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

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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

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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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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.

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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

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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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Principles of Good Design: Emphasis

Principles of Good Design: EmphasisAnother important element of good design principles is emphasis. It’s used when an artist wants to draw attention to a specific feature or area of a painting by giving it dominance and making it stand out.

Defining Emphasis in Art

Emphasis is when the artist gives dominance to or stresses a particular area or element of focus in a painting. Without it, a composition is nothing more than presenting a group of details with equal importance. When a composition has no emphasis, nothing stands out, as demonstrated in the illustration below. However, the effective use of this design principle calls attention to the important areas of the painting; thus creating elements of interest, causing the eye to return again and again.

Good Design: Emphasis
no emphasis added

Adding Emphasis

The way of achieving emphasis is by creating a focal point, also called a center of interest. A focal point is an area where the viewer’s attention is drawn to and where the eye tends to center. It is created by making one area or element in the painting stand out while all other parts contribute but are subordinate.

Subordinates are other compositional elements that have been minimized or toned down to bring attention to the center of interest. The focal point may be the largest, brightest, darkest, or most complex part of the whole, or it may get special attention because it stands out for some other reason. No more than one component should vie for primary attention. When more than one component gets equal billing, emphasis is canceled out.

Some ways to create emphasis might include:

    • Contrast — the more strongly an element contrasts with its surroundings, the more it stands out and draws attention to itself. See the discussion on Contrast for information about how to use this design principle.
    • Isolation — similar to placement, isolating an element from a group of other features will make it stand out.
    • Line — an arrow, line, or other similar objects can indicate movement or direction and lead the eye towards an element. Where lines converge also creates a focal point. See discussion on Movement for about this good design principle.
    • Placement  — elements centered on the canvas will command the viewer’s attention; however, artists tend to avoid putting the focal point in the center of the canvas. It is best to off-center it a bit and still achieve the same effect. Off-center placement is much more pleasing to the eye.
    • Size or Scale — this refers to how something seems in scale or size as it is compared to the objects around it. The larger the scale, the more it will stand out and attract the eye. Smaller elements tend to recede into the background.

No matter what element is chosen for emphasis, it should never demand all the attention. It is important to note that emphasis is necessary, but a good composition is one in which all the elements work together to unify.

Examples of the Effective Use of Emphasis

principles good design emphasis

In this painting, it is easy to see how the artist used light to emphasize the chef. He stands out as the main focal point of the entire painting.

design element

The artist creates emphasis in this painting through the use of color. By painting the cowboy’s shirt red, he was able to create a center of interest. Your eye is drawn right to his shirt.

Questions

  1. What are some ways emphasis can be added to a painting?
  2. What happens when too many elements are emphasized?

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

Good Design Principle: Emphasis — You are here

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principles: 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.

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UPDATED: 26 October

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Principles of Good Design: Movement

Principles of Good Design: MovementMovement is one of the principles of good design, which gives the artist control over what the viewer sees next. Using this principle, the artist can create the path our eyes will travel as we look at art. For example, our attention is first captured by the main focal point, and then it proceeds to move around the composition as one element after another catches our attention.

Defining Movement in Art

Movement shows action and creates a feeling of motion within a composition. It also serves as a guide to direct the eye from one element to the next. An artist controls and forces the progression of the viewer’s eyes in and around the composition of the painting using eye travel. For instance, the eye will travel along an actual path, such as a solid or dotted line. It will move along more subtle paths such as from large to smaller elements, from dark to lighter elements, from color to non-color unusual color to usual shapes.

Repetition and Rhythm

Movement also contributes to the overall unity in a piece by creating a relationship between various artwork components. This relationship can be developed in a variety of ways, including through repetition and rhythm.

Good Design MovementThe use of repetition to create movement occurs when elements with something in common are repeated regularly or irregularly, creating a visual rhythm. Repetition doesn’t always have to mean exact duplication, either. However, it does require similarity or near-likeness. Slight variations to a simple repetition are good, as this will add interest. Repetition tends to relate elements together, whether they are touching or not.

Rhythm is the product of repetition, which guides the eye in a direct, flowing, or staccato movement from one place to another. It can be made using continuous repetition, periodic repetition, or a regular alternation of one or more shapes or lines. A single form can be slightly different each time it is repeated, or it can be repeated with periodic changes in size, color, texture, or value. A line’s length, weight, or direction may change on a regular basis. Color may also be repeated in various parts of the composition to unify the multiple areas of the painting.

Movement Through Action

implied movement in artMovement can also be created by action. In two-dimensional works of art, action must be implied. Implied action in a painting creates life and activity. This is best illustrated by the direction the eye takes along an invisible path created by an arrow, a gaze, or a pointing finger. The “freeze-frame” effect of a moving item, such as a bouncing ball poised in mid-air, a jogger poised to take the next step, or a swimmer plunging, can also imply action. You get the idea.

