Elements and Principles of Art

(Elements and Principles of Design)

Elements of Art


Line is a thin mark on a surface created by a pen, pencil, brush, or other tool. A line is sometimes defined as what happens when a moving dot leaves a mark as it travels.

An implied line is suggested, but not actually shown. It is a line created by positioning a series of points so that the eye tends automatically to connect them. This can also occur when something looks or points in a certain direction.

When line is the main element of an image, the result is often called a drawing. Line is often used in drawings in two basic ways: contour and gesture.

Contour lines follow the edges of forms, outlining a shape to describe it. Blind contour drawings are done looking intently at the edges of an object and drawing very slowly and deliberately, but without looking down at the paper.

Gesture lines move more freely within forms. In gesture drawings, showing action is often important. These lines are drawn fast and in a "scribble" like way, quickly capturing the major forms or action in the composition.

We also talk about lines of composition in art. This is not the same as the element of line by itself, but rather makes reference to the major linear elements working together within a work of art. Lines of composition can be lines or linear elements which have the greatest influence on a composition.

An artist controls the emotional impact of a work of art on a viewer using compositional lines. A work of art with mostly horizontal lines can imply quiet and rest. More vertical lines, and a suggestion of potential for action can be achieved. Mostly diagonal lines in a composition, and the artist has most likely suggested action and motion.


A shape is a flat area, such as a circle or a square, that has clear boundaries. A shape is a visually perceived area.

An organic shape is a shape that reflects the soft flowing shapes found in nature.

Geometric shapes are shapes with hard straight edges and angular corners.

Positive shapes are shapes which make up the positive spaces or objects within a drawing.

Negative shapes are the shapes which make up the negative spaces or empty areas of a work of art.


A form is a three-dimensional shape, such as a cube, ball, or cone. We talk about the forms used in sculptural art works, or in drawings and paintings that have the illusion of being three-dimensional.


Value is the term for light and dark in a work or art. An area's value is its relative lightness or darkness in a given context.

Value contrast refers to the difference between light and dark in a work of art. A high contrast work of art has a great difference between the light and dark areas. A low contrast work of art has little difference between the light and dark areas.


Color is a quality of how light is reflected from objects.

A color wheel is a way of arranging colors to show a variety of relationships between colors.

A hue is the basic name of a color. There are six basic hues: red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and violet.

The primary colors are the colors from which all the other colors can be made. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.

The secondary colors are the three colors made by mixing two primary colors together. The secondary colors are green, orange, and violet.

The intermediate colors are the six colors that are made by mixing a secondary color with one of the primary colors it was made from. The six intermediate colors are: yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange and yellow-orange.

Color value is the lightness or darkness of the hue. Tints have a lighter value, and shades have a darker value.

The intensity or saturation refers to the relative brightness and purity or grayness of a color. A color is at full intensity only when pure and unmixed.

Colors can be classified as cool colors or warm colors. On the color wheel, the yellow-green through violet side contains the cool colors. The red-violet through yellow side contains the warm colors.

Color schemes are ways to use groups of colors together so a desired affect is achieved by an artist.

In a monochromatic color scheme only one hue is used.

In an analogous color scheme several colors that are next to each other on the color wheel are use together.

In a complementary color scheme colors from opposite sides of the color wheel are used together.

In a triadic color scheme three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel are used together, such as red, yellow, and blue.


Texture refers to the way the surface of an object feels to the touch.

A tactile texture is a texture that can be felt on the surface of a work of art.

A visual texture or simulated texture is the illusion of texture in a work of art. By reproducing the values and patterns of an object an artist can create an illusion of texture in a flat drawing or painting.

Impasto is the use of thick paint to build up a surface that is rough or bumpy.


Space is an empty area or the area that surrounds something.

In a two-dimensional work of art, depth is created by having an illusion of space. Depth is the difference between thing that are far away and close up in a work of art.

Several ways are commonly used to give an illusion of space in a two-dimensional work of art. Some of the ways depth is achieved are overlapping of objects, size of objects, transparency of objects, linear perspective, and atmospheric perspective.

Linear perspective is based on the visual phenomenon that as parallel lines recede into the distance they will appear to converge and meet on an imaginary line at eye level called the horizon line.

Atmospheric perspective is based on the visual phenomenon that as objects get further away the detail gets lost and colors become less intense, they reduce in contrast and become more gray with atmospheric haze.

Multiple perspective involves showing more than one view of a space within a work of art.

Principles of Art


Unity implies that a congruency exists among the elements of design within a work of art. In other words, the elements of a work of art look as though they belong together in a work of art.

There are many ways to achieve unity within a work of art. Three of the most common ways to achieve unity are by proximity, repetition, and continuation.

Unity by proximity implies that elements placed close together have a better chance of looking as though they belong together or are part of the same group.

Unity by repetition implies that elements which repeat within a work of art will tend to unify a design.

Unity by continuation is a way to achieve unity when one element of the composition is connected, usually by a line or edge, to another element in the composition.



Variety implies that a work of art needs a combination of different elements to be visually pleasing. Variety is the opposite of unity.

Unity with variety is a term we use when we talk about creating a work of art with enough variety to hold the interest of a viewer. Complete unity or repetition of the exact same element within a work of art may become boring to the viewer.


Emphasis implies importance given to certain objects or areas in a work of art. An artist can decide what will be the emphasis in a work of art they make. The artist can have control over the viewers eye and make them look where they want them to look within a work of art.

The focal point is the area that catches the viewer's attention first within a work of art. A work of art does not have to have a focal point to be successful.

There are many ways to achieve a focal point within a work of art. Three of the most common ways to achieve emphasis are by contrast, isolation, and placement.

Emphasis by contrast is created when one element contrasts with, rather than continuing , the prevailing design scheme. Some possibilities for differences may be in color, value, line quality texture, size, or type of shape.

Emphasis by isolation is achieved by setting one element or object in a work of art apart from the others.

Emphasis by placement is achieved when one element or object is arranged so that other things in the composition point to it.


Balance refers to the way visual weight is distributed in a work or art.

Symmetrical balance is when elements are repeated in mirror image on both sides of a central vertical axis in a work of art.

Asymmetrical balance is achieved with dissimilar objects on either side of the vertical axis in a work of art. Objects may be dissimilar and have the same visual weight. Artists use this idea to achieve asymmetrically balanced compositions.

Radial balance is balance in which elements or objects radiate out from a common central point.

Crystallographic balance is a type of balance which is created by an all over pattern in a work of art.


Proportion refers to the relationship between the size of objects in a work of art. Scale is sometimes used when talking about proportion, or when talking about the size of a work of art.


When repeating of elements, such as lines, shapes or colors, create a feeling of visual motion in a work of art, it is said to have visual rhythm.

A sense of alternating pattern within a work of art is one way to create rhythm.

Alternating rhythm involves repetition of two or more motifs which alternate with one another to produce a regular sequence in the work of art.

Rhythm can create a sense of movement in a work of art. A work of art can convey the feeling or illusion that things are in motion, are about to move, or are sitting still.

Movement can also refer to the way the viewer's eye moves around to look at the parts of a work of art.


Patterns are mathematical repetition of motifs or elements in a work of art. Patterns can be linear in nature, or two-dimensional, or three-dimensional.