Introduction to the Elements & Principles of Design

Hi there – I’m Eilee George, and this is the first in a sub-series of lessons in my Art Blog, on the Elements and Principles of Design. This short lesson is an introduction and brief overview. Once lessons begin in earnest, I will focus first on the Elements.

WebBackground03sThere is a language in art; it is technical and subjective at the same time, as is the nature of art itself. In fact, there are many texts and resources that can’t even agree on a consistent list of exactly what all of the Elements and Principles of Design are – although there are many similarities, there is fluctuation, depending on which source is consulted. I will try to encompass all of the classic elements and principles in my upcoming articles, focusing on them in more detail.

Elements of Design are basically the visual tools that we use to create a composition. These can include line, shape, form, hue, value, intensity, texture or pattern, space, proportion, and scale. You can create a piece using nothing but line, or with shapes. If you modulate the shapes to make them appear three-dimensional, you are in effect creating form, and you are probably incorporating different values to achieve the illusion of light and dark that describes that form, be it smoothly or via texture. You can create textures with lines and/or shapes. If your piece is in color, you’re using hue, and can use different intensities of the hues there to render things accurately, or to create mood or even to create a sense of space, which can also be achieved through the placement and scale of your shapes.

As you can see, you can use these tools in a lot of combinations, and not just in those I mentioned above. How you use them is where the Principles of Design come in. These are more conceptual tools you use to organize and manipulate the Elements. The Principles include balance, emphasis, dominance, unity, harmony, variety, contrast, rhythm, repetition, pattern, and movement. As you can already see, there is a little overlap between some of these terms, and they can be used in different combinations, too. It can be very powerful to plan a work around even one or two of these principles; it gives the work a razor focus, an edge, and a personality that stands out to the eye.

I will present lessons on most of these elements and principles, combining some that are closely related. I strongly believe these to be essential, useful learning for anyone who wants to become a better artist. Art isn’t a free-for-all; it has a structure, and one must learn the rules before one can break them with any success. I understand that the subject matter may at first sound a little dry for an eager beginner, but these quick exercises can awaken you not only to the possibilities in your own art, but to seeing their existence and use in the world around you – a truly global language.

This was Lesson #1 on the Elements and Principles of Design. Here are links to the next few lessons, in order since I sometimes refer to and build upon previous lessons:

#2 – LINE: The Most Basic Element

#3 – Elements of Design: SHAPE in Simple SPACE

#4 – Elements of Design: FORM, TEXTURE and PATTERN

#5 – Elements of Design: HUE, VALUE and INTENSITY

Or, to see all of them en masse (note they are in reverse chronological order, so read the bottom one first, etc.), try the category Elements and Principles of Design (or use these links here in order)

For a wider choice of even more lessons and topics, visit the Blog Intro.

Be sure to check back occasionally for more lessons on Elements and Principles of Design & more.

If you have any questions or need clarification concerning any of these design concepts, do feel free to contact me using the Contact Form. Be sure to put the words “Lesson Question” in the Subject line (but the quotation marks aren’t necessary). I run several sites as well as my fine arts production projects, and now occasional music gigs too, so I will get back to you as quickly as I can! Thanks!

– Eilee




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