Elements and Principles of Design
Ar Suvarna Deshpande/Lele
Elements and Principles of Design
The Elements of Design are the language of the visual arts.
This introduction focuses on the elements that are most relevant to
two-dimensional (flat) art works. Other elements include point,
motion and elements related to three-dimensional art such as mass
Line path of a point
Shape perceivable area
Value relative light and darkness
Color color theory basics
Space (2D) height, width and the illusion of depth
Texture actual or simulated tactile quality
Shape - perceivable area. Shapes can be created by line, or by color and
value changes which define their edges. As with line, the decisions you make
concerning shape are important.
The shapes of the objects that you create or place in your images are
positive shapes. The spaces around these shapes are the negative
spaces. It is just as important to be attentive to the negative space as the
Value - relative light and darkness. The overall lightness and lack
of contrast in the left image conveys a sense of spirituality and harmony
between the tree and the circular sky.
Line - the path of a point.
Although the subject matter is the same in all three works, the differences
in line quality have created works with very different impact. How you use
line is one of the most important decisions to be made in creating a work of
Space - height and width. A monitor display has two actual dimensions -
height and width. In addition, an artist can create an illusion of depth, using
overlapping, diminishing scale, atmospheric perspective, vertical placement,
warm and cool colors, diagonals and linear perspective.
Texture - surface quality. We experience actual texture when we
touch objects and feel their roughness, smoothness or patterns, which
we can simulate or imply in digital imagery.
Principles of Design
Scale>overall size>Proportion>relative size within
Unity-repetition> rhythm > pattern .>Unity
Balance>equalizing the visual weight of elements
Proportion - relative size of objects within the work of art. In his painting of
bedroom (left), Rene Magritte has created a surreal situation simply by
manipulating the proportions of common objects. There are no clues that tell
us if we are in a normal-sized room or a dollhouse. In the other painting,
Andrew Wyeth has used the proportion very differently - the small
farmhouse against the largeness of the field created a sense of isolation.
Color - basic color theory. We response to color on many levels. Color can be
used simply to describe an object. It can also be used emotional (blue for sadness or
spiritually, red for angry), symbolically (associated with a flag's color, corporation logo
or sports team) and psychologically
Scale - overall size. Much of the impact of
monumental artwork such as Mount
Rushmore is its sheer size.
Scale, alone, can change the meaning of a work of art.
Balance - equalizing the visual weight of elements. The cross on
the left is symmetrically (formally) balanced - one half mirrors the other. Religious
and significant objects are often given a symmetrical balance.
The painting by Mary Cassatt, (on the right) depicts an ordinary moment.
Appropriately, it is asymmetrically balanced. The two women on one side are balanced
by the large silver service and fireplace on the other -with the area of highest value
Direction and Emphasis. Direction is the visual path our eye will follow.
Emphasis refers to the object or element which first catches our attention
Space: Indicators of depth on a flat
Color (warm/cool, intensity)
Overlapping - when objects
partially overlap other objects, we
perceive them as closer than the
covered objects. Overlapping
"overrules" the other indicators of
depth - we know that the smaller
pyramids are closer because they
overlap the larger pyramids.
Overlapping most clearly
Atmospheric perspective - close
objects have greater intensity of color,
detail and value contrast.
Diminishing scale -
the largest statue
appears closest and
the smallest appears
Vertical placement - we perceive
objects that are placed lower in the
image as closer to us, and objects that
are placed higher as being further away.
The boat placed lowest in this work by
Diagonals and Linear
perspective - we perceive diagonal
lines as receding into the distance.
The diagonal lines in this painting of
a bridge create a extraordinary sense
Color - we perceive warm
colors (red, orange and
yellow) as closer than cool
colors (green, blue, violet).
Psychologically, the red and
yellow objects in both works
appear to be in the
foreground, while the cool-
Unity-Variety. Repetition of visual elements such as shapes or colors create
a rhythm and pattern in an artwork - creating a sense of harmony and unity that
pulls the picture together
Pigment Color - (paint)
Pigment color is created when a
pigment absorb certain light
wavelengths and reflects others. For
example, a blue shirt absorbs all
wavelengths except blue, which is
reflected. The color wheel based on
the three primary colors: red, yellow
and blue, was developed in 1666 by
Sir Isaac Newton.
