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Elements and Principles of Art, Design & Composition

“Making Art is like making a cake – you need Ingredients and the Recipe”

Elements of Art are The Ingredients of a Recipe

  • Line: Lines make shapes

  • Shape/Form: Shapes are 2-dimensional , Form is 3-dimensional (an object)

  • Space: Makes things in your picture look “real” – like 3-D

  • Color: Makes your picture “pretty”

  • Value: Makes your picture dark or light

  • Texture: Is something you can feel or think you can feel

  • Movement: Device to guide your eye around the picture, or makes the picture seem to move

Principles of Art are The Instructions of a Recipe

  • Balance: Giving the same weight to both sides of a picture

  • Contrast: Making the picture interesting by using contrasting devices

  • Dominance/Emphasis: Making one or several parts of the picture stand out

  • Pattern: Repeating elements in the picture to create patterns –the eye likes to follow patterns

  • Movement/Rhythm:

    • In 2-d Pictures and 3-d Forms, Movement and Rhythm can be created with repitition and patterns:

    • In 3-D Forms there can also be viewer movement – the viewer moves around the picture

    • Unity: All elements and principles of art (design, composition) work together to make a harmonious whole

    • Variety: Including differences in elements to offset unity and make the artwork more interesting

Elements of Art/Design Defined

The tools (or ingredients) the artist works with to create an artwork according to the principles of design (space, line, shape, form, color, value and texture)


The plan an artist uses to organize the design elements in a work of art to achieve a unified composition


Lines are used to define space, contours and outlines, or suggest mass or volume. It may be a continuous mark made on a surface with a pointed tool or implied by edges of shapes and forms

Descriptive Lines

Lines that describe are used to describe something (objects, people):

  • Outlines: Usually have the same thickness and define outer edges

  • Contour Lines: Define edges and of shapes , also define shapes within form. Usually vary in thickness, imply 3-d

  • Individual Lines: Used to represent individual objects

  • Hatching: Closely spaced parallel lines that blend together to make gray. Used for shading

  • Crosshatching: Hatching lines that cross

Implied Lines

  • Edges: An edge exists where on shape ends and another begins.

  • Closure: Tthe tendency to connect marks by “lines”

  • Lines of Sight: Implied line suggested in the direction in which figures in a picture are looking, or from the observer’s eye to the object being looked at.


An enclosed space defined by other art elements such as line, color, texture. We often think of organic vs geometirc and open vs closed:
  • Organic: Free forms/shapes, mostly occurring in nature, irregular edges

  • Geometric: Mechanical, human made shapes; have regular edges

  • Open: Allows space to penetrate

  • Closed: Few openings/negative spaces are allowed to penetrate


Appears 3-dimensional (having length, height, and width) And encloses volume.

  • Sculpture in the round: 3-dimensional forms that can be viewed from all angles, created by carving, assembly or modeling.

  • Relief sculpture: Sculpture which projects from a background, classified according to the degree in which it is raised from the surface.


  • Element of design with properties, hue, value, and intensity

  • Pigment: Powdered coloring material

  • Spectrum: Beam of light passed through a prism divides into the seven colors of the rainbow

  • Hue: Identifies a color: name of the color

  • Value: Lightness and darkness of a color

    • Lighter values: tints

    • Darker values: shades

  • Saturation (brightness, intensity): Relative purity (brightness or dullness) of a color. To get duller color: mix with complementary color

  • Color wheel: Arrangement of colors in a circle, used by artists

  • Primary colors: Red, yellow, blue

  • Secondary colors: Produced by mixing 2 primary colors: orange, purple, green

  • Intermediate colors: Lie between primary and secondary colors on the color wheel. Name starts with that of the primary color: i. e. red-orange

  • Complementary colors: Hues directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Play a role in saturation and color harmonies

  • Value:Element of design concerned with the degree of lightness and darkness. Values are used to create the illusion of 3-D

  • Value Scale: Range of light and dark in a given artwork; represented on a 9 step scale.

