An easy first lesson in the elements of design.

Today we began our investigation of the elements of design. Words which gained new meanings for us included design, line, and nonobjective art. Lines have been compared to the nervous system of design in arts.

A line is the path traced by a moving point. Different types of lines express different feelings, moods, and objects in design. Lines can be used to show movement and to contour shapes. Sometimes you can even guess an artist by his or her particular use of lines.

One artist who made obvious use of many different kinds of lines was Joan Miro. The painting below was created using oil paint on canvas. Miro named it The Bird With a Calm Look, Its Wings in Flames. The kids traced their fingers over the thin lines, the thick lines, the curvy lines, the curly lines, the straight lines, and the shaped lines.

Thick lines can add volume and lend weight, as in this marker-colored drawing of a fish by a young Romanian child at the National Peasant Museum.

After exploring lines in our discussion, it was time to start playing with lines. Max, Micah, Milla, Meghan, and Cameron each received a notecard and a pencil. I explained that I would play 6 different songs and for each song, they would receive a notecard. Their task was to listen to the music and let their hands capture the music on paper- to summon the way the music made them feel through lines. Cameron and Meghan humored me so very kindly. I love them.

Rather than draw an object, which would be an “objective arrangement of line”, they should aim for a “nonobjective arrangement” which lacked any purpose besides expressing the music. I provided an example by asking them to sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” as I drew a few bright, sunny, happy, curly lines inspired by the music.

Generally, I played each song for as long as it took everyone to finish and be satisfied with their linear, nonobjective depiction. If you’d like to try this activity with your kids, you need 3 notecards for each child, a pencil for each, a computer which plays music, and the free mp3s below. Just flip over the notecard and use both sides (unless you have lined notecards).

After each song, we compared the lines. Everyone had a different way of depicting the song and the lines it inspired- a great segue for discussing different styles and interpretations in art. Meghan’s lines reflected the beats and frequencies of the music, while Micah’s seemed to represent how a person might move around a room dancing to the music. Cameron used thick lines and shapes to emphasize strong beats and sounds, while Max made use of rigid and flexible lines to suggest undulations or strong beat patterns. It was truly fascinating.

Unfortunately, Milla and I had a nursing festival so I didn’t get the chance to try my own hand at the exercise. In a way, this made the results all the more interesting because I lacked a vision bias so I could be more open to how others depicted the songs rather than compare them to my own.

STAY DON’T GO by Spoon

My thinking: This song has a strong beat with various jagged edges that might emerge in lines.

And here is how the artists heard and depicted the lines:

BRON YR-AUR (Led Zeppelin cover) by M. Ward

My thinking: This song has a more melodic, whimsical touch which might involve light curls and squiggles, soft lines and waves.

And here is what the artists did with it:

GIRL WITH ONE EYE (Bayou Percussion Version) by Florence and the Machine

My thinking: This song has interesting loops and spikes and a deep beat.

The artists’ take:

MITULEASA by Taraful din Naipui

My thinking: This piece combines laughing violins with a fast folk rhythm that might encourage lines to hop, jump, and spin.

ABRACADABRA by The Steve Miller Band

My thinking: This song just piqued my interest to see what sort of lines everyone discovered within. Plus, it fit well with our wizard-laden week and I just knew Max would love it.

Where the artists went with Steve Miller:

I think I see a few objects in these…. wizard hats perhaps. “No,” Meghan insists, “those are triangles.” Who am I to argue with the artists?