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Visual Arts

ELEMENTS & PRINCIPLES


of Art & Design
Together the Elements and Principles form the basic structure (or composition) of any visual artifact, be it
2-D or 3-D, large or small, decorative or functional, abstract or representational, etc…

There is some limitation to the number of both Elements and Principles, but the variety of work which may
be produced from their combinations is practically infinite. To help understand the function of each, and the
differences between them, it is useful to consider the art work itself as a recipe..... the Elements of Art &
Design are like the ingredients of a recipe, and the Principles work as the method of the recipe.

So, the idea determines the ingredients and the methods by which they are organized, and this
eventually produces the art work.......

Some artists and designers make conscious decisions on the use of Elements and Principles in their work,
organizing them to create a unity. Others work intuitively, but are still, subconsciously, making decisions on
the role of the Elements and Principles within their work. As students, you are necessarily learning the
"language" of art and design and as such must understand each component before you can use them (or
reject them) in an effective manner. Art / Design work can be produced without a full appreciation of this
language, but to communicate effectively and efficiently, and to understand the work of other
artists/designers, an understanding of the Elements and Principles of Art & Design is essential.

Could you bake the cake without knowing of the ingredients or understanding the method?

Unlikely...Guesswork and luck can be minimized and replaced by certainty if knowledge is gained. True
creativity, where individual choices are made, comes from a confident appreciation of the basics.

THE ELEMENTS of Art & Design are as follows;


1. Colour
2. Line
3. Texture
4. Value
5. Shape
6. Form
7. Space

THE PRINCIPLES of Art & Design are as follows;


1. Balance
2. Emphasis
3. Unity
4. Contrast
5. Pattern
6. Movement
7. Rhythm

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ELEMENTS of Art & Design
1. LINE (Element)
Line is a mark make by a pointed tool – brush, pencil, stick, pen, etc. A line is often defined as a
moving dot. It has a length and width, but its width is very tiny compared to its length. A line is
created by the movement of a tool and pigment or by focusing the viewer’s attention within a
photograph. Often line suggests movement in a drawing, painting, photograph, or sculpture.

A line is an element that is difficult to describe, and however it is explained in written or verbal terms, there
will be exceptions which disprove its definition. In art or design a line is used in a practically infinite
number of ways, but there are some main concepts which are basic to an appreciation of linear structure.

CONTOUR line is simply an outline.


This may be used to accentuate any area of the work, which inevitably brings that area forwards. It may
also be a decorative feature or a way of defining a particular area separating it from its background, and can
also be used to create the illusion of form. Contour lines indicate the edges of forms or shapes and
actually describe shapes and forms in the simplest way.

Contour lines may be real or IMPLIED... the outline of an object or shape within a 2-D image may be
suggested by a difference in texture, color etc. and would present an implied contour of the shape. In
sculpture the contour line changes as the work is viewed from different angles, and again is an implied or
imaginary outline.

QUALITY of line may vary for any number of reasons and may be straight or curved, heavy or light, thin
or thick, solid or broken, feathery or single.... there are many alternatives and each will give a particular
quality to the work, showing confidence or gentleness, simplicity or complexity, etc.

AXIS lines are implied lines... they are imaginary, but suggest movement or direction within the work. They
can also be indicative of mood or feeling and can be structured by placement of objects, colors, shapes etc.
in particular ways so as to direct the eye's movement around or across the work. As a line is created by
movement, then that movement is often subconsciously followed by the viewer, and axis lines take
particular account of this.

There are four kinds of Contour and Axis lines...

HORIZONTAL... implies calmness, tranquility or stability.


VERTICAL... suggests power and strength.
DIAGONAL... indicates a feeling of instability, uncertainty
CIRCULAR... shows a continuum, a constant movement

Lines can be used to create vales and textures…


HATCHING is the placing of many lines next to each other.
CROSS-HATCHING occurs when many lanes cross over each other.

GESTURAL lines indicate action and physical movement. Our eyes follow the active lines as they move
across the surface of the artwork.

Line is not necessarily an important or visible part of the art work produced; some artists and/or designers
choose to de-emphasize linear qualities in their work, producing a more "painterly" approach, having more
concern for the other Elements of Art and Design.

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2. COLOUR (Element)
Colour depends on light because it is made of light. There must be light for us to see colour. A red
shirt will not look red in the dark, where there is no light. The whiter the light, the more true the
colours will be. A yellow light on a pull colour painting will change the appearance of all the colours.

