Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Color schemesWe looked at the basics of color and its relationship on the color wheel in the previous lesson, “Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1.” Color harmony (also known as color schemes) will be discussed in part 2 of this lesson on the basic art element called color.

What is Color Harmony?

Color harmony is the relationship of colors that work well together. It can be a simple relationship involving only one color with several shades (monochromatic) or two complementary colors, or it can be a more complex relationship involving multiple colors. There are many ideas for achieving harmony in our color palettes. These harmonies are based on the color wheel. A color wheel is a handy tool to have around as it helps the artist understand which colors work well together. Following are some illustrations and descriptions introducing some of the more popular color harmonies.

Color Relationships

Monochromatic

Monochromatic refers to the use of a single color from the color wheel. A monochromatic color scheme can be made using this single color.

A monochromatic color scheme is created by using that single color along with its various tints, shades, and tones. All the variances of the single color work well together to produce a harmonizing and soothing effect.

monochromatic color scheme
An example of a monochromatic family.

Complementary

Basic Art Element — Color relationshipsComplementary colors (a.k.a. color opposites) are located directly opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, violet is complementary to yellow because it is located opposite yellow on the color wheel.

The complementary or color opposites are:

    • Red and green
    • Yellow and violet
    • Blue and orange
    • Yellow-green and red-purple
    • Yellow-orange and blue-violet
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Red-violet and yellow-green
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Blue-violet and yellow-orange

Painting tips regarding color opposites:

1) When equal amounts of color opposites are mixed, they will cancel each other out, resulting in a drab neutral gray.

Basic Art Element — Color2) When color opposites are placed next to each other, especially when fully saturated, they create the strongest contrast between them. They will even create the optical illusion of appearing to vibrate. This illusion is most evident between red and green.

Split-Complementary

split-complementary color schemeA variation on the complementary color scheme is the split-complementary color scheme. Split-complementary takes the two colors directly on either side of the complementary color, rather than the color opposite the key color on the wheel. So, for example, if your main color is yellow, you would select the two colors on either side of violet instead of violet to make up this harmony of colors.

This scheme allows for a wider range of colors while remaining true to the basic harmony between the key and complementary colors. It has the same visual appeal as the complementary color scheme but with less contrast and tension. Split-complementary color schemes are a safe choice for almost any design because they are nearly impossible to mess up and always look good.

Analogous

colorwheel-AnalogousAnalogous colors are groups of three colors that sit next to one another on the color wheel. One is the dominant color and two supporting colors. The effect of this color scheme can be pretty dramatic as these hues usually work very well together in creating a sense of unity or harmony within the composition.

Using this color scheme, choose one as the dominant color (usually a primary or secondary color), a second color to support, and a third as an accent.

Accented Analogous

accented analogous colorsAn accented analogous scheme (also called analogous complementary) combines analogous and complementary color schemes. It consists of colors next to each other on the color wheel and the color directly opposite these. The direct complement then becomes the accent color to create a dynamic contrast against the dominant color grouping. This is a great way to add warmth to a cool analogous color pallet or a cool accent color to an otherwise warm color scheme.

Painting tips using this color scheme:

1) This color scheme works best when the number of colors used is limited to four.

2) A good time to use this scheme is when three closely related colors dominate a design. Then, adding the contrasting color provides a surprising accent for the composition.

Triadic (Triad)

triadic color schemeA triadic color scheme comprises three colors that are equally spaced from one another on the color wheel, forming an equilateral triangle. Thus every fourth color on the color wheel will make up part of a triad.

Some examples of triadic color schemes could be:

    • Red / Yellow / Blue
    • Orange / Green / Violet
    • Yellow-Orange / Blue-Green / Red-Violet
    • Yellow-Green / Blue-Violet / Red-Orange

Painting tips for mixing triad colors:

1) Work with only the three selected colors in your triad and their mixes.
2) Make one of your colors dominant, with the other two acting as subordinates.
3) Add variety to your design by including different shades, tints, and tones of your triad colors.

Test your knowledge of color theory. Take this simple test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2 — You are here.

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

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UPDATED: 25 June 2021

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Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Space
A good example of positive and negative space. Painting by Teresa Bernard.

