Today I received a question: What is expressive line? I’ll be teaching a workshop at the end of the month to a local group of experienced artists, so the question set me back a bit. But as I tried to answer it, I found it difficult to explain myself.

I started encorporating line in my work as a self-imposed challenge to become more expressive in my work. One year I decided to study how other artists use line in their abstract work. Using line in each painting for an entire year, I became more comfortable with this expressive element.

I studied some of these artists work and many more: Cy Twombly, Amy Sillman, Takahiko Tayashi, Mindy Alper, Egon Shiele, Jeri Ledbetter, Joan Mitchell and Jimmie James. You can find a collection of many images with dominant line on my pinterest board here:

But the question remains: What is expressive line? I would define line as being expressive when it is not concerned with representing or describing a subject or the edge of a shape. A few of my images I feel are succsessful at this are collected below.

Expressive Line Examples

Handwriting expresses individuality, and line in painting functions in much the same way. The way we make marks is as individual as each of us. Style in handwriting and art can also be inherited. I see strong similarities between my grandmother’s and my father’s handwriting.

I’ve also seen similarities in painters whose children have taken up art. Even though their work can be seen as related, each artist stands on their own. A great example would be Judy Wise and her daughters Shellie Garber and Stephanie Garber. Take a look at each of their work!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘geekish’ enquiry into the element of line in art! Let me know your thoughts. If you’re interested in exploring line further, take a look at one of my upcoming workshops!

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