Courses Perceptual Studies page 3


Line and Shape Problems

Developing eye and hand skills, using the pencil as a tool, learning design process, criteria and terminology. Being the first class in Graphic Design, it is important to establish good work habits, discipline and an introduction to critical analysis of work. These are refinement problems and self-paced as it is meaning less to advance students who do not understand or can not do the exercises. By allowing students to progress according to abilities, those with more experience or talent do not become bored, and good but slow students do not feel undue pressure. Deadlines come later in the program. Students should keep a progress book beginning with line studies from the first day of class. The sequence of problems works best spread over two semesters. However, by reducing the lines to three, I have done the problem in one semester. I have worked with only one line in a three hour workshop and had reasonable success.

HB or B pencils and pencil sharpener
14 x 17 tracing paper pad

Fine line marker or black ballpoint pen with a fine point
Wide nib marking pen
Soft eraser
Colored pencils or color markers
Illustration board for 16 inch square presentations
10-inch square railroad or poster boards.


Using tracing paper pads, students rule two horizontal lines 10-inches a part. Beginning at the left, they design 10-inch lines of varying activity ranging from 1 (nearly static) to 4 (extremely active). The lines must flow without points or breaks, running from top to bottom; lines must enter and exit vertically. Number 1 line is almost static, number 4 is the most active with increments of increased activity between the two extremes for the 2 and 3 lines. Lines are composed of curves and straight lines. The curves are not repeated in the same line but rather some combination of flat, pointed, small, large, symmetrical and asymmetrical curves combined with straight lines of different lengths. Symmetrical and asymmetrical curves are determined by dropping a vertical line from the peak of the curve and comparing what happens on one side to what happens on the other in terms of symmetry.

Lines are done by hand without rulers, straight edges or flexible rules. Lines are constructed with short pencil strokes and a sharp pencil. It is impossible to control lines drawn as a single stroke. Students are encouraged to erase parts of lines and explore alternative solutions. The erasing and exploration of other solutions represent a reining process which is also the learning process.

The lines should not parallel side edges, curved lines should not parallel top or bottom edges. To keep tension, the bottom of curves do not sag, and all transitions are smooth.

The most active line usually involves closure and implied shapes. The implied shapes are designed as diligently as the lines. If the 4 line is active from top to bottom, it does not appear active. Activity is confined to a segment of the line and contrasted above and below the activity with relatively static lines. The activity needs to be on both sides of the line axis in order to achieve balance. If students are having difficulty grasping the concept, I have them draw simple, static lines and construct the activity into a segment of that line paying particular attention to working out transitions. Implied shapes must vary in size and definition.

While closure is a consideration in the most active line, it should not occur in the other lines. Closure on the less active lines is a fairly common mistake by students. I am demanding in terms of line quality, transitions and that all curves are filled out without flat spots in curves; there is line tension and that the line is visually interesting. There is no sense advancing students until these conditions are consistently met by students. To reach this point usually takes four to eight weeks. After a student has done a page of lines, they are asked to indicate the number for each line (1 to 4), and to put a small x under the lines that they think are good ones. When the student and I are in agreement on a good line, they transfer it to a save sheet. It is carefully pointed out to them that it is impossible to trace the line, but putting the line under the save sheet provides a guide for redrawing the line.

Most students have success with the two and three lines first. With these lines on the save sheet, students can focus on the one and four lines. Students might have several different lines for each number giving them more options when they begin working on the composition. It is absolutely necessary for students to demonstrate sensitivity for both the line and pencil. Students should not move forward with the problem until they consistently meet these conditions.


Line quality
Sensitivity using the pencil. I do not accept lines pressed into the paper or done with a blunt pencil point. Students must show sensitivity in the use of the pencil and line quality.

Line intent
Regardless of whether the line is somewhat ragged because of its construction with short pencil strokes, all the transitions should be perfect and curves filled out. It also refers to what a student does on one part of the line dictating what happens in another part of the line. All lines must flow smoothly.

Line tension
Line reflects tension; I explain and demonstrate tension with a flexible steel ruler. By compressing the ruler, it bends into curves which reflect tension because of the force used to compress it.

Line activity
Seeing and understanding the concept of line activity. The amount of curves, fullness of curves, and implied shapes dictate activity. As a line become more active, the lateral space filled by the line usually becomes wider. I try to be careful to point out to students that criteria given is established for this problem, and it does not necessarily apply to every problem, i.e., in this problem, elements are not repeated, but in another situation, repetition might be an ideal solution.


Working Procedure>

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Student example
Step 1
Line study
Four lines of varying activity
(simplest to most active)

Line Study
(more examples)

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