Space is a basic art element that refers to the distance between the area around and within shapes, forms, colors, and lines. Space can be positive or negative. It includes the background, foreground, and middle ground. Both positive and negative space can play essential roles in the overall success of a work of art. By understanding the difference between the two, you will:

    • Become better at designing unified compositions.
    • Be more successful in visually communicating your story.
    • Gain important clues about the meaning of an art piece.

Two types of space exist within art — positive space and negative space. Positive space is the actual objects or shapes within an artwork, and negative space is the space around and between those objects. An excellent way to demonstrate positive and negative space is by utilizing Rubin’s vase. (Refer to illustration.) As you can see, the vase occupies what would be referred to as positive space, and the space surrounding the vase is negative space. Notice how the negative space is forming silhouettes of two faces in profile.

Basic Art Element Space

Positive Space

Positive space is the area or part of the composition that an object or subject occupies. It is usually the main focus of the painting, such as a vase of flowers, fruit, or candle in a still life, a person’s face in a portrait, or an animal in a wildlife painting, or a building, trees, and hills in a landscape. When used skillfully, positive space will add interest by enhancing and balancing the negative space in a composition.

Negative Space

Negative space is that empty or open space that surrounds an object. It helps define the object, gives it some breathing room to prevent the painting from being too crowded, and significantly impacts how the art piece is perceived.

An interesting thing about negative space is that it can prompt viewers to seek out subtly hidden images within the negative space, causing your design to get more attention and be remembered while other less interesting works aren’t.

Why is negative space so important?

  1. It can add interest and is an excellent way to draw attention to your works of art. A good balance between great negative space and intrigue will cause the viewer to desire more time to look at your work of art.
  2. It can draw the viewer in, giving them a sense of inclusion because they discovered a subtle, hidden message or image in the composition. Even though it may be a simple composition, great negative space reveals there is more to the piece than first meets the eye, making it a more rewarding experience for the viewer.
  3. It gives the eye a “place to rest,” thereby adding to the subtle appeal of the composition. The equal amounts of both negative and positive are considered by many to be good design.

Questions

  1. Does a negative space have shape?
  2. In what ways is negative space important to the overall success of a composition?

Additional Information

Principles of Good Design: Space

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space — You are here

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

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UPDATED: 07 June 2021

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Basic Art Element — Texture

basic art element texture
A study in texture. Oil painting by Teresa Bernard.

Texture is a basic element of art. Anything that has a surface has texture. Texture is the way a surface looks and feels. It is experienced in two ways — with touch (tactile) and our eyes (visually). Fine artists often use texture in the following ways:

    • Create a focal point.
    • Add interest.
    • Provide contrast.
    • Visually balance their compositions.

Texture is essential in paintings to make objects appear to be real. Even in abstract paintings, texture can enhance the viewer’s experience by suggesting certain feelings or moods regarding the artwork. Texture can also serve to organize and unify various areas of a composition.

Texture can either add to or take away from the overall effect of the composition. When it is used haphazardly or in the wrong way, it can confuse or clutter the painting. However, when used with deliberate skill, texture will bring a composition together, creating the illusion of realism and unity.

The Two Types of Texture — Tactile and Visual

Tactile texture is the real thing. It is the actual way a surface feels when it is felt or touched, such as rough, smooth, soft, hard, silky, slimy, sticky, etc. 3-D art such as sculpture and architectural structures are tactile because they can be felt. Examples of natural texture would be wood, sandpaper, canvas, rocks, glass, granite, metal, etc.

Even the brush strokes used in a painting can create a textured surface that can be felt and seen. The building up of paint on the surface of a canvas or board to make actual texture is called impasto. Painters may choose to apply their paints thickly or thinly depending on the overall effect they wish to achieve.

texture in art
Tractor Tire, a Study in Texture by Teresa Bernard

Visual texture is not actual texture. All textures you observe in photographs and paintings are visual textures. No matter how rough objects may seem to appear in a picture, the image’s surface is always going to be smooth and flat to the touch.

Artists can create the illusion of texture in their paintings by simulation or implying it through the use of various art elements such as line, shading, and color. It is created by repeating lines, dots, or other shapes to create a pattern. Varying the size, density, and orientation of these marks will produce other desired effects as well.

