Test Your Knowledge of Fine Art: Elements and Principles of Design

fine art testTest your knowledge of fine art with regard to the elements and principles of good design.

Take this simple quiz by writing your answers on paper, then check your answers at the bottom of the webpage. Don’t peek!

1. The principles of good design are _______.

A.    color, depth, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value
B.    balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity, space, and unity
C.    all of the above
D.    none of the above

2. The elements of design are _______.

A.    color, depth, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value
B.    balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity, space, and unity
C.    all of the above
D.    none of the above

3. A type of balance in which both sides of a composition are balanced yet different is called _______.

A.    asymmetrical
B.    radial
C.    symmetrical
D.    geometric

4. Formal balance is another word for _______ balance.

A.    asymmetrical
B.    radial
C.    symmetrical
D.    geometric

5. Another word for “center of interest” is _______.

A.    focal point
B.    emphasis
C.    dominance
D.    all of the above

6. The choice of colors used in a design plan is called a _______.

A.    color spectrum
B.    color wheel
C.    color scheme
D.    color mix

7. A circular chart used to show color relationships is called a _______.

A.    color scheme
B.    color wheel
C.    color ray
D.    color circle

8. Colors that are different in lightness and darkness are said to be _______.

A.    contrasting
B.    light in value
C.    dark in value
D.    bright and intense

9. Which of the following can be used to create contrast in a composition?

A.    Smooth and rough textures
B.    Large and small shapes
C.    Plain areas against areas of patterns
D.   All of the above

10. _______ is another word for the brightness of a color.

A.    Value
B.    Intensity
C.    Hue
D.    Complementary

11. _______ is an element of art that refers to the sense of touch.

A.    Value
B.    Pattern
C.    Texture
D.    Shape

12. Negative space is the background or area surrounding an object in a composition.

True | False

13. Rhythm is created when various visual elements are repeated.

True | False

14. Variation is the use of the same lines, shapes, textures, and colors within an artwork.

True | False

15. Unity is obtained when all parts of a design are working together as a team.

True | False

16. Blue and orange are _______ colors.

A.    primary
B.    related or analogous
C.    secondary
D.    complementary

17. Red, yellow, and blue are _______ colors.

A.    primary
B.    related or analogous colors
C.    secondary colors
D.    complementary colors

18. Visual _______ is achieved when all parts of a composition have equal weight and appear stable.

A.    focal point
B.    unity
C.    balance
D.    pattern

19. _______ is a three-dimensional geometrical figure showing height, width, and depth.

A.    Space
B.    Form
C.    Balance
D.    Line

20. Various art elements, like lines, colors, or shapes, that are repeated over and over in a planned way create a _______.

A.    focal point
B.    unity
C.    balance
D.    pattern

21. The lightness or darkness of a color is referred to as the _______.

A.    shape
B.    value
C.    intensity
D.   texture

22. _______ may be geometric or organic.

A.    Shape
B.    Value
C.    Intensity
D.   Texture

23. _______ is the suggestion of action or direction, the path our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.

A.    Proportion
B.    Simplicity or visual economy
C.    Rhythm
D.    Movement

24. _______ is the relation of two things in size, number, amount, or degree within a design.

A.    Proportion
B.    Simplicity or visual economy
C.    Rhythm
D.    Movement

25. _______ is the elimination of all non-essential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form.

A.    Proportion
B.    Simplicity or visual economy
C.    Rhythm
D.    Movement

26. Symmetry, asymmetry, and radial are all types of _______.

A.    Texture
B.    Balance
C.    Patterns
D.    Form

27. Creating a sense of visual oneness in a work of art is called _______.

A.    Form
B.    Value
C.    Unity
D.    Texture

28. _______ is a mark with greater length than width. They can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight, curved, thick, or thin.

A.    Color
B.    Shape
C.    Texture
D.    Line

29. Shapes and forms similar to those found in nature are _______.

A.    geometric
B.    pattern
C.    organic
D.    texture

30. The element of art referring to the emptiness or area between, around, above, below, or within objects:

A.    color
B.    shape
C.    form
D.    space

31. Space is the element of art that helps create the illusion of a foreground, middle ground, and background.

True | False

How did you do on this “Knowledge of Fine Art: Elements and Principles of Design” quiz? Check your answers below to find out.

Additional Reading

For more information on this subject, see:

Principles of Good Design

The Basic Elements of Art

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Answers: 1B, 2A, 3A, 4C, 5D, 6C, 7B, 8A, 9D, 10B, 11C, 12T, 13T, 14F, 15T, 16D, 17A, 18C, 19B, 20D, 21B, 22A, 23D, 24A, 25B, 26B, 27C, 28D, 29C, 30D, 31T

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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

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Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

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Basic Art Element — Value

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“I just had to email you to let you know how grateful I am for your principle of good design lessons. I am studying for a big art exam and your lessons are a great study aid. So clear and concise with great visual examples. I consider myself very lucky to have come across your website. Thank you so very much.” — Alice B.

