elements and 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.


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


Gradation of size and direction produce linear perspective. Gradation of of colour from warm to cool and tone from dark to light produce aerial perspective. Gradation can add interest and movement to a shape. A gradation from dark to light will cause the eye to move along a shape.


Contrast is the juxtaposition of opposing elements eg. opposite colours on the colour wheel - red / green, blue / orange etc. Contrast in tone or value - light / dark. Contrast in direction - horizontal / vertical.
The major contrast in a painting should be located at the center of interest. Too much contrast scattered throughout a painting can destroy unity and make a work difficult to look at. Unless a feeling of chaos and confusion are what you are seeking, it is a good idea to carefully consider where to place your areas of maximum contrast.

Relating the design elements to the the idea being expressed in a painting reinforces the principal of unity.eg. a painting with an active aggressive subject would work better with a dominant oblique direction, course, rough texture, angular lines etc. whereas a quiet passive subject would benefit from horizontal lines, soft texture and less tonal contrast.

Harmony in painting is the visually satisfying effect of combining similar, related elements. eg.adjacent colours on the color wheel, similar shapes etc. Dominance gives a painting interest, counteracting confusion and monotony. Dominance can be applied to one or more of the elements to give emphasis