Elements of Arts and Design Principles


The elements and principles of design are the building blocks used to create a work of art. The elements of design can be thought of as the things that make up a painting, drawing, design etc. Good or bad – all paintings will contain most of if not all, the seven elements of design.

The Principles of design can be thought of as what we do to the elements of design. How we apply the Principles of design determines how successful we are in creating a work of art.

: Line can be considered in two ways. The linear marks made with a pen or brush or the edge created when two shapes meet.

A shape is a self contained defined area of geometric or organic form. A positive shape in a painting automatically creates a negative shape.

All lines have direction – Horizontal, Vertical or Oblique. Horizontal suggests calmness, stability and tranquillity. Vertical gives a feeling of balance, formality and alertness. Oblique suggests movement and action

Size is simply the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another. Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Space refers to the distances or areas around, between or within things. Has two kinds: negative and positive.

Texture is the surface quality of a shape – rough, smooth, soft hard glossy etc. Texture can be physical (tactile) or visual.

 Also called Hue

Principles of Compositional Design

The Principles of design are the results of your working with the elements of art. Use them in every piece of art you do and you will be happy with the results.
The principles of design are the recipe for a good work of art. The principles combine the elements to create an aesthetic placement of things that will produce a good design.

Center of interest – is an area that first attracts attention in a composition. This area is more important when compared to the other objects or elements in a composition.  This can be by contrast of values, more colors, and placement in the format.

Balance – is a feeling of visual equality in shape, form, value, color, etc.  Balance can be symmetrical or evenly balanced or asymmetrical and un-evenly balanced.  Objects, values, colors, textures, shapes, forms, etc., can be used in creating a balance in a composition.

Harmony – brings together a composition with similar units.  If your composition was using wavy lines and organic shapes you would stay with those types of lines and not put in just one geometric shape. (Notice how similar Harmony is to Unity – some sources list both terms)

Contrast – offers some change in value creating a visual discord in a composition. Contrast shows the difference between shapes and can be used as a background to bring objects out and forward in a design. It can also be used to create an area of emphasis.

Directional Movement – is a visual flow through the composition. It can be the suggestion of motion in a design as you move from object to object by way of placement and position.  Directional movement can be created with a value pattern. It is with the placement of dark and light areas that you can move your attention through the format.

Rhythm – is a movement in which some elements recurs regularly. Like a dance it will have a flow of objects that will seem to be like the beat of music.