  • Chiaroscuro: Use of value contrast to represent effects of light and shadow


  • Element of art that indicates areas between, around, above, below and within something. Devices to give the illusion of 3-d space on a 2-d surface

  • Foreshortening: Method of applying perspective to an object or figure so that it seem to recede in space by shortening the depth dimension, making the form seem 3-D

  • Shading: Variations in value

  • Overlapping: Placing something in front of, and partially covering something else

  • Size: Larger objects appear closer than smaller objects

  • High/Low Placement: Something that is lower in a picture seems to be closer

  • Linear Perspective: All parallel lines receding into the distance are drawn to converge at one or more vanishing points on the horizon line (eye level line)

  • 1 point perspective: All parallel lines converge in one vanishing point on the eye level line (i.e. looking down a railroad track)

  • 2 point perspective (oblique angle)

  • Looking at an object at an oblique angle: horizontal line starting at the “corner” converge in 2 vanishing points on the eye level line

  • Aerial perspective: The diminishing of color of color intensity to lighter and duller hues to give the illusion of space.

  • Color: Perspective in abstract paintings: Warm colors tend to advance while cool colors tend to recede


  • Surface quality of an art work usually perceived through touch.

  • Real texture: perceived through touch

  • Simulated texture: artist may give an artwork the “appearance” of texture as distinguished from the texture of the artwork itself


  • Viewer movement: Necessary to experience a work of art.

  • Actual movement: The artwork actually moves (kinetic art) i.e. “mobile”

  • Implied movement: Preservation of a moment in time - “frozen” movement

  • Optical movement: Illusion of movement, or implied movement, caused by the response of the eye to lines, shapes and colors arranged in art works

  • Sequence: The following of one thing after another in logical order - used in comic and movies

Principles of Art/Design Defined

The methods and techniques an artist uses to organize or design artworks by controlling and ordering the elements of design (balance, emphasis, rhythm, movement, repetition, contrast and unity)

  • Unity: A principle of design related to the sense of wholeness, which results from the successful combination of the component elements of an artwork

  • Proximity: The placement of objects very near to each other to make them look related

  • Similarity: Making things similar in color, texture, shape or form to connect them

  • Continuation: (viewer movement) A phenomenon that occurs in an artwork when the observer’s vision is directed from place to place by lines, edges of shapes or an arrangement of objects and figures

  • Variety: a principle of design concerned with the inclusion of differences in the elements of the composition to offset unity and make the work more interesting

  • Contrast: A principle of design that refers to differences between elements such as color, texture, value and shape. A painting might have bright colors contrasted with dull or angular shapes contrasted with round ones.

  • Dominance/ Emphasis: A concept of design, which suggests that one element, or the combination of elements, attracts more attention than anything else in the composition. The dominant element(s) is usually found in a focal point in a composition and contributes to unity in suggesting that other elements are subordinate to it.

  • Rhythm: A principle of design that refers to ways of combining elements to produce the appearance of movement in an artwork. It may be achieved through the repetition, alternation or progression of an element repetitions of the same lement, such as shape of figure with little of no variation

  • Alternating repetition: repetition of two or more elements (i.e. circle - square) with little or no variation

  • Progressive repetition: repetition of an element from large to small, light to dark, etc.

  • Movement: A principle of design associated with rhythm, referring to the arrangement of parts in an artwork to create a sense of motion to the viewers eye through the work

  • Balance: A principle of design referring to the arrangement of visual elements to create stability in an artwork.

    • Symmetrical balance: one side duplicates or mirrors the other

    • Approximate symmetry: almost symmetrical

    • Asymmetrical balance: visual units on a vertical axis are different but are placed in the composition to create a “felt” balance

    • Radial balance: composition based on a circle with the design radiating from a central point

"When I examine myself and my method of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge."
(Albert Einstein)