Effective Guide: Art Elements & Design Principles
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 14 min read


  1. What are art elements?
  2. Exploring Line in Art
  3. Understanding Shape and Form in Art
  4. Color Theory in Art
  5. Value and Tone in Art
  6. Texture in Art
  7. Space in Art
  8. What are design principles?
  9. Balance in Design
  10. Emphasis and Focal Point in Design
  11. Proportion and Scale in Design
  12. Rhythm and Movement in Design
  13. Unity and Variety in Design

When you dive into the world of art and design, you're entering a universe filled with color, shape, and creativity. Among the stars in this cosmos are the elements of art and principles of design. These are the building blocks of all artistic expression — the rules and guidelines that artists use to create everything from a simple sketch to a complex masterpiece. Let's take a closer look at what these elements and principles are all about.

What are art elements?

The elements of art are the basic components that artists use to create visual art. Think of them like the ingredients in a recipe — each one adds something unique to the mix, and when they come together, they create something truly special.

There are seven main elements of art:

  • Line: This is a mark made on a surface. It can be straight, curved, thick, thin — you name it. Lines can create shapes, direct the viewer's eye, or express a particular mood or feeling.
  • Shape: This is a closed line. Shapes can be geometric (like squares and circles) or organic (like the shapes you see in nature).
  • Form: This is a three-dimensional shape. It has length, width, and depth. Forms can be geometric or organic, just like shapes.
  • Color: This is light reflected off objects. Color has three main characteristics: hue (the name of the color), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is).
  • Value: This refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Value is used to create depth and dimension in a piece of art.
  • Texture: This is how a surface feels or looks like it would feel if you could touch it.
  • Space: This is the area between, around, above, below, or within objects. It can be positive (filled with something) or negative (empty).

As you explore the elements of art and principles of design, you'll discover that they're not just rules to follow, but tools to help you express your ideas and emotions. They're the language of art — and once you understand them, you can use them to tell your own unique stories.

Exploring Line in Art

Let's kick off our journey into the elements of art and principles of design with one of the simplest yet most versatile elements — the line. A line is more than just a stroke of a pen or brush. It's a powerful tool that can shape our understanding of an artwork.

Lines come in all sizes and styles. A line can be straight, making your artwork feel orderly and predictable. It can be curved or wavy, evoking feelings of softness and fluidity. Or it can be zigzagged, creating a sense of tension and excitement.

Lines can also vary in thickness. A thick line can grab your attention and add a bold statement to your artwork, while a thin line can be subtle and delicate, adding a whisper of detail that invites a closer look.

But that's not all. Lines can imply movement or direction in your artwork. They can guide your viewer's eye around the artwork, leading them on a visual journey. They can also create shape and form — think of how a series of lines can come together to create the outline of a flower, a face, or an entire cityscape.

Finally, lines can express emotion. A jagged line might convey anger or anxiety, while a smooth, flowing line might suggest peace and tranquility. By experimenting with different types of lines, you can tap into a whole new level of artistic expression.

So next time you pick up your pencil or paintbrush, remember — every line you draw is a chance to make a statement, tell a story, or evoke an emotion. It's all part of the magic of the elements of art and principles of design.

Understanding Shape and Form in Art

Now that we've talked about the power of line, it's time to take the next step in our exploration of the elements of art and principles of design. We're moving into the realm of shape and form.

Shape and form might seem like simple concepts, but they're packed with potential. Think of shape as the two-dimensional cousin of form. Shapes are flat; they have height and width but no depth. Circles, squares, triangles — these are all shapes that you're familiar with.

Now, if you give a shape three dimensions, you've got a form. So instead of a circle, you have a sphere. Instead of a square, you have a cube. Instead of a triangle, you have a pyramid. Forms exist in space; they have depth as well as height and width.

Shapes and forms are everywhere in art. They're the building blocks that artists use to create their work. An artist might start with a simple shape or form and then add detail, texture, and color to bring it to life.

