Choosing the right image using lines

file9881303090876I am sure that most of the people reading this already know the saying a picture tells a thousand words.  However, what most people don’t realise is that like all art, every picture touches every person in a different way. What we see in an image is a mixture of our personal likes and dislikes, our personalities and our memories.  For example, red could be your favourite colour, so a picture that is predominantly red, will probably stir you in a good way.  If you have a bad memory where the colour red is predominant, say you lost a job and red was your bosses favourite colour, then subconsciously you might reject a photo simply because there is a lot of red in it.   The choice therefore of a picture is actually not so easy.  This is where design comes in.  Regardless of our likes and dislikes, and despite our past history, some images and themes are universal and as such, evoke the same feeling.  Graphic artists, logo makers, web site designers, they all know a little about graphic design and how to invoke our subconscious memory of these universal themes.

As a trainer, I create presentations and training material with the aim of not just imparting knowledge, but also getting people to retain that knowledge.  Most people learn by either doing, watching or reading, and so I design my training materials accordingly.  I often use blended eLearning, or PowerPoint training sessions mixed with workshops to capture the watching, reading and doing.  However there is a fourth way people learn.  This is through emotion.  Along the way, I’ve picked up a little about design to help me evoke these feelings and help me train people.  One way is by the use of lines in the imagery.  What do I mean?   Well, believe it or not, different types of lines will stir you in different ways.  Allow me to explain.

Vertical lines

Straight vertical lines, often evoke strength, power and majesty.  Imagine tall skyscrapers; tall trees in a forest.  When you think of these, you remember seeing them.  You remember your awe at their power and strength.  This doesn’t just work with tall buildings and trees, it works with all images containing vertical lines.  Imagine a runner passing a finish line, his arms high, strong, tall and proud.  Imagine ancient Greek or Roman pillars thrusting towards the sky.  The same feeling of power of majesty is invoked.  When you use an image with straight lines then, there is a subconscious tug on that universal theme.  Look at the pictures below.  You can click on any of them to get a larger view.  What feelings come to the surface?

Horizontal lines

Horizontal lines on the other hand can convey tranquillity, rest, and stability.  This time, imagine waves on the sea; tiny ripples on a lake; fields of corn; the horizon…  This time you feel peace.  Once again, the lines touch your subconscious memories and pull the emotion to the surface.  Can you feel the stillness evoked by the images below?

Oblique and diagonal lines

Oblique or diagonal lines can convey movement, action, change and dynamic energy.  Again, I’ve posted some images. Look at the dandelion seed head.  The seeds are all pointing in different directions.  One puff of wind and they will be scattered.  A close up of a field of wheat shows lots of wheat stalks sprouting in different directions.  Again, add some wind and you have movement, energy.  What about a bridge the diagonal lines taking you to your new destination; the path of an aeroplane in the sky?  Are you feeling the energy and the change?

Wavy lines

So now that we’ve covered all manner of straight lines, what about wavy ones?  Curved lines or s-shaped lines can convey quiet, calm and sensual feelings.  Think of a silk scarf lying on the floor. Imagine the curves of a rose petal.  Remember the curl of the waves.  All of these images bring up emotions of sensuality.  Depending on the direction and strength of the wave will determine whether that wavy line evokes a feeling of calm or a feeling of energy.

Well, what do you think?  Obviously, you can combine lines in different directions to convey exactly what you want.

As an almost final note, (just to prove my point), I’ve posted some images on the same subject.  Let me know if they evoke different feelings or not!


Lines are not the only way we can connect images with our emotions, we can do that with form (light and dark), with colour (warm and cool, analogous and complimentary colours), textures, unity and coherence.  However, for this post I think it’s enough for now.  Let me know if you want to know more!

Alesandra Blakeston

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