Basic art principles and elements

Elements of Art

  1. Color Color is the visual property of the pigment of an object that is detected by the eye and produced as a result of the way the object reflects or emits light. The human eye is capable of seeing millions of colors, making it one of the most diverse and powerful elements of art. Each color has three properties: hue, value, and intensity. Hue is the name of a color. Value is a color’s lightness or darkness, which is altered when black or white is added. Intensity refers to the intensity of a color, often measured by boldness or dullness.

  2. Line Line is an element of art defined as the path of a point moving through space. There are many types of line in art. Lines may be continuous or broken, and can be any width or texture. The great variety of line types make them an especially useful tool in artworks.

  3. Form Form is an element of art closely related to shape. Like shape, form can be geometric or organic. However, unlike shape, form is always three-dimensional. A form is measurable by length, width, and height, and encloses volume. Forms can be well-defined, such as a cube, or they can be free-form, such as an animal. They can be created by combining two or more shapes and are often defined by the presence of shadow and how light plays against it in an artwork.

  4. Value Value in art refers to the lightness and darkness of colors and is often described in varying levels of contrast. White is the lightest value while black is the darkest. To create a tint of a color, the artist adds white. To create a shade, the artist adds black.

  5. Texture Texture refers to the tactile qualities of a surface. This element of art deals with the way objects feel or the way it looks like they would feel.

  6. Space Space is the element of art that is concerned with how an artwork depicts depth. It is how artists make a two-dimensional surface look three-dimensional. Space can give the illusion of objects in an artwork being close, far away, or overlapping one another. Perspective is included in this element.

  7. Shape A shape is an enclosed area of space created through lines or other elements of the composition.

Principles of Organization

More information here.

  1. Similarity The principle of similarity states that when things appear to be similar to each other, we group them together. And we also tend to think they have the same function.

  2. Continuity The principle of continuity states that elements that are arranged on a line or curve are perceived to be more related than elements not on the line or curve.

  3. Closure The principle of closure states that when we look at a complex arrangement of visual elements, we tend to look for a single, recognizable pattern.

  4. Proximity The principle of proximity states that things that are close together appear to be more related than things that are spaced farther apart.

  5. Figure-ground The figure-ground principle states that people instinctively perceive objects as either being in the foreground or the background. They either stand out prominently in the front (the figure) or recede into the back (the ground).

  6. Simplicity The law of prägnanz is sometimes referred to as the law of simplicity. This law holds that when you’re presented with a set of ambiguous or complex objects, your brain will make them appear as simple as possible.

  7. Common fate The principle of common fate states that elements moving in the same direction appear to be more related than elements that are stationary or moving in different directions.

Principles of Design

The principles of design describe the ways that artists use the elements of art in a work of art.

  1. Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side; in asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced. In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.

  2. Emphasis is the part of the design that catches the viewer’s attention. Usually the artist will make one area stand out by contrasting it with other areas. The area could be different in size, color, texture, shape, etc.

  3. Movement is the path the viewer’s eye takes through the work of art, often to focal areas. Such movement can be directed along lines, edges, shape, and color within the work of art.

  4. Pattern is the repeating of an object or symbol all over the work of art.

  5. Repetition works with pattern to make the work of art seem active. The repetition of elements of design creates unity within the work of art.

  6. Proportion is the feeling of unity created when all parts (sizes, amounts, or number) relate well with each other. When drawing the human figure, proportion can refer to the size of the head compared to the rest of the body.

  7. Rhythm is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement. Rhythm creates a mood like music or dancing. To keep rhythm exciting and active, variety is essential.

  8. Variety is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer’s attention and to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the work of art.

  9. Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the work of art, which creates a sense of completeness.