace and relaxation.

When vertical lines dominate a composition, a sense of alertness and order prevails.

Diagonal lines create a feeling of drama and swift movement in a composition.

Curving lines convey sensuality and leisurely movement.

The four basic types of line horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and curved are often used in a composition in various combinations. In this example, the vertical cacti add order and alertness to the otherwise passive horizontal composition.

In this combination of diagonal and curving lines, the stripes on the sofa and dress lend drama to an otherwise sensual scene.

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