Common Textures

Although there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different textures, all textures will fall under two broad categories — rough and smooth. For example:

Rough Smooth
Course Fine
Bumpy Slick
Dry Wet
Flat Wrinkled
Scaly Silky
Glossy Matte
Sandy Slimy
Hairy Bald
Hard Soft
Prickly Velvety
Sharp Dull
Sticky Slippery

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture — You are here

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

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UPDATED: 29 April 2022

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Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

What is Color?

Basic Art Element — Color, Pt 1Color is a basic element of art that involves light. It is produced when light waves (wavelength) strike an object and are reflected into our eyes. Each light wave has a distinct color. Objects appear to be different colors because some wavelengths are absorbed while others are reflected or transmitted. The wavelengths that are reflected back to our eyes give us the colors we see.

Color consists of three properties:

  • Hue — The name given to a color, such as red, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange, etc.
  • Intensity (or saturation) — The purity or dullness of a color. A color’s purity is determined by whether it has been mixed with another hue and, if so, to what extent. The most vibrant colors are those right from the tube. Colors that have been combined with various hues are thought to be less intense. To reduce the intensity of a color, there are two options:
    1) Mix the color with gray.
    2) Mix the color with its complement.
  • Value — The lightness or darkness of a color. Adding white or black to a hue changes its value. A “tint” is created when white is added, while a “shade” is made when black is added.

Using color effectively in creating art involves understanding three basic areas: the color wheel, color value, and color schemes (or color harmony.)

The Color Wheel

Basic Art Element — ColorThe color wheel is a useful visual aid used by artists and interior designers to understand the relationship between colors. Sir Isaac Newton developed the color wheel in 1666 when he took the color spectrum and bent it into a circle. The color wheel is a circular chart divided into 12 sections, with each sector showing a distinct color. There are three categories of colors in it: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The term “tertiary” means third.

  • basic art element colorThe primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These hues are equally spaced apart on the color wheel. There are only three primary colors, and they are the most basic colors on the wheel. They can only be made from natural pigments and cannot be made by mixing other hues. These three primary colors can be blended to create any other color on the color wheel.
  • secondary colors on the color wheelSecondary colors are orange, green, and purple (or violet). These colors are created by mixing equal parts of any two primary colors.
    • Red + yellow = orange
    • Yellow + blue = green
    • Blue + red = violet (purple)
  • Tertiary colors are red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, blue-purple, yellow-green, and yellow-orange. There are six tertiary colors, and they are the result of mixing equal parts of a primary color with a secondary color. The proper way to refer to tertiary colors is by listing the primary color first and then the secondary color. Tertiary colors are called by their two-word name.
    • tertiary colors on the color wheelRed + violet (purple) = red-violet (red-purple)
    • Red + orange = red-orange
    • Blue + green = blue-green
    • Blue + violet (purple) = blue-violet (blue-purple)
    • Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
    • Yellow + green = yellow-green

Color Values

Color also has value. A color’s value is a measurement that describes how light or dark it is. It is defined by the color’s proximity to white. For instance, lighter colors such as yellow will have lighter values than darker colors like navy blue.

A good way to see the difference in the values of colors is to look at the greyscale. White is the lightest value, while black is the darkest. Middle gray is the value halfway between these two extremes.

basic art element value

A color’s value can be changed by simply adding white or black to it. When you add white to a hue, you get a lighter value. “Tints” are the lighter values. When you add black to a color, the value darkens, creating a “shade” of that color. See the example below.

colorscale_value_art_element

Color Temperature

The temperature of color is how we perceive a particular color, either warm or cool. Warm colors range from red to yellow on the color wheel, whereas cool colors range from blue to green and violet. Each temperature takes up one-half of the color wheel (see images below). Somewhere in the green and violet spectrums, the temperature changes between warm and cool.

The characteristics of warm and cool colors include:

Warm Colors

    • Warm colorsare made with red, orange, or yellow, and combinations of them
    • tend to feel warm, reminding us of heat and sunshine
    • tend to advance into the foreground, i.e., come toward the viewer
    • may feel more energetic, attention-grabbing, and aggressive

Cool Colors

    • Cool colorsare made with blue, green, or violet, and combinations of them
    • tend to feel cool, reminding us of water and sky
    • tend to recede into the background, i.e., move away from the viewer
    • are more calming and soothing

Neutral Colors

Neutral colors do not appear on the color chart and are neither warm nor cool. They are called neutral because they lack color and are derived by mixing equal parts of color opposites (i.e., red + green, blue + orange, or yellow + purple), resulting in drab-looking grays.