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Colour Wheel - fits together like a puzzle - each color in a specific place; being familiar with
the color wheel not only helps you mix colors but aids in analyzing artwork.

Primary Colours - red, yellow, blue


 We can not mix colours to get Primary colours.

Secondary Colours - orange, green, purple

 primary + primary = secondary


 red + yellow = orange
 yellow + blue = green
 blue + red = purple

Intermediate (or Tertiary) Colours - red-orange, yellow-orange,


yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple

primary + secondary = intermediate

Colour Values - the lights and darks of a colour

TINT
 tint – lightened colour; white + colour SHADE
 shade – darkened colour; colour + black
 Intensity – the brightness of a colour

Colour Schemes – a system of using the color wheel to organize colours together

 Monochromatic – one colour and its values;


Vocabulary Hint… “mono” means “one” and “chroma” mean “colour”
 Complementary – colours opposite on the colour wheel (and their values)
Example – blue and orange or purple and yellow
 Analogous – 3 to 5 colours next to each other on the colour wheel (and their values)
Example – red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow (and their values)
 Warm colors –on the right side of the colour wheel (and their values)
Example – reds and yellows (and their values)
 Cool colours –on the left side of the colour wheel (and their values)
Example – blues and purples (and their values)

3. TEXTURE (Element)
Texture refers to the surface quality, both simulated and actual, in artwork. Techniques used in
painting serve to show texture, i.e. the dry brush technique produces a rough simulated quality and
heavy application of pigment with brush or other implement produces a rough actual quality.
Techniques in photography are the photographer’s use of light and angle to amplify, lesson, or
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eliminate the texture seen within the photograph.
REAL TEXTURE (also known as Tactile Texture) is the actual feel of the surface of the work...
1. In architecture it may be the quality of the building materials; stone, marble, brick, or glass.
2. In painting it may be the quality of the paints used; thick oil paint; smooth water-color; or something
unconventional as sand added to acrylic paint.
3. In design it may be a contrast of rough and smooth paper surfaces.
4. In sculpture it may be the variety of materials used; wire, ceramic, bronze, or even marble.

IMPLIED TEXTURE (also known as Simulated Texture or Visual Texture) is the illusion of texture in
the work; in paintings and drawings it may be the illusion of different surface qualities, the representation of
fur, wood, silver, feathers, glass, etc. It is usually associated with 2-D work creating the illusion of 3-D,
such as a still-life.

TEXTURAL QUALITY may be strongly related to the emotional content or message behind the work, for
example a rough texture is more likely to convey a feeling of insecurity, instability, discomfort than a
smooth surface would. A consistently smooth surface would be likely to give a feeling of tranquility,
security and gentleness.
A variety of textural qualities in a work would add interest and attraction.

In sculpture and 3-D work the surface texture is as important an aspect of the work as is the subject it
conveys, and thus the material chosen to work with is critical. In 2-D work the type of material will also
dictate the textural quality of the piece, wax crayon, pencil, oil paint, water-color, pastels, and pen and ink
all give completely different textural qualities and should reflect the idea within the work.

4. VALUE (Element)
Value refers to dark and light. Value contrasts help us to see and understand a two-dimensional (2-
D) work of art. This type can be read because of the contrast of dark letters and light paper. Value
contrast is also evident in colours, which enables us to read shapes in a painting.

HIGH KEY PAINTINGS are made mostly of light values and contain a minimum of value contrast.
Light values often suggest happiness, light, joy, and airiness.

LOW KEY PAINTINGS make use of dark valued hues and generally contain little value contrast.
Dark values often suggest sadness, depression, loneliness, and sometimes mystery.

VALUE CONTRAST is the difference between light and dark values.


Photographers use value contrasts to make black and white prints that are exciting and dramatic.

ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE is when artists are photographing, drawing, or painting landscapes and
they control the viewer’s feel of depth by adjusting the value contrasts. An artist can emphasize the
idea of depth in a landscape by making distant features lighter in value than closer features.

VALUE CHANGES help us “feel” the roundness of a face or ball by showing us how light hits these forms
and creates shadows on them. The logical system of intense light and shadow contrasts is called,
Chiaroscuro.

The FOCAL AREA of a painting can be created by emphasizing dark and light value contrasts or intense
colours. This is true in realistic, abstract, and nonobjective artworks.

5. SHAPE (Element)
Shape is an area that is contained within an implied line, or is seen and identified because of color or
value changes. Shapes have two dimensions, length and width, and can be geometric or organic.
Design in painting is basically the planned arrangement of shapes in a work of art.

