Understanding the elements and principles of art and design

The elements and principles of art and design are the foundation of the language we use when we speak about art.

  • The elements of art are the visual tools an artist employs to create a composition: The elements are line, shape, colour, value, form, texture, and space.
  • The principles of art define how the artist uses the elements of art to help show the artist's intent. The principles are balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, and unity/variety.

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7 Principles of Art and Design

thoughtco.com

It is generally agreed that a successful painting consists of the following:

  • It is unified
  • It has some variety created by areas of contrast and emphasis
  • It is visually balanced
  • It guides the viewer's eye around the composition.

The principles of art are often interlaced, and one will frequently depend on the other. That means that one principle of art can influence the effect and impact of another.

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The visual elements of a composition should feel balanced and stable. Imbalance causes the viewer to feel disturbed.

Balance can be achieved in three ways:

  1. Symmetry, where both sides of the composition have the same elements in the same position, such as the two sides of a face.
  2. Asymmetry, where the composition is balanced by the contrast of any of the elements of art. For example, a large circle on one side might be balanced by a small square on the other side.
  3. Radial symmetry, where the elements are equally spaced around a central point.

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Contrast is when each element of art in a composition is made stronger in relation to the other. When next to each other, contrasting elements are among the first places that the viewer's eye is drawn.

Examples of contrast:

  • Negative/positive space.
  • Complementary colours placed next to each other.
  • Notan - light-dark harmony.

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It is mainly achieved through contrast.

A visually dominant area of the composition creates emphasis and commands the viewer's attention.

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It moves the viewer's eye around and inside the image.

A sense of movement can be created by diagonal or curvy lines, edges, the illusion of space, repetition, and energetic mark-making.

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A pattern is a consistent repetition of any of the elements of art or any combination of it.

Some classic patterns are spirals, grids, weaves.

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Rhythm comes from movement implied through the elements of art in an organised but varied way.

While pattern demands consistency, rhythm relies on variety, similar to rhythm in music.

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A painting will feel unified when all the elements fit together comfortably.

A painting needs both unity and variety. Too much unity makes it dull, and too much variety creates chaos. The best is to have areas of interest in your composition along with places for your eyes to rest.

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