Examples of the Effective Use of Movement

 

Movement is created in several ways. You see it as your eye travels from the little girl on the blanket and moves up the stairs. You will also see repetition in color. The color of the building is very similar to the covering the child is sitting on. In addition, the stairs create a repetition effect.

repetition in design

 

Repetition also creates movement. The color of the gowns is repeated, leading the eye into the painting. The pattern on the floor also creates repetition. You also get the feeling of movement created by implied action.

Questions

  1. What are some specific ways movement can be created in a composition?
  2. In what way does movement create unity in a work of art?

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

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement — You are here

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.

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UPDATED: 26 October 2020

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Principles of Good Design: Proportion

Design Principle Proportion

Proportion is a design principle in art that refers to the relationship of two or more elements in a composition and how they compare to one another concerning size, color, quantity, degree, setting, etc.; i.e., ratio.

A relationship is formed when two or more elements are combined in a painting. When the elements are in a correct or desirable relationship, the association is said to be harmonious. This refers to a component’s proper sizing and distribution, which results in good proportion. Good proportion adds harmony and symmetry or balance among the parts of a design as a whole.

When the principle of proportion is applied to a work of art, it is usually in the relationship of size. This is the ratio of the size of one element in a composition to the size of another related component. In this case, a size comparison is made between the:

    • Height, width, and depth of one element to that of another
    • Size of one area to the size of another area
    • Size of one element to the size of another element
    • Amount of space between two or more elements

bad proportionProportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of balance. When the relative sizes of two elements being compared appear incorrect or unbalanced, it is said to be “out of proportion.” For example, we would say a person is out of proportion if their head is larger than their entire body.

good proportionThere are several ways for achieving good proportion:

  1. Place like elements together that are similar or have a common feature.
  2. Create major and minor areas in the design, as equal parts can quickly become monotonous and boring. However, the size differences must not be so significant that the parts appear unrelated and, as a result, out of harmony with one another.
  3. Arrangement of space should be so that the eye does not perceive a formal mathematical relationship. For example, it is best to avoid dividing the composition into halves, quarters, and thirds because a subtle relationship creates a more dynamic design.
  4. Create harmony in the artwork. Harmony is an agreement between the shapes that stresses the similarities of all parts. In other words, the shape of one part should “fit” the shape of the adjoining elements. Likewise, shapes should “fit” properly in their positions and spaces.

Good Design Proportion

Examples of the effective use of Proportion

Good Design principle - Proportion

There is a real sense of proportion in the painting left. Without the effective use of the principle of proportion, you would not experience the majesty of the mountain in the background.

proportion5

In this painting, a proper proportion is instrumental in emphasizing the ship’s distance in the background.

Examples of the effective use of Harmony

harmony1

It is easy to observe harmony in action in nature. Notice how the individual wedges “fit” the orange painting.

harmony2

In the coat of arms, we observe how the different elements “fit” together perfectly inside each other to create harmony.

Questions

  1. How is good proportion created?
  2. What does good proportion bring to a painting?

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 Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion — You are here

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.

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UPDATED: 07 June 2021

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Principles of Good Design: Visual Economy

Principles of Good Design Visual EconomyVisual Economy in art, also known as simplicity, omits all non-essential or unimportant elements and details that don’t contribute to the essence of the overall composition to emphasize what is important. Simplicity suggests that a good composition is the most simple solution to the design problem. Much of the beauty and skill in good design focuses on what is left out rather than trying to include everything you can. The secret to a great composition is knowing when to stop, when to put the brush down, stand back and say, “that’s just about right.”

Keeping it Simple is a Key to Good Design

Good design means as little design as possible. It involves a paring down to only the essential elements required to achieve the desired effect. Restraint and simplicity are key in the creation of a good design. There are no rules for using economy; if an element works in the composition with respect to the whole design, it should be kept. If it distracts from the desired effect, it should be re-evaluated for its purpose. Never use anything for its own sake; always consider and justify its inclusion for the contribution it makes to achieve the overall design effect.

Examples of the effective use of Simplicity

visual economy

Simplicity is suggested in the painting of the cowboy by zooming in, thus eliminating the extra surrounding elements that would otherwise detract from the main focus of the painting.

There is simplicity in the design of the buildings in the painting right. Detail has been left out to call your attention to the unique architecture.

In the painting of Egypt, detail has been deliberately left out, so the shapes rather than the features become the areas of interest.

minimal design

In the painting on the right, the background and clothing are done in a very simplistic manner so that the viewer’s attention is drawn to Mary’s face and that of baby Jesus. More detail would have been a distraction.