Black and white are also considered neutral because they are neither warm nor cool and do not change color.

This lesson on “Basic Art Element — Color” continues in part 2, where color harmony is discussed.

Take The Quiz

Test your knowledge of color theory by taking this simple online test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1 — You are here.

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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UPDATED: 25 June 2021

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Basic Art Element — Value

Basic Art Element — Value
Value is evident in this painting by Teresa Bernard.

Value is a basic element of art that refers to the gradual change of lightness or darkness of a color. It is created when a light source shines upon an object creating highlights, form shadows, and cast shadows.

Value is most evident on the grayscale, where black is represented as lowest or darkest, and white is represented as the highest or lightest value. Or, more simply said, they are the various shades of grey between white and black. Artists use them to create highlights and shadows (shading) in objects and create depth in their paintings or drawings.

basic art element value

 

Colors have value too. Changing the value of a color is as simple as adding black or white to it. Some colors, like yellow and orange, are naturally light in value.

The Benefits of Values in an Oil Painting

Successful paintings have a full range of value. This means that there are ample amounts of both light values and dark values. Paintings that possess a full range of values tend to stand out more and are more pleasing to the eye.

emphasis in artValue creates contrast and adds emphasis.

The human eye tends to be drawn to areas of high contrast. High contrast occurs when lighter elements are placed directly next to much darker ones, creating a dramatic effect. This technique is used to draw attention to specific areas of a painting that the artist wants to emphasize, thus creating a focal point. For example, a light figure on a dark background will become the center of attention, and a dark figure on a primarily white background will command the eye’s attention as well.

Value creates the illusion of depth.

shading graphicValue is an important tool to suggest roundness or depth. It helps create depth within by making an object look three-dimensional, or a landscape appear to recede into the distance. Light values make elements feel like they are further away, and dark values make them seem closer.

Value creates an opportunity to set the mood.

    • Low Key — These are paintings that exhibit mostly dark values and very few lights. Low-key paintings have very little contrast and seem to communicate a depressing, sad, or mysterious mood. Paintings with predominantly dark values often convey a sense of the nocturnal and secretive, of things hidden just beyond sight.
    • High-key — These are paintings that feature mostly light values and very few darks. There isn’t much contrast in a high-key painting. Usually, these paintings possess a light, happy mood. Female portraits are often high key as they can convey delicacy, innocence, and dreaminess.

Using both high and low key colors in a painting can create contrast which often feels dramatic or exciting.

Additional Reading

Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value — You are here

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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Basic Art Element — Line

What is “line” as applied to art?

Basic Art Element -- Line
Lines can create textures and patterns when combined with other lines. Painting by Teresa Bernard

A line is a basic element of art. It is a long, narrow mark or band connecting two points. It has one dimension — length. When two ends of a line meet, a shape is created. Lines can suggest forms by creating volume. Lines can also create textures and patterns when combined with other lines.

A line is a basic building block of all visual art. It is essential to a composition since a line can perform a number of functions. It can divide the composition, direct the viewer’s gaze, define shapes, and make a statement.

Lines allow the artist to direct the viewer’s eye into and around the composition along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art. They can vary in width, direction, and length, and they often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight, curved, thick, or thin.

Types Of Lines

Horizontal lines

    • suggest landscape and the horizon
    • impart a sense of peacefulness, vastness, stability, and constancy
    • associated with earthbound things and suggest a feeling of rest or repose

Vertical lines 

    • are perpendicular to the horizon and stretch from the earth to the heavens
    • communicate a feeling of solidity, loftiness, and spirituality
    • impart a sense of height, grandeur, and formality
    • gives the impression of dignity that extends upwards toward the sky beyond human reach
    • suggest power with a strong foundation

Horizontal and vertical lines used in combination 

    • are structurally stable and are not likely to tip over
    • communicate stability and solidity
    • suggests permanence, reliability, and safety

Diagonal lines 

    • suggest depth and the illusion of perspective that pulls the viewer into the painting
    • appear unbalanced, either rising or falling, neither vertical nor horizontal
    • convey action, movement or direction, restless and uncontrolled energy
    • can appear solid and unmoving if they are holding something up or at rest against a vertical line or plane

Curved lines

    • sweep and turn gracefully between endpoints and is another type of line that the eye like to follow
    • provide a more significant dynamic influence in a picture
    • are more pleasing to the eye
    • are associated with comfort, familiarity, relaxation, softness, and sensuality
    • can also communicate confusion, turbulence, even frenzy, as in the violence of waves in a storm, etc.

