Abstract : This thesis proposes a novel image primitive - the diffusion curve. This primitive relies on the principle that images can be defined via their discontinuities, and concentrates image features along contours. The diffusion curve can be defined in vector graphics, as well as in raster graphics, to increase user control during the process of art creation. The vectorial diffusion curve primitive augments the expressive powers of vector images by capturing complex spatial appearance behaviors. Diffusion curves represent a simple and easy-to-manipulate support for complex content representation and edition. In raster images, diffusion curves define a higher level structural organization of the pixel image. This structure is used to create simplified or exaggerated representations of photographs in a way consistent with the original image content. Finally, a fully automatic vectorization method is presented, that converts raster diffusion curve to vector diffusion curve.