Creativity Workshop: Put Line in Your Design

Jan Fabian Wallake shares 7 tips for using drawing and line work in your painting composition. Take her advice and create your own new work.

Glad Tidings (watercolor on paper, 22x30), by Jan Fabian Wallake | line work

Glad Tidings (watercolor on paper, 22×30), by Jan Fabian Wallake, celebrates the artist’s original sketch lines.


Line is a key starting point for developing a strong design. Even with all of the amazing techniques that watercolor offers, those techniques—no matter how well rendered—are ineffective if they’re not applied to a strong design base. Here are some tips for using line work to develop a painting composition:


Tip 1

Sketch the subject from your reference photo or image onto a sheet of sketch paper that’s proportioned to the desired size of your painting. This way, you can erase and re-draw without marring your watercolor paper. You can later transfer the finished sketch onto the watercolor paper.


Tip 2

Lay a thin sheet of tissue paper over the sketch and then study the sketch lines. Are there any you can eliminate? Repeat? Exaggerate? Henri Matisse thought nothing of moving his lines, tilting them or altering them in any way that made a better design.


Tip 3

Develop the lines that thrust vertically, horizontally or diagonally; they create movement within the painting composition.


Tip 4

Consider the emotion that lines evoke. Sharp corners create tension, wavy lines soothe, vertical lines suggest power and horizontal lines convey calm.


Tip 5

Alter lines that lead into the corners. Change those that are parallel to the perimeters of the paper by leaning them slightly into or out of the picture.


Tip 6

Consider the “shapes” that the lines make. They should be varied: small, medium, large.


Tip 7

Disregard the subject temporarily and look only at the design made by your sketch lines. Is the painting composition balanced with a variety of shapes and sizes? Does the design lead to a center of interest?



Try This At Home!

Create a watercolor painting with line work as the dominant element. Send a JPEG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your finished painting to with “Creativity Workshop” in the subject line and tell us about your process. The “editor’s choice” will receive a copy of Splash 14. The entry deadline is April 15.



Catch up on the Creativity Workshop exercises you’ve missed for other watercolor painting ideas here!



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