Elements and principles of designDocument Transcript
ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
What do you list as the elements of design? What do you list as the principles of design?
Think you have it all figured out? Even textbooks do not agree - web sites do not agree. What I would
recommend is get together as a staff in your district and come up with a vocabulary that you all agree
to use. The less we "confuse" the students the better. I tried to give the students other words they
might hear that meant the same thing - although I don't recall giving them tertiary colors (I know I used
Intermediate colors). The textbook I used with students did list Triadic colors - but they got that from
me. This topic does come up on the Art Education list serves. Marvin Bartel has shared this wonderful
explanation. While you are "drilling" the Principles - Be sure to introduce the Percy Principles of
Composition. Read and enjoy.
ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN CONFUSION
From Marvin Bartel - Ceramic artist and retired professor of art at Goshen College.
...I will give you my current take on what is an element and why principles cause so much confusion.
Space as a visual element is difficult to conceptualize and hard to explain. Is it worth it? Who needs
to know it?
I find it easier if we put some time into ways artists create an Illusion of Space (depth) (a visual effect).
I have added a category.
1. Visual Elements (the basic things that can be seen)
2. Design and Composition Principles (arranging the basic things better)
3. Visual Effects (ways to fool the eye - make an impression)
An element is one of those most basic visible things. In science, the elements are on the periodic
chart (hydrogen, iron, oxygen, gold, sulfur, etc.). All the complex chemicals are simply combinations of
these (H2O). In art, it is an element if it is visible and there is nothing more simple or basic to define it.
It cannot be a combination of more than one thing and still be an element. In practice, the elements
are commonly seen in combination with each other. For example, color and value are very different
elements, but they always exist in combination with each other. For that matter, color always exist in
combination with "saturation", but nobody includes "saturation" in their list of elements, but value is one
every list. Go figure. This stuff is not logically consistent. Saturation (intensity) sometimes shows up
in the description of a principle, but generally saturation is neither an element or a principle.
Principles are are even more confusing than elements. There are at least two very different but
correct ways of thinking about principles. On the one hand, a principle can be used to describe an
operational cause and effect such as "bright things come forward and dull things recede". On the
other hand, a principle can describe a high quality standard to strive for such as "unity is better than
chaos" or "variation beats boredom" in a painting. So, the same word, "principle" can be used for very
The first way to think about a principle is that a principle is something that can be repeatedly and
dependably done with elements to produce some sort of visual effect in a composition. I am not
confident that any list of these principles is comprehensive, but there are some that are more
commonly used (theme with variation to give interesting unity, simultaneous repetition with change to
create unity and interest, devices to create depth illusion, devices to create motion effects, etc).
Another way to think about a principle is that it is a way to express a value judgment about a
composition. I am not confident that any list of these effects is comprehensive, but there are some
that are more commonly used (unity, balance, etc).
When we say a painting has UNITY and DEPTH we are making a value judgments. Too much unity
without variety is boring and too much variation without unity is chaotic. Unity and depth are examples
of visual effects produced by the first definition of principle.
On the web page that I published for my elementary education majors I include elements, principles,
and effects in my attempt to be slightly more logical. This is the URL for it
http://www.goshen.edu/art/ed/Compose.htm. It is a fairly interesting and attractive page and quite a
few teachers have requested permission to make handouts from it for their students. If you want to,
feel free to make a link to it on your sites http://www.goshen.edu/art/ed/Compose.htm (This essay
may not be copied or reprinted without written permission from Marvin Bartel)
As an artist, these are the principles that I actually use.
Percy Principles of Art and Composition
See more of Marvin Bartel's work on his personal site. See his links pages too.
ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
THESE DEFINITIONS BRING SUCCESS TO KEN SCHWAB
An orderly arrangement of elements using the principles of design
The principles of design help you to carefully plan and organize the elements of art so that you will
hold interest and command attention. This is sometimes referred to as visual impact.
In any work of art there is a thought process for the arrangement and use of the elements of design.
The artist who works with the principles of good composition will create a more interesting piece of art
it will be arranged to show a pleasing rhythm and movement. The center of interest will be strong and
the viewers will not look away, instead, they will be drawn into the work. A good knowledge of
composition is essential in producing good artwork. Some artists today like to bend or ignore these
rules and therefore are experimenting with different forms of expression. We think that composition is
very important. The following will assist you in understanding the basics of a good composition:
Elements of Design
Line - is a mark on a surface that describes a shape or outline. It can create texture and can be thick
and thin. Types of line can include actual, implied, vertical, horizontal, diagonal and contour lines.
(note: Ken does not list "psychic line" - that was "new term" to me)
Color - refers to specific hues and has 3 properties, Chroma, Intensity and Value. The color wheel is
a way of showing the chromatic scale in a circle using all the colors made with the primary triad.
Complimentary pairs can produce dull and neutral color. Black and white can be added to produce
tints (add white), shades (add black) and tones (add gray).
Texture - is about surface quality either tactile or visual. Texture can be real or implied by different
uses of media. It is the degree of roughness or smoothness in objects.
Shape - is a 2-dimensional line with no form or thickness. Shapes are flat and can be grouped into
two categories, geometric and organic.
Form - is a 3-dimensional object having volume and thickness. It is the illusion of a 3-D effect that can
be implied with the use of light and shading techniques. Form can be viewed from many angles.
Value - is the degree of light and dark in a design. It is the contrast between black and white and all
the tones in between. Value can be used with color as well as black and white. Contrast is the extreme
changes between values.
Size - refers to variations in the proportions of objects, lines or shapes. There is a variation of sizes in
objects either real or imagined. (some sources list Proportion/Scale as a Principle of Design)
These elements are used to create the Principles of Design. Principles are the results of using the
Elements. When you are working in a particular format (size and shape of the work surface) the
principles are used to create interest, harmony and unity to the elements that you are using. You can
use the Principles of design to check your composition to see if it has good structure.
Principles of Compositional Design
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.
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.