Tag: foundation

Media Experimentation in Art and Design Class: Lesson 1 and 2: Elements of Design in Art

Thursday – Jeremiah:


Looking at the Principles and Elements of Design in Art

Introduction to the course and a brief discussion about imagery  and Visual Culture. What is visual culture and how does it effect all of our lives?

Introduction to Principles and Elements of Design. 

The Principles of Design

There are many basic concepts that underly the field of design. They are often categorized differently depending on philosophy or teaching methodology. The first thing we need to do is organize them, so that we have a framework for this discussion.

We can group all of the basic tenets of design into two categories: principles and elements. For this article, the principles of design are the overarching truths of the profession. They represent the basic assumptions of the world that guide the design practice, and affect the arrangement of objects within a composition. By comparison, the elements of design are the components of design themselves, the objects to be arranged.

Let’s begin by focusing on the principles of design, the axioms of our profession. Specifically, we will be looking at the following principles:

  • Balance
  • Rhythm
  • Proportion
  • Dominance
  • Unity


Balance is an equilibrium that results from looking at images and judging them against our ideas of physical structure (such as mass, gravity or the sides of a page). It is the arrangement of the objects in a given design as it relates to their visual weight within a composition. Balance usually comes in two forms: symmetrical and asymmetrical.


Symmetrical balance occurs when the weight of a composition is evenly distributed around a central vertical or horizontal axis. Under normal circumstances it assumes identical forms on both sides of the axis. When symmetry occurs with similar, but not identical, forms it is called approximate symmetry. In addition, it is possible to build a composition equally around a central point resulting in radial symmetry1. Symmetrical balance is also known as formal balance.


Asymmetrical balance occurs when the weight of a composition is not evenly distributed around a central axis. It involves the arranging of objects of differing size in a composition such that they balance one another with their respective visual weights. Often there is one dominant form that is offset by many smaller forms. In general, asymmetrical compositions tend to have a greater sense of visual tension. Asymmetrical balance is also known as informal balance.


horizontal symmetry



Rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements, often with defined intervals between them. Rhythm can create a sense of movement, and can establish pattern and texture. There are many different kinds of rhythm, often defined by the feeling it evokes when looking at it.

  • Regular: A regular rhythm occurs when the intervals between the elements, and often the elements themselves, are similar in size or length.
  • Flowing: A flowing rhythm gives a sense of movement, and is often more organic in nature.
  • Progressive: A progressive rhythm shows a sequence of forms through a progression of steps.





Proportion is the comparison of dimensions or distribution of forms. It is the relationship in scale between one element and another, or between a whole object and one of its parts. Differing proportions within a composition can relate to different kinds of balance or symmetry, and can help establish visual weight and depth. In the below examples, notice how the smaller elements seem to recede into the background while the larger elements come to the front.


Dominance relates to varying degrees of emphasis in design. It determines the visual weight of a composition, establishes space and perspective, and often resolves where the eye goes first when looking at a design. There are three stages of dominance, each relating to the weight of a particular object within a composition.

  • Dominant: The object given the most visual weight, the element of primary emphasis that advances to the foreground in the composition.
  • Sub-dominant: The element of secondary emphasis, the elements in the middle ground of the composition.
  • Subordinate: The object given the least visual weight, the element of tertiary emphasis that recedes to the background of the composition.

In the below example, the trees act as the dominant element, the house and hills as the secondary element, and the mountains as the tertiary element.


The concept of unity describes the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. It investigates the aspects of a given design that are necessary to tie the composition together, to give it a sense of wholeness, or to break it apart and give it a sense of variety. Unity in design is a concept that stems from some of the Gestalt theories of visual perception and psychology, specifically those dealing with how the human brain organizes visual information into categories, or groups2.

Gestalt theory itself is rather lengthy and complex, dealing in various levels of abstraction and generalization, but some of the basic ideas that come out of this kind of thinking are more universal.


Closure is the idea that the brain tends to fill in missing information when it perceives an object is missing some of its pieces. Objects can be deconstructed into groups of smaller parts, and when some of these parts are missing the brain tends to add information about an object to achieve closure. In the below examples, we compulsively fill in the missing information to create shape.


Continuance is the idea that once you begin looking in one direction, you will continue to do so until something more significant catches your attention. Perspective, or the use of dominant directional lines, tends to successfully direct the viewers eye in a given direction. In addition, the eye direction of any subjects in the design itself can cause a similar effect. In the below example, the eye immediately goes down the direction of the road ending up in the upper right corner of the frame of reference. There is no other dominant object to catch and redirect the attention.

Similarity, Proximity and Alignment

Items of similar size, shape and color tend to be grouped together by the brain, and a semantic relationship between the items is formed. In addition, items in close proximity to or aligned with one another tend to be grouped in a similar way. In the below example, notice how much easier it is to group and define the shape of the objects in the upper left than the lower right.