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Besides changes in color or value, the two-dimensional (2-D) area called Shape can be defined by texture,
contour line, material, or even other unique ways of distinguishing different areas.

Artwork is divided into either negative or positive shapes.


POSITIVE SHAPE is the area (or areas) recognized as the main focal point of the work.
NEGATIVE SHAPE is the area surrounding the positive, i.e. the background.

Both are important in a work and balance between the two relates to the compositional structure.
Important Note…
Consideration must be given to both if a sense of unity is to be achieved.
A change of the negative shape(s) within an artwork can be just as crucial to the composition as would be a
change to the positive shape(s). Both the positive shape(s) and negative shape(s) are of equal importance.

GEOMETRIC SHAPES are angular and most likely have straight edges. If curve edges are utilized they
are very controlled as if created with a compass.

ORGANIC SHAPES are free-form or biomorphic.

A SHAPE is one aspect of a FORM.


This is because when a form/object is depicted on a flat (2-D) surface the contour of the object is a shape. If
the artist changes the viewpoint of the form then the shape will change.

6. FORM (Element)
Form describes volume and mass, or the three-dimensional aspects of objects that take up space.
Forms can ban should be viewed from many angles. When you hold a baseball, shoe, or small
sculpture, you are aware of their curves, angles, indentations, extensions, and edges – their forms.

MASS... the solid part of the form


VOLUME... the space contained within or related to the mass.

NATURAL FORMS are those that you can find in nature; rocks, trees, flowers, people, etc…

ARCHITECTURAL FORMS are those designed by people (most likely architects) for various activities.
Most are geometric forms but some architects use organic forms in their building designs.
 GEOMETRIC FORMS are angular, squarish, cubistic, and straight-edged.
 ORGANIC FORMS are rounded, flowing, undulating, and often bulbous.

ABSTRACT FORMS simplify natural forms to their essential basic characteristics.


NONOBJECTIVE FORMS do not represent any natural forms at all.
REALISITC FORMS depict objects found in our natural world as they many actually appear.

7. SPACE (Element)
Actual space is a three-dimensional (3-D) volume that can be empty or filled with objects. It has
width, height, and depth. Space that appears three-dimensional in a painting is an illusion that
creates a feeling of actual depth. Various techniques can be used to show such visual depth or space.

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SPACE may again be real or implied.

ACTUAL or REAL SPACE is physical such as sculptures, architecture, and crafts.

IMPLIED SPACE isn’t real, but an illusion used by an artist to depict depth in a piece of 2-D artwork such
as a painted or drawn landscape.

SPACE and VOLUME are essentially the same, but one is around an object and one is related directly to it.
For example… the space within a tea-cup and inside the handle is referred to as volume
the space surrounding a building is space.

For the illusion of receding depth in a 2-D piece of art an artist may use one or more of the
following…

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- Colours should become lighter - Perspective lines could be used, working with
- Colours should become cooler a vanishing point
- Colours should become less intense - Objects should be placed higher on the page
- Lines become narrower - Less detail is used in objects which are further
- Shapes become smaller away
- Objects should overlap

LINEAR PERSPECTIVE is a way of organizing objects in space.


 ONE-POINT PERSPECTIVE is used if the artist is looking along a street or directly at the side of
an object.
 TWO-POINT PERSPECTIVE is used when looking directly at the front corner of a box, building,
automobile, or other form. Combining two-point perspective with light and shadow greatly
increases the sense of space.

AERIAL or ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE is a way of using colour or value (or both) to show space
or depth. Distant elements appear lighter in value, have fewer details, and less intense colours.

PRINCIPLES of Art & Design


1. BALANCE (Principle)
Balance refers to the distribution of visual weight in a work of art. In painting, photograph, print or
sculpture; it is the visual equilibrium of the elements that causes the total image to appear balanced.
“Balance” can be categorized as; Radial Balance, Symmetrical Balance, Asymmetrical Balance, All-
Over Balance, or Rules-of-Thirds Balance in a work of art.

SYMMETRICAL Balance… is a formal/classical balance where the apparent or actual weight in a


work is equal in both halves, for example;
 In painting this may be because the same colors and shapes are used in each side of the work.
 In architecture the symmetry may be created by a balance of windows and doors, equally spaced on
both sides of the central point of the building.
 In design work the lettering and images may be distributed equally on either side of the central axis.
 In sculpture the symmetry may be based on real balance as in a mobile, or may be where the mass of
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the object is equally distributed around the central point.

