Pointing the Way

Directional lines are the lines in a painting that help move the viewer?s eye through the composition. Directional lines can be as straightforward as a succession of straight edges that move the eye back and forth through a painting, as in Beach Deck (above, right), or they can be more subtle, as in the graceful arcs of Coastal Waters (at right). These aren?t lines in the literal sense, but they provide the same guiding function.

Conventional directional lines, such as the edges of buildings, fences and roofs are easy to spot and use. Even so, you should always be careful that your directional lines don?t guide viewers out of the picture.


What Are You Implying?
These three examples demonstrate different types of implied directional lines. Significant value changes and well-defined edges create a strong, fast-moving directional line in the top example. In the middle example, notice how the strong value contrast creates a forceful directional thrust, even with the presence of weak edges. Finally, I used more subtle value changes and weaker edges to produce a slower-moving line in the bottom example.

Many directional lines are far less obvious, however, because they?re implied via differences in color, value or edges. In general, these implied directional lines are strongest when they exhibit significant differences in one or all of these three areas. The type of line you choose depends in part on your intent: Strong directional lines move the eye quickly, while more subtle lines create a slower path.

By learning to use all types of directional line, you?ll not only be able to take viewers right where you want them to go, but you?ll also be able to encourage them to linger at key points of interest, ensuring that your message is communicated as powerfully as possible.

Tera Leigh is a writer and artist living near San Francisco. She writes columns for Decorative Artist?s Workbook and PaintWorks magazines. Her design work has been published in such magazines as Romantic Homes, ToleWorld and 101 Decorating Ideas. She?s also a contributor to Artist?s Sketchbook (from the editors of The Artist?s Magazine). Look for her new book, The Complete Guide to Decorative Painting (North Light Books) in October. Her Web site is www.teras-wish.com..

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