Questions

  1.  Why is visual economy in art so important to a great composition?
  2. In what situations would an artist want to use this principle of good 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

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy — You are here

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: 26 October 2020

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Principles of Good Design: Space

Space, as used in art, refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within shapes and forms found within a composition. In this discussion, we will be taking a closer look at several different ways space is used in art. These are:

    • Positive space
    • Negative space
    • Two-dimensional space
    • Three-dimensional space

Positive and Negative Space

There are two types of space in art: positive and negative. Both positive and negative space are important factors to be considered in every good composition. They occur in both two-dimension and three-dimension art and are complementary to one another. One impacts on and affects the reading of the other.

Positive Space

Principles of Good Design: SpaceThe “occupied” areas in a work of art filled with lines, colors, and shapes are called “positive space.” In other words, the primary subject matter of a painting; the animals, plants, buildings, mountains, vases, people, etc., that make up your area of interest. It usually dominates the eye and is the focal point in a composition.

In the example, positive space (the area in black) is the form itself, i.e., the vase, the individual letters, or the words “positive space.”

Negative Space

Principles of Good Design: SpaceOn the other hand, “negative space” is the unoccupied areas that surround the subject matter. It is more passive and is determined by the edges of the positive space it surrounds. Negative space helps to give meaning to the composition.

In the example, it’s the “empty space” (the area in black) or unoccupied areas that lies between objects, shapes, and forms within a composition, and is also the space in the background that is not at first noticeable. It goes in all directions and goes on forever. It flows in, around, and between shapes and objects.

Do you see the shapes in negative space? Negative space has weight and mass and plays a vital role in defining your subject. It is not simply the absence of something.

Negative space is most evident when the space around a subject matter, and not the form itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape. In this case, negative space is very much an essential element of artistic composition. In the example above, the negative space forms a shape of two men face to face.

Also, negative space is vital in a composition because it gives balance to positive space by giving the eye a place to rest, especially when the composition is quite busy.

Two- and Three-dimensional Space

two-dimensionalTwo-dimensional (2D) space is found on a flat surface such as a canvas or paper. It has no depth, only length and width.  It consists of straight or curved lines or both and may have any number of sides.

In the example, the two-dimensional image appears flat because all the objects and forms lie on the same plane. It has no feeling of depth. However, the same two-dimensional space can be made to appear three-dimensional by giving it a sense of depth.

Rubins_vaseThree-dimensional (3D) space has width, height, and depth. When we look at a flat canvas and have the sensation of looking at spaces and objects that appear to have depth, we are receiving and believing a group of visual signals working to create the illusion of three-dimensional shapes and areas. This occurs when a sensation of space that seems to have height, width, and depth is visually created, as it has been done with the vase in the example shown.

These three-dimensional signals are so common in nature that we are almost unaware of them. Yet, in the hands of a skilled artist, these 3D cues can be used to create the illusion of three-dimension on a flat canvas surface.

Creating 3D Space on a Flat Surface

The tools needed for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space are:

    • Overlapping objects
    • Changing size and placement of related objects
    • Linear perspective
    • Relative hue and value
    • Atmospheric perspective

Overlapping objects within your composition is the most straightforward tool you can use for creating three-dimensional space in your painting or drawing. The effect is achieved by allowing the contour of one form to be interrupted by the contour of another form so that it looks like one form is physically sitting in front of the other.

Another simple tool for creating the illusion of 3D space is changing the size and placement of related objects. For example, when two shapes are the same size and are placed on the same plane, the image appears relatively flat and does not have much depth. However, by simply varying the size and placement of the shapes, a stronger sensation of depth is created.

As a rule of thumb, larger objects tend to appear closer to the viewer, and smaller ones tend to recede into the background. Also, objects placed lower on the canvas appear closer in distance than those set higher up.

Principles of Good Design: SpaceLinear perspective (a.k.a. converging lines) is a graphical system used by artists to create the illusion of depth and volume on a flat surface. As objects move away from the viewer, they appear to grow smaller and converge toward a vanishing point at the horizon line. The effective use of linear perspective creates this illusion of diminishing size by treating the edges as converging parallel lines. The vanishing point may be in any direction the viewer looks, including up, and may also be visible (on the canvas) or imaginary (somewhere off the canvas).

Using relative hue and value to create 3D space on a flat canvas surface are essential cues that tell us whether an object is nearby or far away. In general, warm colors or hues tend to appear closer, whereas cool shades tend to recede away from the viewer. On the same token, close objects tend to exhibit brighter, richer hues and more contrasting values, including extremes of dark and light. However, distant objects tend to be either similar or neutral in value and exhibit grayer shades. Thus, colors close in value are perceived as being on or near the same plane, but colors with strong contrast in value appear on separate planes.