ASYMMETRICAL Balance… is an informal balance is where there is an apparent balance, where


there is no similarity between the elements on each side of the work, but where weight seems to be equally
distributed. Colors, shapes and textures may be organized in such a way as to encourage a feeling of
equilibrium. Areas which appear to be heavier in a work may be due to certain aspects of the use of the
Elements, for example; (this is very general)
 Darker colors appear heavier than lighter ones.
 Warmer colors appear closer than cooler ones.
 Larger areas appear heavier than smaller areas.
 Shapes placed lower seem heavier than those placed higher.
 Shapes with the widest section at the bottom seem heavier than those with the widest area at
the top of the shape.
 Heavy texture creates a heavier "feel" than a smooth texture.
 Interesting shapes visually weigh more than simple shapes

ALL OVER Balance… This refers to an artwork that has balance throughout, or all over the artwork.
The composition is so filled with imagery balance is completed without having to plan for such.

RADIAL Balance… happens when all the elements radiate from a central point. If the focus is at the
center, it is also in symmetrical balance.

RULES OF THIRDS Balance… is one of the most commonly talked-about compositional rules in
photography and film. The concept is best explained by taking your photograph and dividing it into thirds
both vertically and horizontally.

The above only serve as a rough guide to creating a feeling of weight and any combinations
may change or challenge this apparent weight, experimentation being the only real method
of discovery. Not all art works are concerned with creating a sense of balance, in fact some
are deliberately constructed in an unbalanced manner, stressing perhaps, a feeling of
insecurity, or directing attention to one particular area, or even drawing attention to the idea
of balance through an unbalanced structure.

2. EMPHASIS (Principle)
Emphasis is used by artists to create dominance and focus in their work. Artists can emphasize color,
value, shapes, or other elements to achieve dominance. Various kinds of contrasts can be used to
emphasize a center of interest.

VISUAL EMPHASIS:
 A focal area can be achieved by having the strongest light and dark values contrasts in the painting
located in a desirable place.
 Value passages (light or dark movements) can lead the viewer’s eye to a focal area.
 Isolated elements, such as a tree or an animal in a composition, can be a focal area if that tree or
animal is different from the rest of the composition.
 Color dominance is a way of emphasizing a color or color family in a painting.

EMPHASIS is a means of drawing attention to a particular aspect of the art work created. This can be done
mainly by using contrast.... making specific areas different in some way to the remainder of the work. For
example;
 In architecture a different and contrasting material could be used to draw attention to a particular
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aspect of the building... bright color vs. natural color, texture vs. smooth surface, alternative media
(stone, glass, concrete, wood, etc.)
 In graphic design work contrasting styles could be used to emphasize the most important
information to be communicated... different lettering styles (typefaces), color vs. black/white, large
lettering vs. small, etc.
 In drawing contrasts of materials and techniques could be used to draw attention to a certain part of
the work... hard, light pencil vs. charcoal, colored vs. black pencil, contour lines vs. details and
shading, etc.
 In jewelry certain aspects could be emphasized by a use of different materials, shapes, colors etc....
silver vs. wood, geometric vs. amorphous shapes, bright color vs. natural coloring of materials, etc.

- - - The list is practically endless, but essentially contrast is the main factor in emphasis.
- - - - - - Not all work uses emphasis, some art pieces being strongly uniform in structure or design.

3. UNITY or sometimes called HARMONY (Principle)


Visual unity is one of the most important aspects of well-designed art and is planned by the artist.
Unity provides the cohesive quality that makes an artwork feel complete and finished. When all the
elements in a work look as thought they belong together, the artist has achieved unity.

This is a difficult principle to explain simply. In general it is the organizing and bringing together of the
component parts of a piece of work in such a way that it becomes a “whole” – it is successful in that it feels
complete and can be viewed with some ease / aesthetic pleasure. Each and every piece of work is an
individual visual statement and as such will have individual requirements to make it successful. Working
with the elements and principles, understanding the potential of each and utilizing those that benefit the
work will create unity. Where unity is apparent the composition of the work is successful – composition
being the satisfactory arrangement of the elements and principles of art and design.

VARIETY is essential to keep art from being monotonous.


VISUAL UNITY in a painting can be developed by clustering elements or by placing them close.
PROXIMITY is one way to achieve visual unity.

Graphic designers often use vertical and horizontal CONTOUR CONTINUATION to organize complex
materials. When the edges of visual elements are lined up, a sense of unity is felt.