And here's a neat trick: by playing with light and shadow, an artist can create the illusion of form on a flat surface. This is how a painting or drawing can look "realistic" — it's all about tricking the eye into seeing depth where there is none. That's the power of understanding shape and form in art.

So next time you're looking at a piece of art, try to see beyond the colors and details. Look for the shapes and forms that underpin the artwork. You might be surprised at what you discover. That's the beauty of the elements of art and principles of design.

Color Theory in Art

So, we've seen lines, shapes, and forms. Ready for the next stop on our journey through the elements of art and principles of design? Brace yourself: we're diving into the world of color.

Color is more than just a visual treat; it's a powerful tool that artists use to tell stories, provoke emotions, and create depth in their work. But how do artists know which colors to use? That's where color theory comes in.

Color theory is like a roadmap for artists. It outlines how colors work together, and it can help artists make decisions about which colors to use in their work. At the heart of color theory is the color wheel, a circular diagram of colors arranged by their relationship to each other.

There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Mix them together, and you get secondary colors: green, orange, and purple. Mix a primary color with a secondary color, and you get a tertiary color. These are the basics, but color theory goes much deeper.

For instance, colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors. They create a vibrant contrast when used together. Then there are analogous colors, which are next to each other on the color wheel. They create a harmonious effect when used together.

Color theory also covers concepts like hue (the name of a color), saturation (how pure a color is), and value (how light or dark a color is). By understanding these concepts, artists can create a sense of depth, mood, and harmony in their work.

Color theory is a vast and fascinating field, and we've only just scratched the surface. But the next time you're looking at a piece of art, try to see how the artist has used color. It's a key part of the elements of art and principles of design — and it can make a world of difference in how we perceive a piece of art.

Value and Tone in Art

Alright, we've covered color. Now, let's shift gears a bit and talk about the next stop on our exploration of the elements of art and principles of design: value and tone.

What exactly are value and tone, you might ask? Well, when you're looking at a color, value is how light or dark that color is. Tone, on the other hand, is the quality of color — whether it's warm (like reds, yellows, and oranges) or cool (like blues, greens, and purples).

Why are these two things so important in art? Let's start with value. By using different values, artists can create a sense of depth and volume. Think about it: if you're drawing a ball, you'd use darker values on one side to show shadow and lighter values on the other side to show light. This interplay of light and dark gives the ball a three-dimensional look.

Now, onto tone. Tone can have a huge impact on the mood of a piece of art. Warm tones can create a sense of coziness, energy, or passion, while cool tones can create a sense of calm, sadness, or mystery. By playing with different tones, artists can guide the viewer's emotional response to their work.

So, the next time you're looking at a piece of art, try to see how the artist has used value and tone. Are there areas that are lighter or darker? Are the colors warm or cool? This kind of thinking will give you a deeper understanding of the elements of art and principles of design, and it'll make your experience of art even more enriching.

Texture in Art

From the shiny surface of a marble statue to the rough grain of a wooden carving, texture is one of those elements of art that you can sometimes feel as well as see. But what exactly is texture in art?

Texture is the perceived surface quality of an artwork. It's what gives a piece its sense of touch, its feel. It can refer to the actual surface—like the smoothness of a stone sculpture, or the roughness of a canvas painting. But, it can also refer to the visual texture. This is where things get really interesting!

Visual texture is where an artist uses their skills to create the illusion of a texture. They might paint an object to look like it's covered in fur or feathers, or draw lines that mimic the grain of wood. Even though the surface of the artwork is flat, our eyes are tricked into seeing a texture that isn't really there.

So, why do artists bother with texture? Well, texture can make an artwork more interesting and realistic. It can draw the viewer in and make them want to touch the artwork. At the same time, it can also play a big role in setting the mood of a piece. Just think about how a painting with rough, jagged lines can make you feel uneasy, while one with soft, smooth lines can make you feel calm.

The next time you're looking at an artwork, try to notice the textures. Are they real or just illusions? How do they make you feel? By doing this, you'll get a deeper understanding of one of the key elements of art and principles of design.