Related concepts

There are many additional concepts that are related to the principles of design. These can include specific terms and/or techniques that are in some way based on one or more of the above tenets. In they end, they add to the collection of compositional tools available for use by the designer.

Contrast or Opposition

Contrast addresses the notion of dynamic tensionÔthe degree of conflict that exists within a given design between the visual elements in the composition.

Positive and Negative Space

Positive and negative space refers to the juxtaposition of figure and ground in a composition. The objects in the environment represent the positive space, and the environment itself is the negative space.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a compositional tool that makes use of the notion that the most interesting compositions are those in which the primary element is off center. Basically, take any frame of reference and divide it into thirds placing the elements of the composition on the lines in between.

Visual Center

The visual center of any page is just slightly above and to the right of the actual (mathematical) center. This tends to be the natural placement of visual focus, and is also sometimes referred to as museum height.

Color and Typography

Many would place color and typography along side the five principals I have outlined above. I personally believe both to be elements of design, so I’ll give them some attention in my next column. In addition, both topics are so robust that I plan on writing an entire article about each of them in the future.



Lets look at all the main elements of design in art and how by manipulating these simple concepts we can create a multitude of different compositions.


Line:  An element of art that is used to define shape, contours, and outlines, also to suggest mass and volume.  It may be a continuous mark made on a surface with a pointed tool or implied by the edges of shapes and forms.

Characteristic of Line are:

  • Width– thick, thin, tapering, uneven
  • Length – long, short, continuous, broken
  • Direction– horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curving, perpendicular, oblique, parallel, radial, zigzag
  • Focus– sharp, blurry, fuzzy, choppy
  • Feeling– sharp, jagged, graceful, smooth

Types of Line:

  1. Outlines– Lines made by the edge of an object or its silhouette.
  2. Contour Lines– Lines that describe the shape of an object and the interior detail.
  3. Gesture Lines– Line that are energetic and catches the movement and gestures of an active figure.
  4. Sketch Lines– Lines that captures the appearance of an object or impression of a place.
  5. Calligraphic Lines– Greek word meaning “beautiful writing.”  Precise, elegant handwriting or lettering done by hand. Also artwork that has flowing lines like an elegant handwriting.
  6. Implied Line– Lines that are not actually drawn but created by a group of objects seen from a distance.  The direction an object is pointing to, or the direction a person is looking at.

  Name the Line:

1.    Below are five boxes.  Create a different type of line for each box.

2.    In the blank under the box come up with a name for that line that describes it.

 _____________    ____________    _____________    _____________    _____________ 


Color comes form light; if it weren’t for light we would have no color.  Light rays move in a straight path from a light source.  Within this light rays are all the rays of colors in the spectrumor rainbow.  Shining a light into a prism will create a rainbow of colors because it separates the color of the spectrum.  When the light rays hits an object our eyes responds to the light that is bounced back and we see that color.  For example a red ball reflects all the red light rays.  As artist we use pigments in the form of powder or liquid paints to create color.

Categories of Color

Color Wheels a tool used to organize color.  It is made up of:

·        Primary Colors-Red, Yellow, Blue these color cannot be mixed, they must be bought in some form.

·      Secondary Color-Orange, Violet, Green, these colors are created by mixing two primaries.

·      Intermediate Colors– Red Orange, Yellow Green, Blue Violet, etc.; mixing a primary with a secondary creates these colors. 

·      Complementary Colors-are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel.  When placed next to each other they look bright and when mixed together they neutralize each other. 

Color Harmonies

Color Harmonies is when an artist uses certain combinations of colors that create different looks or feelings.

·        Analogous Colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel for example red, red orange, and orange are analogous colors.

·      Triadic Harmony is where three equally spaced colors on the color wheel are used for example, yellow, Red, Blue is a triadic harmony color scheme.

·      Monochromatic is where one color is used but in different values and intensity.

·      Warm colors are on one side of the color wheel and they give the felling of warmth for example red, orange and yellow are the color of fire and feel warm.

·      Cool colors are on the other side of the color wheel and they give the feeling of coolness for example blue, violet, are the color of water, and green are the color of cool grass.


On the back of this sheet of paper create a color wheel.  Be sure to include the primary, secondary and intermediate colors.  Use colored pencils to create your colors.



Shape:  When a line crosses itself or intersects with other lines to enclose a space it creates a shape.  Shape is two-dimensional it has heights and width but no depth.

Categories of Shapes:

  • Geometric Shapes-Circles, Squares, rectangles and triangles.  We see them in architecture and manufactured items.
  • Organic Shapes-Leaf, seashells, flowers.  We see them in nature and with characteristics that are free flowing, informal and irregular.
  • Positive Shapes-In a drawing or painting positive shapes are the solid forms in a design such as a bowl of fruit.  In a sculpture it is the solid form of the sculpture.
  • Negative Shapes-In a drawing it is the space around the positive shape or the shape around the bowl of fruit.  In sculpture it is the empty shape around and between the sculptures.
  • Static Shape-Shapes that appears stable and resting.
  • Dynamic Shape-Shapes that appears moving and active.