Primary pigment colors - red, yellow and blue are the primary colors. All other
colors are derived from these three hues.
Secondary pigment colors - green, orange and purple are created by mixing
the primary colors.
Tertiary colors - yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green
and yellow-green are the colors created by mixing the secondary colors.
HSB (Hue, Saturation and Brightness) - color can be defined by its hue
(wavelength), saturation (chroma, purity or intensity) and
Hue - is the color's name (orange, blue, etc.). It is located on the color wheel -
expressed as a degree between 0° and 360°.
Saturation - is the purity of the color. Saturation is the amount of gray in
proportion to the hue - measured from 0% (gray) to 100% (fully saturated).
Brightness - is the relative lightness or darkness of the color -measured from 0%
(black) to 100% (white).
What is color theory?
Color Theory is a set of principles used
to create harmonious color combinations.
Color relationships can be visually represented with a
color wheel — the color spectrum wrapped onto a
The color wheel is a visual representation of color theory:
According to color theory, harmonious color combinations use any two colors
opposite each other on the color wheel, any three colors equally spaced around the
color wheel forming a triangle, or any four colors forming a rectangle (actually, two
pairs of colors opposite each other). The harmonious color combinations
are called color schemes – sometimes the term 'color harmonies'
is also used. Color schemes remain harmonious regardless of the rotation angle.
Monochromatic Color Scheme
The monochromatic color scheme uses
variations in lightness and saturation of a single
color. This scheme looks clean and elegant.
Monochromatic colors go well together, producing
a soothing effect. The monochromatic scheme is
very easy on the eyes, especially with blue or green
Analogous Color Scheme
The analogous color scheme uses colors
that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.
One color is used as a dominant color while others
are used to enrich the scheme. The analogous
scheme is similar to the monochromatic, but offers
Complementary Color Scheme
The complementary color scheme consists of
two colors that are opposite each other on the color
wheel. This scheme looks best when you place a warm
color against a cool color, for example, red versus green-
blue. This scheme is intrinsically high-contrast.
Split Complementary Color Scheme
The split complementary scheme is a variation
of the standard complementary scheme. It uses a color
and the two colors adjacent to its complementary. This
provides high contrast without the strong tension of the
Triadic Color Scheme
The triadic color scheme uses three colors
equally spaced around the color wheel. This scheme is
popular among artists because it offers strong visual
contrast while retaining harmony and color richness.
The triadic scheme is not as contrasting as the
complementary scheme, but it looks more balanced and
Tetradic (Double Complementary) Color
The tetradic (double complementary)
scheme is the most varied because it uses two
complementary color pairs. This scheme is hard to
harmonize; if all four hues are used in equal amounts, the
scheme may look unbalanced, so you should choose a
color to be dominant or subdue the colors.
Lines used to
Horizontal follow the edges of
forms are called
lines are calm and
vertical lines seem to depict
suggest more of a more movement
potential for than actual
movement outline are
diagonal lines drawings
shape is an enclosed object.
Shapes can be created by line,
or by color and value changes
Volume and Mass
Shape is considered to be a
two-dimensional element, while
have volume or mass.
Therefore, a painting has
shapes, while a sculpture has
volume and mass.
In a picture, the shapes that the artist has
placed are considered the positive shapes.
The spaces around the shapes are the
negative spaces. It is just as important to
consider the negative space in a picture as the
Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of
a certain area. Value can be used for emphasis.
Variations in value are used to create a focal point
for the design of a picture
Illusion of Space and Depth
Size & Vertical Location
Since objects in our environment look smaller when they
are farther away, the easiest way to show depth is to vary
the size of objects, with closer objects being larger and
more distant objects being smaller.
When objects are partially obscured by other
objects in front of them, we perceive them as
further back than the covering objects.