Space in Art

Let's now turn our attention to one of the most intriguing elements of art and principles of design: Space. Space in art can be a little bit of a head-scratcher, but once you get it, you'll see it everywhere!

Space refers to the areas around, between, or within components of an artwork. It can be divided into two categories: positive space and negative space. Positive space refers to the main focus of a picture, while negative space refers to the background.

Imagine a painting of a tree. The tree itself, which is the main subject, is the positive space. Everything around the tree, the sky, the ground, that's the negative space. Easy, right?

But here's the cool part: artists can play around with space to create interesting effects. For example, they might use a lot of negative space to make the positive space stand out more. Or they might blur the lines between positive and negative space to create a sense of confusion or ambiguity.

Space can also be used to create a sense of depth or three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional artwork. By using techniques like overlap, size, and perspective, artists can make a flat canvas seem like it's a window into another world.

As you can see, space is a powerful tool in an artist's toolbox. It's not just about what you see, but also about what you don't see. And by understanding how space works, you can get a deeper appreciation of the elements of art and principles of design.

What are Design Principles?

Having explored the fascinating world of art elements, let's now shift gears and talk about design principles. While the elements of art serve as the building blocks, the principles of design are the rules that govern how these blocks are arranged. They're like the recipe that guides the cook in the kitchen.

The principles of design consist of balance, emphasis, proportion, rhythm, and unity. Each one of these principles offers a different approach to organizing the elements of art in a composition.

Think of a jigsaw puzzle. The individual pieces are like the elements of art—each one is unique and interesting in its own right. But it's not until you start putting the pieces together, following the picture on the box (that's the principles of design), that you get a complete, coherent image.

Just like with the elements of art, understanding the principles of design can help you appreciate the thought and effort that goes into creating a piece of art or design. It's not just about making something look pretty—it's about communicating a message, telling a story, or evoking a feeling. And that's what makes art and design so powerful and so important.

So are you ready to embark on this exciting journey through the principles of design? Let's dive right in and start with the first one: balance.

Balance in Design

When you hear the term "balance", you might think of a seesaw or a tightrope walker. In art and design, balance operates on a similar concept. It refers to the distribution of visual weight in a design. Balance can give a piece of art or design a sense of stability and harmony, or it could be used to create tension and dynamism.

There are three types of balance you might encounter: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Let's break these down.

Symmetrical Balance: This is just like it sounds—both halves of the design mirror each other. It creates a sense of calm and stability. Think of the front of a building with the same number of windows on each side.

Asymmetrical Balance: This is a bit trickier. Here, different elements balance each other out, without mirroring. So, one side might have a large, bright object, while the other side has several smaller, darker objects. The visual weight is distributed evenly, even if the elements aren't identical.

Radial Balance: Think of a bicycle wheel, with the hub in the center and the spokes radiating out. That's radial balance, where the elements of the design radiate from a central point.

Now that you have a grasp on balance in design, you can start to see it everywhere, from your favorite painting to the layout of this webpage. It's a fundamental principle that guides the way elements of art are arranged in a design. And understanding it can give you a deeper appreciation for the art and design that surrounds you every day.

Emphasis and Focal Point in Design

Ever walked into a room and your eyes immediately landed on a bright, colorful painting? Or ever read a poster and a specific word jumped out at you? That's emphasis and focal point in action. They are key principles of design that guide our eyes to a specific spot.

Emphasis is a strategy that aims to draw the viewer's attention towards a certain part of the design. It's like the designer saying, "Hey, look here first!" This can be achieved by using contrasting colors, larger shapes, bold fonts, or interesting textures.

On the other hand, a Focal Point is the spot where the designer wants your eyes to rest. It's the star of the show, the main event. Everything else in the design is the supporting cast, helping to make the focal point stand out. For example, in a portrait painting, the subject's face or eyes might be the focal point.

Understanding emphasis and focal point can really change how you look at art and design. It's like having a map that guides you on how to explore the piece. And when you're creating your own designs, you can use these principles to guide your audience's attention exactly where you want it to go.