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UPDATED: 15 August 2021

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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

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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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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.

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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.

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: 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

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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

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Principles of Good Design: Unity

Principles of Good Design UnityUnity is the hallmark of every good design. The final result is when all the design elements work harmoniously to give the viewer a satisfying sense of belonging and relationship. When all aspects of the design complement one another rather than competing for attention, you know you’ve achieved unity. It reinforces the relationship between the design elements and connects them to the painting’s main theme.

Unity is achieved when all design principles (balance, movement, emphasis, visual economy, contrast, proportion, and space) are applied correctly. Everything selected for use in a composition must complement the central theme and must also serve some functional purpose within the design. Achieving unity in your compositions will only result from practicing, knowing, selecting the correct visual elements, and using the best design principles to relate them.

Unity within art accomplishes two things:

  1. It creates a sense of order. There will be consistency of sizes and shapes, as well as color and pattern harmony, in a design with unity. This is achieved by repeating key elements, balancing them throughout the composition, and then adding a little variety to give the design a personality. A key to good design is learning to juggle the elements and principles in order to achieve the right mix.
  2. It also gives elements the appearance of completeness, that they belong together. When a composition has unity, the design is seen as a whole, rather than as individual elements within the painting. Using too many shapes and forms can result in a design that is disorganized, cluttered, and difficult to understand. The use of a basic shape that is then repeated throughout the composition will result in a well-organized design.

When Unity is Achieved:

    • The individual elements within a composition do not compete for attention.
    • The central theme will be communicated more clearly.
    • The design will evoke a sense of completeness and organization.

To Create Unity:

    •  You must have a clear objective in mind, one that you wish to communicate effectively.
    • You must stay focused on achieving the objective and not deviate from it. For example, if an element you consider adding does not contribute to the objective, it should not be added to the design.
    • You must be analytical about your work, maintaining objectivity at all times, and accept critiques from peers, friends, and family members. When several people consistently understand the purpose and message you intend to portray, then unity has been maintained within your painting.

When you feel your composition is complete, take a step back and observe it with an objective eye. The final test of unity is one in which nothing can be added to or taken away without reworking the entire composition. The relationship of all the elements should be so strong it would hurt the design to add or remove any one thing. When nothing can distract from the whole, you have unity.

A word of caution regarding unity: too much unity without variety is boring, and too much variation without unity is chaotic.

Some easy ways to achieve unity in your compositions include:

Similarity: Try repeating colors, shapes, values, textures, or lines to create a visual relationship between the elements. Repetition works to unify all parts of a design because it creates a sense of consistency and completeness.

Continuity: Treat different elements in the same manner. Continuity helps to create “family resemblances” between various forms. This helps to tie them together by creating an uninterrupted connection or union.

Alignment: Arranging shapes so that the line or edge of one shape leads into another helps creates unity in your design. When an element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center, and sides. Aligning other aspects to these axes creates a visual relationship that unifies them.

Proximity: Group related items together so that these particular items are seen as one cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated elements. Elements positioned close to one another are perceived as related, while elements farther apart are considered less connected. How close together or far apart elements are placed in a composition suggests a relationship (or lack of) between otherwise disparate parts. Using a “third element” such as a road to connect nearby elements with distant ones also helps create a relationship between the forms not grouped.

Examples of the effective use of Unity

Principles of Good Design Unity     Principles of Good Design Unity

The painting on the left creates a sense of unity by the effective use of repetition. See how the artist has repeated similar forms (ducks) and color (brown) throughout the composition?

On the right, the grouping of similar objects;  proximity was used to create unity within this painting.

     Good Design Unity

The road in this painting is the “third element” that helps create a relationship between the people in the foreground and the people in the background.

This painting is another good example of how proximity creates relationships between related objects.

IN CONCLUSION: Using The Design Principles

This study on the design principles would not be complete without giving some practical guidelines on using the principles of design.

  1. Apply the principles in every assignment.
  2. Don’t apply the principles equally because one may be more important than another depending on the mood and purpose of the design. For example, one design may be strong in balance, another in proportion, another in movement, and so on.
  3. Try to include as many and as much as will work of each principle into each design.
  4. You should always add a bit of your personality to your art. Without this touch, your work may be well designed but lack character.
  5. As you become more confident in your ability to achieve unity, then dare to violate one or more of the design principles to promote growth in your creativity.

Once the designer has an objective in mind, the effective use of the design principles of balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and space will aid in the achievement of unity in a work of art. Unity should always be the goal of every artist.

Questions

  1. How do you know when unity has been achieved in a work of art?
  2. What is the final test of unity?

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

Good Design Principle: Unity — You are here

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: 23 October 2020

Enjoy this page? Please share it. Thanks!