Create a Shape

In box 1 create a design with Geometrical Shapes

In box 2 create a design with Organic Shapes

1                                                                              2

In these two boxes below draw the same picture in each box.  The first box shade the positive space and the second box shade the negative space.


Space is the three-dimensionality of a sculpture.  With a sculpture or architecture you can walk around them, look above them, and enter them, this refers to the space of the sculpture or architecture.  A three-dimensional object will have height, width, and depth.

Space in a two-dimensional drawing or painting refers to the arrangement of objects on the picture plane.  The picture plane is the surface of your drawing paper or canvas.  You can have a picture plane that is a crowded space with lots of objects or an empty space with very few objects in the picture plane.  A two-dimensional piece of art has heights and width but no depth.  The illusion of depth can be achieved by using perspective.  This is the technique used to have your picture look likes it is moving to the distance like a landscape or cityscape. 

Categories of Space

·        Positive space-Like in positive shape it is the actual sculpture or building.

·        Negative space-Also like negative shape it is the space around the sculpture or building.

·        Picture Plane is the flat surface of your drawing paper or canvas.

·        Composition is the organization and placement of the elements on your picture plane.

·        Focal Point is the object or area you want the viewer to look at first.

Types of Perspective

·        Nonlinear Perspective is the method of showing depth that incorporates the following techniques.

o      Position-Placing an object higher on the page makes it appear farther back then objects placed lower on the page.

o      Overlapping-When an object overlaps another object it appears closer to the viewer, and the object behind the object appears farther away.

o      Size Variation-Smaller objects look farther away in the distance.  Larger objects look closer.

o      Color-Bright colors look like they are closer to you and neutral colors look like they are farther away.

o      Value-Lighter values look like they are farther back and darker value look like they are closer.  For example in a landscape the mountains often look bluish and lighter then the trees or houses that are closer to you.

·        Linear Perspective is the method of using lines to show the illusion of depth in a picture.  The following are types of linear perspective.

o     One-point perspective-When lines created by the sides of tables or building look like that are pointing to the distance and they all meet at one point on the horizon this is one-point perspective. To see an example stand in the middle of the hallway and look at the horizontal lines in the brick or the corner where the ceiling meets the wall.  See how they move to one point on the horizon.

o     Two-point perspective-Here the lines look like they are meeting at two points on the horizon line.



Texture is the surface quality of an object.  A rock may be rough and jagged.  A piece of silk may be soft and smooth and your desk may feel hard and smooth.  Texture also refers to the way a picture is made to look rough or smooth. 

Categories of Texture

·        Real Texture is the actual texture of an object.  Artist may create real texture in art to give it visual interest or evoke a feeling.  A piece of pottery may have a rough texture so that it will look like it came from nature or a smooth texture to make it look like it is machine made.

·      Implied Texture is the where a two-dimensional piece of art is made to look like a certain texture but in fact is just a smooth piece of paper.  Like a drawing of a tree trunk may look rough but in fact it is just a smooth piece of paper

Using your pencil create different types of textures in the boxes below. 

Explain what the texture is at the bottom of each box.



Value is the range of lightness and darkness within a picture.  Value is created by a light source that shines on an object creating highlights and shadows.  It also illuminates the local or actual color of the subject.  Value creates depth within a picture making an object look three dimensional with highlights and cast shadows, or in a landscape where it gets lighter in value as it recedes to the background giving the illusion of depth.

Categories of Values

·            Tint is adding white to color paint to create lighter values such as light blue or pink.

·        Shade is adding black to paint to create dark values such as dark blue or dark red.

·        High-Key is where the picture is all light values.

·        Low-Key is where the picture is all dark values.

·        Value Contrast is where light values are placed next to dark values to create contrast or strong differences.

·        Value Scale is a scale that shows the gradual change in value from its lightest value, white to its darkest value black. 

Create a 5 value, Value Scale.

Beginning with the box on the right leave it blank, it will be the lightest value of the value scale.  The box on the far left will be the darkest value, so shade it in completely black.  The three remaining shade in to show a gradual change form the lightest to the darkest.


Form is the three-dimensionality of an object.  Shape is only two-dimensional; form is three-dimensional.  You can hold a form; walk around a form and in some cases walk inside a form. In drawing or painting using value can imply form.  Shading a circle in a certain manner can turn it into a sphere.  

Types of Form

Draw and correctly shade the four basic Forms.





 When looking at the Elements of Design in Art we can now hopefully see correlations between what is often regarded as high art, and also advertising and the visual culture which surrounds all of us everyday. Building up a working vocabulary about how to talk about these elements will be important as you move forward into the HND program. 


Friday – Ryan:

Spiel about attendance and expectations

Class overview (what is design, what will we learn)

Intro to computer graphics theory (raster/vector etc)