Next time you're looking at a piece of art, or even a billboard or a website, try to identify the emphasis and focal point. You might just find yourself seeing the elements of art and principles of design in a whole new light.

Proportion and Scale in Design

Picture this: You're designing a poster for a music concert. You've got the band's name, the venue, the date, and a cool graphic of a guitar. But wait! The guitar is so big, it's practically eating up the band's name. And the venue and date details are so small, you need a magnifying glass to read them. This, my friend, is a classic case of proportion and scale gone wrong.

Proportion is about balance and how the parts of a design relate to each other in terms of size. It’s like a see-saw, you don’t want one side too heavy and the other side too light.

Scale, on the other hand, is about the size of an object compared to a standard or expected size. When you see a picture of a person holding a giant cupcake, the surprise comes from the unexpected scale of the cupcake compared to the person.

Just like emphasis and focal point, proportion and scale play a big role in how we perceive designs. They can make a design feel balanced and harmonious, or chaotic and disorganized. And guess what? They're not just for designers. These principles are everywhere — from the layout of a magazine page, to the arrangement of furniture in your living room.

So the next time you're struggling with a design, or you feel like something's off but you can't put your finger on it, check the proportion and scale. Remember, in the world of elements of art and principles of design, size does matter!

Rhythm and Movement in Design

Let's talk about rhythm. No, I don't mean the kind of rhythm that makes you tap your foot when your favorite song comes on. I'm talking about the rhythm in design, which is one of the key principles of design, along with balance, emphasis, and proportion. It's a bit like the beat of a song — it gives your design a certain flow and directs where your audience's eyes should move.

Have you ever seen a design that seemed to 'dance' off the page, or a website that guided your gaze just right? That's rhythm and movement at work. They can make a static image feel dynamic, guide your audience's attention, and even make complex designs easier to digest.

There are different types of rhythm you can use in your designs. Regular rhythm repeats elements at the same interval. Flowing rhythm wiggles and curves. Progressive rhythm changes a design element gradually. It's a lot like choosing the right dance for the right song — you can pick and choose the rhythm that suits your design best.

Movement, on the other hand, is like a guide on a museum tour. It takes your audience by the hand and leads them through the design. It can be the difference between a design that's confusing and chaotic, and one that's clear and engaging.

So next time you're working on a design project, remember to think about rhythm and movement. They're not just fancy words — they're powerful tools in your elements of art and principles of design toolkit. And who knows? You might just get your designs dancing off the page!

Unity and Variety in Design

Have you ever looked at a design and felt like everything just fit together? Not in a boring, everything-looks-the-same kind of way, but in a harmonious, this-feels-right kind of way. That feeling is what we call unity in design. It's one of the key elements of art and principles of design that make designs feel complete and whole.

Unity is like a well-cooked meal — all the ingredients come together to create a dish that's more than the sum of its parts. Similarly, all the elements in a design, such as color, shape, and texture, work together to create a unified look and feel. But that's not to say everything has to match perfectly. A little bit of variety can spice things up and keep your design from becoming plain or boring.

Imagine you're making a pizza. You start with the dough (your main design), then add sauce (your color scheme), cheese (your typefaces), and toppings (your images and graphics). Each ingredient adds something unique to the pizza, but they all work together to create one delicious dish. That's unity and variety in action!

Variety, on the other hand, is like the spice in your cooking. It adds interest, complexity, and richness to your designs. It can be as simple as using different shapes, colors, or textures, or as complex as creating contrast or tension in your designs.

So remember, unity and variety are like the salt and pepper of design — they can turn a bland design into something flavorful and interesting. So next time you're working on a design, think about how you can add a dash of unity and a pinch of variety. Trust me, your designs will thank you!

If you enjoyed this blog post on art elements and design principles, don't miss out on Celina Rodriguez's workshop, 'The 7 Visual Elements Of Art.' This workshop will further expand your knowledge on the fundamentals of visual art and help you refine your artistic skills. Dive deeper into the world of art elements and enhance your creative journey!