Atmospheric perspective combines several tools already described above. This essential tool operates when objects that are far away lack contrast, detail, and texture. As objects get farther away, atmospheric perspective shows color gradually fading to a bluish-gray and details blurring, imitating how distant objects appear to the human eye.

As a rule of thumb, when using this tool, remember that colors tend to pale and fade as they recede into the distance, and objects become less defined and lack detail.

Deep Space In Art

When used effectively, all the tools needed to cultivate the illusion of three-dimensional space will create a sense of “deep space” within your painting. In deep space there are three terms used to describe depth:

    • Foreground is the area of a painting that visually appears closest to the viewer. It is often located on a lower plane or bottom of the canvas.
    • Middle ground is space that makes up the distance between the foreground and background of a painting. There is no specific measurement for what the limits are. Typically it is located somewhere on the middle plane of the canvas.
    • Background is the area in a painting that visually appears far away in the distance at or near the horizon. It is usually located on a higher plane of the canvas.

Recap

Since a flat surface such as a canvas contains only two-dimensional space, an artist may choose to create a three-dimensional illusion. When an artist begins to cut, divide and rearrange the surface space of a flat surface, the illusion of depth may appear. Even the slightest manipulation of line, value, or color will generate the illusion of three-dimensional space.

There are several ways to create the illusion of distance or depth on a flat surface. Here are some of those ways:

  1. Objects that are further away will appear smaller than those close up. Those same objects will also grow less distinct the further away they are. Their colors will fade and blend into the background colors.
  2. Objects which are placed higher on a plane create the feeling of depth or distance. Thus, the viewer senses that they are standing away from the objects and that there is a large amount of space in the foreground.
  3. Overlapping shapes tend to create a feeling of depth.
  4. Arrangement of lights. When light is contrasted against dark, a sense of depth is felt.
  5. Converging lines. As they move away into the distance, parallel lines appear to come closer together to form a vanishing point that may or may not be seen. An excellent example of this is a road or a path.
  6. Colors. Warm and bright colors appear closer, whereas cool or dull colors tend to recede into the distance.

Click for more information about perspective in drawing.

Examples of the effective use of Space

Positive and Negative Space

Good Design Principle: Space3D-negative-space

The flat back shadows and background in the painting on the left provide an excellent example of the effective use of positive and negative space in this two-dimensional painting.

The painting on the right demonstrates positive and negative space in a three-dimensional painting. Can you see the positive and negative here? The fish occupies the positive space, and the water represents the negative space around the fish.

Overlapping Objects

overlapping-objects1 overlapping-objects2

Overlapping objects is a helpful tool for creating an illusion of 3D. Depending on how it is applied can give a sense of deep or shallow space within a composition.

For example, the Statue of Liberty overlaps the river and the horizon, which helps create a greater sense of depth than the other painting. In the painting with the statue, we get the sensation of deep space, and in the other painting, the space is shallow.

Changing Size and Placement

size-placement1 Good Design Principle: Space

Changing the size and placement of the objects in these two paintings helps give more depth to the painting. For example, changing the size of the Indians makes them appear far away in the painting with the cowboy. Likewise, placing the ballerinas are on a higher plane than those in the front pushes them farther away into the background.

Linear Perspective

perspective1 perspective2 perspective3

Can you see how perspective has given the paintings above a sense of depth? The three paintings above have powerful one- or two-point perspective, which helps create the illusion of three-dimension.

In the first painting, perspective gives the sensation that the train is moving away, yet it pulls you down the hallway in the next painting.

Perspective can also make objects appear 3D as it does in the painting with the building. The artist has used two-point perspective to create an object that seems to have volume. Without two-point perspective, this building would lack depth and appear flat.

Hue and Value

hue1 hue2

Warm colors pull you up close. Cool colors recede off into the distance. The landscape painting is a good example of this tool in use.

In the second painting, light moves toward you, and darkness moves off into the background.

Atmospheric Perspective

Good Design Principle: Space atmospheric-perspective2

As objects move off into the distance, they become less detailed and grayer. For example, notice the horizon and the mountain in these two paintings.

For more information about atmospheric perspective, see Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective.

Deep Space

deep-space1 deep-space2

When used effectively, all the tools (overlapping, perspective, atmosphere, hue, and value) can create the sensation of deep space.

Questions

  1. What is the definition of space when it is applied to art?
  2.  What are some ways space is used in art?

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

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space — You are here

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: 24 July 2021

Enjoy this page? Please share it. Thanks!