Organic lines

    • occur in nature and are associated with things from the natural world, like plants and animals
    • are irregular, curved, and often fluid
    • convey a sense of gracefulness, dynamism, and spontaneity

Implied lines

    • don’t actually exist and can not be shown visually
    • are created by values, colors, textures, or shapes that guide the eye through the piece of artwork
    • are what is implied in the mind’s eye when we see and mentally fill in the spaces between objects
    • are created with directional elements such as shape, hand gesture, eye contact, or gazing in a direction (even off-canvas)

Contour lines 

    • define the edges of objects and also the edges of negative space between objects
    • create boundaries around or inside an object

Geometric lines

    • are mathematically determined
    • are rarely found in nature but often found in man-made constructions
    • have regularity and hard or sharp edges
    • convey a sense of order, conformity, and reliability

*Click for more information about the basic elements of art.

Homework

Draw an example of each type of line as described above.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line — You are here

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

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Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

An introduction to the principles of good design. Learning more about what it takes to create a great composition.

What exactly are the principles of good design?

an introduction to the principles of good design.Simply put, they are the tools every artist uses to create an effective composition. These tools are balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity, space, and unity. How well an artist understands and uses these tools will determine if the composition is weak or strong. The desired outcome should be a work of art that is both unified and aesthetically pleasing to look at. In a series of discussions, we’ll take a look at each one of these principles.

Anyone who studies design will soon discover there is no longer a clear-cut line between fine art and applied art anymore. Whether it is web or graphic design, architectural or industrial design, commercial or fine art, all art is subject to the same principles that make up all good design. Just as a fine artist arranges various elements within a painting to create a pleasing composition, it is also with the graphic artist.

For example, fine artists may use objects such as a vase of flowers, bowl of fruit, or a figurine to design a lovely still life composition in a painting, while graphic artists will use headlines, bodies of text, photos, illustrations, and clip-art images to compose a page for print or a webpage for the Internet. It’s not the objects in and of themselves that determine if the design is a good composition or not, it is their arrangement governed by the principles.

Defining the Principles

    • Balance – a feeling of equality of weight, attention, or attraction of the various elements within the composition as a means of accomplishing unity.
    • Contrast – the difference between elements or the opposition to various elements.
    • Emphasis – the stress placed on a single area of a work or unifying visual theme.
    • Movement – the suggestion of action or direction, the path our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.
    • Proportion – the relation of two things in size, number, amount, or degree.
    • Repetition and rhythm – repeating an element either regularly or irregularly, resulting in a rhythm of the repeating elements.
    • Simplicity (a.k.a. visual economy) – eliminating all non-essential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form.
    • Space – the interval or measurable distance between objects or forms (two-dimensional or three-dimensional).
    • Unity – the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. Unity is the desired result in all great art.

Good art always starts with an idea.

Before beginning any work of art, every artist needs to keep in mind that every composition starts with an idea. To use the design principles effectively, the artist must have an idea to express or an objective in mind. This is vital to the success of any artwork. Without a clear purpose, even the most conscientious attention to the principles of good design will result in uninteresting work. However, with an idea clearly in mind, a beautiful composition can emerge. Every artist’s goal should be to create a composition in their work that is both unified and interesting to look at.

Questions

  1. In its simplest term, what are the principles of good design?
  2. What is the end result when these principles are effectively applied?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principles: An Introduction — You are here

Good Design Principles: Balance

Good Design Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principles: Emphasis

Good Design Principles: Movement

Good Design Principles: Proportion

Good Design Principles: Space

Good Design Principles: Visual Economy

Good Design Principles: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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UPDATED: 15 August 2021

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The Basic Elements of Art

Introducing The Basic Art Elements

In this lesson, you will be introduced to the basic elements of art and how they work in conjunction with the principles of good design.

