Elements And Principles

The Elements of Art

The elements of art are a set of technical skills that are used when presenting artwork. They are most often combined with the Principles of art as well for visually stunning effects.

  • Line - is the continuous mark made on a surface by moving a tool (or point) across it.

Lines can be 2 dimensional (like with a pencil) or 3 dimensional (if someone used wire).
Lines are the clear boundary areas between objects and shapes and do not exist in a 2 dimensional format in nature. This is an example of line drawing.

  • Shape - is an enclosed 2-dimensional area defined by the elements surround it.

The area enclosed in a series of lines, or the different shapes made by different textures. Shape drawings can be used to form an underlying structure than can then be changed to make organic shapes.

  • Color - is made up of hue, chroma, and value. More information can be found here.
    • Hue is the color family. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet are hues.
    • Chroma is the intensity of the color where it hits the object. Very colorful shadows, middle tones and high lights have high chroma while more greyed out areas are low chroma.
    • Value is how dark or light he color is if you were to lighten it or darken it (usually by adding black, white, or complementary colors).
  • Texture - refers to the tactile surface quality (or feel) of the object.

If it is smooth, rough, or varies depends on how the artist renders it. What kinds of textures does this picture have?

  • Value - is how dark or light something is. It usually ranges form 0 to ten in most systems with 0 being the lightest and 10 being the darkest. If you are working with The Munsell System this is reversed.

This picture displays good values. Notice how dark and light the forms are?

  • Form - is enclosed 3 dimensional area that has volume.

As you can see in this drawing, form gives us a sense of a picture being 3-D and not flat.

  • Space - is the area between, around, above or within things.
    • Positive Space is when the object or area is filled in with value.
    • Negative Space is when the area around the object is filled with value.

This painting represents negative space, or the space that an object takes up.

The Principles of Design

The principles of art are a set of guidelines to be considered when creating artwork.

  • Movement - is the action or path that a viewer's eye will follow through a piece of artwork. Movement can also be how an eye is drawn through a piece as in this example
  • Variety - (or alteration) is having different forms or types. These differences lend interest to the piece and is commonly done through the use of contrast, emphasis and variations in size and color. Example
  • Balance - is arranging elements so that no one part of the work overpowers or seems heavier than any other part. The two types of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is when both sides of a piece are the same (like a human body) and asymmetrical is when each side is different (like some rocks or trees). Example
  • Unity - is use of the elements and principles to create a sense of wholeness to a piece. This is also known as harmony. Example
  • Emphasis - is where the focus of the piece is through the use of he design or through meaning and is used to draw the viewer's eye to that specific place in the piece. (See Composition below)
  • Pattern/Rhythm - is movement through the repetition of consistent lines, colors and shapes. This can make a piece seem active. Example
  • Contrast - provides something to break the repetition of a piece through the combination of different elements to create interest. You can tell what this piece is through the use of high contrast.


Composition is a way to structure a piece by using the elements and principles of art. There are several types of compositional techniques with their use being dependent on what the artist is trying to achieve in the piece.
The rule of thirds (or fourths) states that if an artist breaks up the canvas into nine (or 12) equal squares to provide interest points that do not bisect the middle of the canvas and then hits at least three of these points of intersection then the composition is valid.
The rule of odds states that if there is an odd number of objects in a composition then it will be framed by the other objects and provide comfort in a piece. You see this rule used quite often in advertising.
The rule of space is used to apply the illusion of movement in a piece. This is commonly done by leaving open space in the direction that the subject's eyes are looking.
Focal points are areas where the artist works up an image into finer detail than the surroundings. This draws attention to the object and simplifies the background. This is the same as the photography technique known as depth of field.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is a principle found in Math, Art, Music, Architecture and Nature.
This ratio is the calculation of aesthetic beauty that has been used since the Renaissance. These calculations have been used extensively in art along with the Golden Triangle and the Golden Pentagram/Pentagon.

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