A similar overall surface treatment creates a very strong sense of unity in a painting, drawing, sculpture,
or ceramic piece.
4. CONTRAST (Principle)
Contrast refers to differences in values, colors, textures, shapes, and other elements. Contrasts create
excitement and add interest to the work. If all the art elements – value, for example – are the same,
the result is monotonous and unexciting.

VALUE CONTRAST most evident when black is next to white, and when light values from one end of the
gray scale are next to dark values from the other end. A black and white photograph or a black and white
pencil drawing is readable because of gray contrasts.

SIMULTANIOUS CONTRAST occurs when two pure complementary colors are placed side by side.
Each will appear brighter than when placed nest to any other hues. Visual vibration might occur.

CONTRAST IN COLOR INTENSITY occurs when a pure fully intense color is next to a muted or
grayed colour mixture. The pure colour’s strength and intensity seem to cause it to glow.

SHAPE CONTRAST occurs when organic shapes are placed in a geometric environment. Or in an
opposite way, a building in a landscape will produce shape contrast, as will a person in a city street.
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TEXTURAL CONTRAST is easily noted when artist use heavy texture to contrast with smoother areas in
painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, pr any of the crafts. Textural contrasts are found abundantly
in nature.

TEMPERATURE CONTRAST refers to the contrast of warm and cool colours. If a small warm areas of
placed in a dominating cool painting, temperature contrast is evident.

5. PATTERN (Principle)
Pattern uses the art elements in planned or random repetitions to enhance surface of paintings or
sculptures. Patterns often occur in nature, and artists use similar repeated motifs to create pattern in
their work. Pattern increases visual excitement by enriching surface interest.

Fabrics often use regular or planned patterns because certain elements are repeated with accuracy (lines,
shapes, swirls, or other design elements).

PLANNED PATTERNS are used by architects to create surface interest on buildings. Repeated shapes for
windows, doors, ledges, and architectural details are used to develop patterns.

RADIAL PATTERNS are patterns are easily and consistently found in nature all around us: repeated
leaves, flowers, grass, shells, and many others. The radial pattern in many fruits can vegetables can be
noticed by cutting them in half.

6. MOVEMENT (Principle)
Visual movement is used by artists to direct viewers through their work, often to focal areas. Such
movement can be directed along lines, edges, shapes, and colours within the works, but moves the eye
most easily on paths of equal value.

Movement in a work of art may be real or implied and can be achieved in many different ways, and refers to
the action in the work.

REAL MOVEMENT… may relate to sculpture, product design, jewelry, architecture, more often than
not to 3-D work.

IMPLIED MOVEMENT… relates to the illusion or reference to movement. In a 2-D work colors and
shapes may be placed in such a way as to create axis lines (imaginary lines) which lead the eye around the
work. Linear work often encourages eye movement and the viewer follows the direction of the lines
created. The illusion of movement often refers to our previous experiences of real movement and the ways
in which this has been captured, such as in photography.
Elongated shapes cause our eyes to move along them. If there is a strong center of interest, our eyes will
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be drawn to it like a magnet.
An artist may move our eyes through a painting by providing visual passages or linkage on dark or
light values. Visual movement usually leads to a focal point.
LINEAR MOVEMENT can be either direct (straight) or irregular (curvilinear). Our eyes follow lines and
edges in sculpture, architecture, and paintings, as well as in nature.

VISUAL MOVEMENT is when the artist moves our eyes into a painting. One way is to emphasis one-
point perspective. We are drawn into the background from the foreground. Such visual movement can be
very strong.

7. RHYTHM (Principle)
Rhythm is the repetition of visual movement – colours, shapes, or lines. Variety is essential to keep
rhythms exciting and active, and to avoid monotony. Movement and rhythm work together to create
the visual equivalent of a musical beat.
RHYTHM relies very much on organization of the elements of art where each one is carefully considered
to give the desired effect.
REGULAR RHYTHM is the repetition of elements that are the same or nearly the same in regular
sequences.
IRREGULAR RHYTHMS might repeat throughout a painting without any exact duplication.
In nature, a row of evenly spaced trees or rock strata creates a regular rhythm. Plants spaced
unevenly create irregular rhythms.
STACCATO RHYTHMS are repetitions that are abrupt and that change frequently. They often seem to be
short bursts of energy in a painting.
PROGRESSIVE RHYTHMS are those which the elements change sizes as they progress or move across
space. This is seen in looking at buildings or a fence in perspective. The windows and architectural
elements are the same size but diminish as they progress into space.
In architecture, rhythmic sequences of windows, columns, and other architectural details are used to unity
large surfaces.

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