The basic art elements are the “building blocks” used to create any visual art piece. These elements are color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value. Without them, it would be impossible for an artist to create art. Whether they realize it or not, every artist uses at least two or more of these elements in their art-making. For example, in sculpture, an artist uses both space and form, and a painter will utilize line and shape when creating a painting.

Defining The Basic Elements of Art

    • Color — A pigment used in artwork and their various values and intensities, such as the primary colors – red, yellow, and blue.
    • Form — The mass of the shapes created by forming two or more shapes or as three-dimensional shapes when showing height, width, and depth.
    • Line — A mark (actual or implied) that spans the distance between two points used to define shape in two-dimensional work. The implied line is the path that the viewer’s eye takes as it moves along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art. Click for more information about lines in art.
    • Shape — Any area defined by edges within the piece bound by line, value, or color. It can be geometric (for example, square, circle, hexagon, etc.) or organic (such as the shape of a puddle, blob, splatter, etc.).
    • Space — Refers to the empty or occupied areas around, between, or within components of an art piece. It is either negative (empty space) or positive (occupied space).
    • Texture — The way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. The actual or implied structure and minute molding of a surface (rough, smooth, etc.) can either be seen or felt with the sense of touch.
    • Value  Shading used to emphasize form. The degree of lightness or darkness of any given color within a piece of art. Adding white to lighten the color is called “tint,” while the addition of black is called “shade.”

An artist will skillfully use these basic elements of art, mixing them with the principles of design to compose a sensational piece of art. Not all art elements have to be used; however, there will always have to be at least two present.

Questions

Why are the elements of art so important?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art — You are here

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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Principles of Good Design: Balance

principles of good design balanceBalance is one of the basic principles of good design. It is a significant design element because, without it, a composition will look off. In two-dimensional art, balance is all about the visual weightiness and not the physical weight.

Defining Balance in Art

Balance is defined as a sense of equilibrium created when the visual weight of objects within a composition is distributed evenly. A sense of visual balance is achieved when no single aspect of the design may dominate or appear heavier than another section of the same composition.

Elements that affect the degree of visual balance are:

    • Lights and darks — light colors will appear lighter in weight than dark colors.
    • Brightness — brilliant colors appear to weigh more than neutral colors
    • Warmth and coolness — warm colors, such as yellow, tend to enlarge or expand an area in size, while cool colors like blue tend to contract or shrink an area
    • Transparency — Transparent areas seem to weigh less than opaque areas visually

Horizontal, Vertical, and Radial Balance

Balancing the components within a painting is best illustrated by visualizing weighing scales or a playground see-saw. As you can see, balance is established by the observer’s visual judgment rather than through a physical weighing process. In this respect, balancing a 2D composition requires a skillful distribution of its components so that the viewer is satisfied the piece is not about to topple over.

principles of good design horizontal balance

Horizontal balance is achieved when components are balanced left and right of a central axis. They are said to be vertically balanced when they are balanced above and below. Radial balance is defined as when components are dispersed around a central point or burst out from a central line.

good design principles vertical balancegood design balance

Types of Balance

There are two types of balance — symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance is symmetry or formal balance. Asymmetrical balance is asymmetry or informal balance. Of these two types, symmetrical balance is the most stable visually.

Symmetrical Balance

symmetrical balanceSymmetrical balance is when the weight is equally distributed on both sides of the central axis. Symmetry is the simplest and most prominent type of balance. It creates a secure, safe feeling and a sense of solidity. Symmetrical balance is achieved in two ways. One way is by “pure symmetry.” The other way is by “approximate symmetry.”

In pure symmetry, identical parts are equally distributed on either side of the central axis in mirror-like repetition. An excellent example of pure symmetry is the human face. It is the same on both the right side and the left side of the nose. Pure symmetry has its place in particular artworks; however, because of its identical repetition, pure symmetry for a composition can quickly become too monotonous and uninteresting to look at.

Approximate symmetry, on the other hand, has greater appeal and interest for the viewer. The two sides of a composition are varied and are more interesting to view. Even though they are varied somewhat, they are still similar enough to make their repetitious relationship symmetrically balanced.

