Elements of Design & Art

  • Visual Elements and Principles of Art


    The language of vision determines, perhaps even more subtly and thoroughly than verbal language, the structures of our consciousness.”

    S. I. Hayakawa


    Visual Elements- the basic parts, components, or building blocks

    -          Line

    -          Shape and Form

    -          Space

    -          Color

    -          Value

    -          Texture


    Principles of Art- the guidelines for putting the parts together

    -          Balance

    -          Emphasis/Contrast

    -          Harmony/Unity

    -          Variety

    -          Gradation

    -          Movement

    -          Rhythm

    -          Proportion


    Visual Elements



    A continuous mark made on a surface by a moving point.

    contour line- outline or silhouette

    vertical- strength and stability

    horizontal- suggests calm

    diagonal- movement, tension

    curved- flowing movement

    axis line- implied, line




    two-dimensional (height and width)





    three-dimensional (height, width and depth)

    mass- refers to the outside size

    volume- refers to a space within a form



    The distance or area between, around, above, below, or within things




    two-dimensional space is given the illusion of depth by:

    -          overlapping

    -          relative size: scale, smaller/larger

    -          vertical placement or relative position in the field, higher/lower (foreground, middleground, background)

    -          aerial or atmospheric perspective

    -          linear perspective

    VALUE (tone)

    lightness or darkness of an object

    black (shade)

    white (tint)



    Hue- refers to the name of a color

    Intensity- saturation, or purity of color

    Value (tone)- lightness or darkness


    Color Wheel

    -          primary colors: red, yellow and blue

    -          secondary colors: orange, green and violet

    -          intermediate or tertiary colors: yellow-orange, blue-green, etc.


    complementary colors- colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel

    analogous colors- colors that share a hue

    cool colors- blue, green, gray, and violet

    warm colors- red, orange and yellow

    monochromatic- one-color

    local color – actual color

    optical color – our perceptions of color



    surface quality or feel of an object


    simulated (illusionary)
















    Principles of Art



    Refers to a way of combining elements to add a feeling of equilibrium or stability to a

    work of art.

    1.      symmetrical- formal balance in which two halves are identical

    2.      asymmetrical- informal balance

    3.      radial- positioned around a central point



    Or contrast, stresses the differences between the elements, or creates a center of interest.



    Or unity, combines similar elements to accent their similarities.



    A way of combining elements in involved ways to create intricate and complicated relationships. It is achieved through diversity and change.



    Combines elements by using a series of gradual changes. Refers to an ordered, step-by-step change.



    The principle of art used to create the look and feeling of action.



    Concerned with the relationships of certain elements to the whole and to each other.



    Created by the careful placement of repeated elements to cause a visual tempo or beat. Related to pattern.



    Abstraction- not realistic, though the intention is often based on an actual subject, place, or feeling. Pure abstraction applies to art that looks as if it contains no recognizable forms from the physical world—it is nonobjective, as it has no natural image or subject. Focus is on the elements of art and meaning comes from the sense that can be made of the interactions of the elements. Most art is abstracted to some degree; a painting is only a picture of something, never the real thing.


    Aesthetics- The science of the “beautiful” from a Greek word referring to a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of beauty. Ancient philosophers determined that a work of art could be studied and judged on the basis of its beauty, or how it pleases the viewer. What “pleases the viewer,” however, clearly differs from one culture to another and changes over time. At present the term is used to refer not so much to beauty as to philosophical questions concerning art, such as, What is beauty? or, What is art?




    Composition- organization and relationship of the elements to each other and the whole. The organizing principle or plan of a work of art.


    Content- subject of a work of art or the meaning of an artwork, the non-formal aspects of a work of art.


    Context- social or historical situation in which something happens. All artists work in a world of values and conventions to which they respond.


    Culture- describes the human-made world—what it looks and sounds like, what people surround themselves with, what they believe, and what they value. A nation, an ethnic group, a religious community can have its own culture.


    Formal Elements- visual elements and principles of art.


    Idealization- to strive for a culture’s concept of perfection.


    Medium- physical materials from which the art is made. It includes both the working method (technique) and the materials the artists use.


    Naturalism-a style of depiction that seeks to imitate the appearance of nature, a naturalistic work appears to record the visible world.


    Nonrepresentational Art- presents visual forms with no specific references to anything out of themselves. Absent of any subject matter. Sometimes called nonobjective or nonfigurative art.


    Principles of Art- the guidelines for putting the visual elements together.


    Realism- first used around 1850 to designate a kind of naturalism with a social or political message; today is often used as synonymous with naturalism.


    Representational Art- like naturalism or realism, the attempt to depict objects as they appear in the everyday world. Sometimes called objective or figurative art.




    Resources:   Patrick Frank, Preble’s Artforms, eighth edition, Pearson/Prentice Hall


    Molly Bang, Picture This: How Pictures Work, Seastar Books, 2000


    Lois Fichner-Rathus, Understanding Art, ninth edition, The College of New Jersey, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010


    Akiyoshi Kitaoka, Department of Psychology, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan-website on study of visual perception and optical illusion