The Elements and Principles of Art

The Elements and Principles of Art

15 Essentials for Every Artform

What if you had the keys to the artistic kingdom? With each of these essential for making art, that is exactly what you have. Understanding and applying the building blocks of art (or the elements and principles of art as they are often called) is what takes an artist from beginner to master.

In order to understand, deftly critique, and practice your chosen artform, you need to know the key concepts that it is built upon. Familiarity with elements of art like color and line and principles of art (proportion, rhythm, and contrast among others) is what gives artists that fluency. With your knowledge of these, you will always be able to find the joy and excitement that can surround art…and for art lovers there is nothing more appealing than that.

Elements of Art

Think of the elements of art as the arrows in your quiver or tools in a toolbox. You use them individually and in combination for any art making endeavor. For the visual arts, these are visual elements: color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.

Color

A three-pronged element of art: hue, value and intensity.

Hue is the color itself.

Value is the hue’s lightness or darkness and changes when white or black is added to it.

Intensity is the aspect of brightness and purity of a color. High intensity colors are bold and bright. Low intensity colors are faint and duller.

Fall Plowing by Grand Wood

Form

For painters and draftsmen, form is the element of art that renders a three-dimensional  form in two dimensions. In a lot of ways it is the heart of an art object — the form itself. It can enclose a volume and includes height, width and depth. A cube, a sphere, a cylinder and a pyramid are all different forms. Forms can also be form less — abstracted and free-flowing.

Line

Marks made on a surface are known as line. They start at a point and move along, creating space as they go. Lines can be two- or three-dimensional, describing form or the form itself, implied, or abstract. Creating a series of parallel lines to indicate form is a technique known as hatching . Crosshatching indicates more than one set of these lines laid overtop of each other at angles to model and indicate tone.

Shape

The element of art that is two-dimensional, flat, or limited to height and width. Usually a shape is enclosed.

Space

Space is the element of art through which both positive and negative areas are defined or a sense of depth is achieved in a work of art.

Texture

This aspect of art defines the way an art object or an element in a composition feels or looks as if it would feel if touched.

Grand Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Principles of Art

If the elements of art are your tools, the principles of art are how you put them to work . It is where the style of art manipulates its substance. Rhythm, harmony, balance, contrast, movement, proportion, and variety are the principles of art.

Rhythm

This principle of art describes the movement in or of an artwork. Rhythm is created by the variety and repetition of elements in a work of art that come together to create a visual tempo or beat.

Harmony

This is achieved when the elements of an artwork come together in a unified way. Certain element are repeated yet still look and feel similar. Not monotony and not chaos, harmony is that perfectly honed combination of both.

Balance

Artists combine elements to add a feeling of equilibrium or stability to a work of art. Symmetry and asymmetry are manifestations of balance.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Contrast

Areas of contrast are where a viewer’s eye are usually first drawn. Artists will combine elements to stress the differences between those elements.

Movement

Movement is used to create the look and feeling of action in an artwork. It guides the viewer’s eye throughout a piece. A sense of movement can be varied lines, repetition of elements, and gestural mark-making among many more.

Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Pattern

This is the uniform repetition of an element of art or combination of elements. Anything can be turned into a pattern through repetition.

Proportion

Within the realm of the elements and principles of art, proportion is the relationship of elements in an artwork to the whole and to one another.

Variety

The principle of art concerned with diversity or contrast is that of variety. Variety is brought about by using different colors, sizes and shapes in a work of art. It is the partner of unity. Artists seek the balance between the two.

More Elements and Principles of Art

If this guide has been a refresher in the very best of ways, then you know you are ready for the next step of your art journey. Put the elements and principles of art into practice in your next artwork. Make it your best–and something you are proud of. Then submit it to the Artists Network Annual Art Competition .