Asymmetrical Balance

asymmetrical balanceAsymmetrical balance is when both sides of the central axis are not identical yet appear to have balance. The way to use asymmetry is by balancing two or more unequal components on either side of the fulcrum by varying their size, value, or distance from the center. Suppose the artist can skillfully feel, judge, or estimate the various elements and visual weight. In that case, this should allow him/her to balance them as a whole, and as a result, achieve a more interesting composition.

The artist will quickly discover that asymmetry allows for more freedom of creativity because there are unlimited arrangements that may be devised by using asymmetrical balance.

Some Examples of the Effective Use of Balance

Radial Balance

example of radial balanceradial balance sample

Horizontal Balance

horizontal balance, sample ofexample of horizontal balance

Vertical Balance

example of vertical balancevertical balance, sample of

Do you see the vertical balance suggested in the painting on the left? Look at where the foreground ends, and you will quickly see how balance is implied by the visual weightiness of the building in the background.

The painting on the right is a little more evident in its vertical balance. Notice how the three objects in the top part of the painting balance the apparent heaviness of the one object (the plate of pancakes) in the lower part of the painting.

Questions

  1. Why is balance so important in a good composition?
  2. In what way is asymmetry beneficial to the artist?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance — You are here

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thanks for reading this art lesson!

Feel free to share this with your friends.


UPDATED: 07 June 2021

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Principles of Good Design: Contrast

Principles of Good Design: ContrastAnother essential element of the principles of good design is contrast. This principle is often applied when an artist wants to add visual interest, excitement, and drama to an art piece.

Defining Contrast in Art

Contrast is the positioning of opposing components in a work of art. It occurs when two or more related elements are strikingly different—the greater the difference, the greater the contrast.

Opposing Elements in Art

The key to working with contrast is to make sure the differences are apparent. The most common ways of creating contrast are by creating differences in:

    • Color — complementary colors on the color wheel, i.e., red vs. green, blue vs. orange, yellow vs. violet
    • Hue — saturated vs. muted colors
    • Movement — fast vs. slow
    • Shape — organic vs. geometric shapes
    • Size — large vs. small shapes
    • Space — positive vs. negative
    • Temperature — warm vs. cool
    • Texture — rough vs. smooth
    • Value — light vs. dark

The Significance of Contrast

Contrast is significant because it adds variety to the total design and creates unity. It draws the viewer’s eye into the painting and helps to guide the viewer around the art piece.

Contrast also adds visual interest. Most designs require a certain amount of contrast; if there is too much similarity of the components in any design, it will become monotonous—too little contrast results in a design that is bland and uninteresting to view. However, please don’t overdo it, as too much contract can cause the design to be confusing. It takes just the right amount of contrast to engage the viewer’s participation in comparing various artwork components. For instance, the viewer will compare light and dark areas of a painting, wide lines and thin lines, light-weight forms and heavy forms, filled spaces, and unfilled spaces, etc.

Some Examples of the Effective Use of Contrast

contrast in artThe contrast in the illustration of a coffee pot and cups is quite apparent. Notice the contrast of the light background (wall) with the dark foreground (table cloth) and the contrast of the dark shadows on the teapot and cup against the wall and with the lights of the same objects against a dark window.

There is also a contrast of thin and thick lines in the napkin, straight and curved lines, and don’t miss the contrast created by geometric shapes (coffee pot and cups) with organic forms (steam and clouds). The dark steam is also contrasted with the light clouds off in the distance.

design elementThe illustration of the lady and parrot is an excellent example of the contrast between lights and darks. A contrast of color exists between the red parrot and white dress. Also, notice the contrast in the roundness of shapes in the foreground against the flatness of the dark background. Contrast of texture is also implied by the softness of the silk dress and the bird’s soft feathers against the hard, flat background.

Contrast in this painting is much more subtle. There is a contrast in texture. Notice the rigid texture of the fence in the background compared with the softness of the butterflies and kittens. Also, a contrast exists between the soil and the foliage. The kittens themselves have a contrast depicted in their colors versus the color of the fence in the background and even with each other. And the red flowers versus green grass promote a contrast of complementary colors.

Questions

  1. Why is it important to include contrast in a composition?
  2. How can contrast be used to create unity in a design?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast — You are here

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thanks for reading this art lesson!

Feel free to share this with your friends.


Enjoy this page? Please share it. Thanks!