The “S” Curve

by | May 13, 2011 | Blog | 4 comments

What is an S-Curve for painting?

If you paint, you can take advantage of something called an S-Curve to increase the viewing experience of your images. The idea and term of an S-Curve originated with William Hogarth, a British painter from the 1700’s. In art schools and other artist workshops, much of the course content revolves around a painting’s composition or design. These include internal visual structures or geometry, that can be found with scrutinized eyes, such as angles, curves and symmetry, to create order and movement in a work. One important visual tool of this type is called an S-curve, which seems to be a well-kept secret for some reason. Once I learned about it, I realized I tend to use this “S” thing quite a lot in my own paintings, and what a great painting tool it is.

Hogarth wrote a book called The Analysis of Beauty where he writes about the S-Curve, and other design ideas, in depth. A search online revealed this definition of Hogarth’s curve; “Notion in compositional theory that objects arranged on an S-shaped line suggest grace and beauty.”

Below is a good description I found online of Hogarth’s S-Curve written by Terry Grant.

“Hogarth proposed that the essence of beauty of line in painting, drawing, nature and design is not the simple geometry of a straight line or circle, or more subtle shapes such as the ellipse, but of curves that modulate from one gradient to another. Such a curve, the “S” curve is such a structure and he called it “the line of beauty”. According to his theory, S-Shaped curved lines signify liveliness and activity and excite the attention of the viewer as contrasted with straight lines, parallel lines, or right-angled intersecting lines which signify stasis, death, or inanimate objects. He goes on to say that the S curve is the basis of all great art.”


Related Links

Additional article Use Geometry for Best Painting Composition & Design

More information about Hogarth with examples of his painting.

Painting with an S-curve adds beauty in this gold leaf and acrylic painting by Nancy Reyner
Nancy Reyner, Blue Danube, acrylic and gold leaf on panel, 48″ x 60″
Painting with an S-curve adds beauty
A blue line overlays this painting to define its underlying S-Curve
View more of my paintings – many of which have very noticeable S-curves.

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  1. nab the great

    Yes nancy, i'm in that same thought. Our greatest ideas come at the least expected times. an awesome way to get the imagination running is to get involved in a recreational activity (procrastinate). so that our minds can re-create (duh) grandeur, beauty, magnifisance (winning). I have spoken.

  2. Mary Manning

    Nancy, Your work is inspiring me to ground a series of "leaf" (copper and gold) with Southwest colors called "Hidden Treasures." It is quite an adventure, and I am working on three pieces at this time.

  3. Art Epicurean

    Nancy – Beautiful work! Art is healing and this piece speaks to that!

  4. Marianne Hornbuckle

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary and links – clarification of different compositional approaches are always great food for thought! Sorry to have missed talking with you last weekend…


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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
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