Detail (Aerial or Atmospheric
Atmospheric perspective uses color and value
contrasts to show depth. Objects which are further
away generally have less distinct contrast - they
may fade into the background or become indistinct
is based on the idea that all lines will converge on a common
point on the horizon called the vanishing point. You have observed
linear perspective when you notice that the lines on the highway appear to
meet at a point in the distance. Artists use linear perspective to create a
focal point for a picture
Anticipated Movement Image
RHYTHM AND MOVEMENT
Rhythm refers to the way your eye moves throughout a picture. Some
pictures move you throughout
To understand balance, think of the balance beam. When objects are of equal
weight, they are in balance. If you have several small items on one side, they can be
balanced by a large object on the other side. Visual balance works in much the same
way. It can be affected not only by the size of objects, but also their value (ie.
lightness or darkness, termed visual weight).
Symmetrical balance is mirror image balance. If
you draw a line down the center of the page, all the
objects on one side of the screen are mirrored on
the other side (they may not be identical objects,
but they are similar in terms of numbers of objects,
colors and other elements.
Asymmetrical balance occurs when several smaller items on one side are
balanced by a large item on the other side, or smaller items are placed further
away from the center of the screen than larger items. One darker item may
need to be balanced by several lighter items.
Ways to Create a Focal Point
by color by Placement by value
by texture by Isolation
The principles of good design are the tools used by an artist or
desinger to create an effective composition or design. The
principles are: balance, movement, repetition, emphasis,
simplicity, contrast, proportion, space, and unity.
is when the weight is
on both sides of the
Symmetry is the
simplest and most
obvious type of
balance. It creates a
secure, safe feeling
To balance a composition is to distribute its parts in such and a sense of
a way that the viewer is satisfied that the piece is not about solidity.
to pull itself over
Asymmetrical balance is when both sides
of the central axis are not identical, yet
appear to leave the same visual weight. It
is a "felt" equilibrium or balance between
the parts of a composition rather than
Examples of The Effective Use Of
Radial Balance Horizontal Balance Vertical Balance
Movement in Repetition
The use of repetition to create
movement occurs when elements
which have something in common
are repeated regularly or
creating a visual rhythm.
Emphasis is the stressing of a particular area of
focus rather than the presentation of a maze of
details of equal importance.
emphasis is by creating center of interest, a.k.a. a focal
point. A focal point is an area where the eye tends to
The most common ways of creating contrast are by creating
• size • shape
• value • 'alignment
• color • direction
• type • movement
Contrast in art and design occurs when two related elements are
different. The greater the difference the greater the contrast. Contrast
adds variety to the total design and creates unity. It is what draws the
viewer's eye into the painting and helps to guide the viewer around the art
The Principle of Proportion
Proportion in art is the comparative harmonious relationship between two or
more elements in a composition with respect to size, color, quantity, degree,
setting, etc.; i.e. ratio.
Equal division creats monotony
Unequal divisions create lack of harmony.
Shape of one part should fit the shape of its adjoining elements
Good Harmony Lack of harmony
Space in art refers to the distance or area between, around,
above, below, or within shapes and forms found within a
ways space is used in art composition. These are:
When used effectively all of these tools to create the illusion of three-dimensional space
will create a sense of what is referred to as "deep space" within your painting. In deep
space there are three terms used to describe depth:
Foreground is the area of a painting that visually appears closest to the viewer. It is
often located on a lower plane or bottom of the canvas.
Middle ground is space that makes up the distance between the foreground and
background of a painting. There is no specific measurement for what the limits are.
Typically it is located somewhere on the middle plane of the canvas.
Background is the area of a painting that visually appears to be far away in the
distance at or near the horizon. It is usually located on a higher plane of the canvas.
Changing Size and Placement
Unity is the hallmark of a good
design. It's the final result in a
composition when all the
design elements work
harmoniously together giving
the viewer a satisfying sense of
belonging and relationship.
Hue and Value
B — Foreground Background Relationships
(Large and Small Objects).
We know that to our eyes nearby objects appear larger
than faraway objects. For example a Ponderosa Pine tree appears
gigantic when we stand right in front of us but seem to shrink to the size
of a large match stick when viewed from several miles away. Placing such
a tree in the foreground of a photograph, or just part of the trunk of the
tree, and then placing another similar tree in the background will
definitely give the viewer a clear indication of distance.
Various principles like parallelism,
focal point, radiation, distortion, play
of background foreground, rhythm &
repetition are the basis for each