Elements of Art

Elements of Art

The elements of art are the building blocks used by artists to create a work of art.


a mark with greater length than width. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal; straight or curved; thick or thin.

The elements are the parts used to make a piece of artwork. The art elements are line, shape, form, tone, texture, pattern and colour. They are often used together, and how they are organised in a piece of art determines what the finished piece will look like.

Line is the path left by a moving point. For example, a pencil or a brush dipped in paint.

A line can take many forms. It can be horizontal, diagonal or curved. It can also change over its length, starting off curved and ending up horizontal, for example.

Line can be used to show many different qualities, such as:

  • contours – showing the shape and form of something
  • feelings or expressions – a short, hard line gives a different feeling to a more flowing one
  • movements
Just You Wait, 2006 by Tucker Schwarz

A line can also be created by edges – when two surfaces meet a line is formed.

A line is an identifiable path created by a point moving in space. It is one-dimensional and can vary in width, direction, and length. Lines often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. They lead your eye around the composition and can communicate information through their character and direction.
A Storm / Vernet
Horizontal lines suggest a feeling of rest or repose because objects parallel to the earth are at rest. In this landscape, horizontal lines also help give a sense of space. The lines delineate sections of the landscape, which recede into space. They also imply continuation of the landscape beyond the picture plane to the left and right.
Saint Bavo Church / Saenredam
Vertical lines often communicate a sense of height because they are perpendicular to the earth, extending upwards toward the sky. In this church interior, vertical lines suggest spirituality, rising beyond human reach toward the heavens.
Cabinet / Weisweiler
Horizontal and vertical lines used in combination communicate stability and solidity. Rectilinear forms with 90-degree angles are structurally stable. This stability suggests permanence and reliability.
Storm / Vernet
Diagonal lines convey a feeling of movement. Objects in a diagonal position are unstable. Because they are neither vertical nor horizontal, they are either about to fall or are already in motion. The angles of the ship and the rocks on the shore convey a feeling of movement or speed in this stormy harbor scene.
Pool, St-Cloud / Atget
The curve of a line can convey energy.Soft, shallow curves recall the curves of the human body and often have a pleasing, sensual quality and a softening effect on the composition. The edge of the pool in this photograph gently leads the eye to the sculptures on the horizon.

Contour line drawing focuses on the outline or outer edge of objects and subjects

Cross contours illustrate the dips and swells of curved shapes.

Hatching is used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing (or pain<ng or scribing) closely spaced parallel lines. When lines are placed at an angle to one another, it is called cross‐hatching.



a closed line. Shapes can be geometric, like squares and circles; or organic, like free-form or natural shapes. Shapes are flat and can express length and width.

actual : a clearly defined or positve area

implied : a shape suggested by dots, lines, areas or their edges amorphous : a shape without clear definiton; formless, and of uncertain dimension

biomorphic : irregular shape that resembles curves found in living organisms

curvilinear : a shape that stresses the use of curved lines rectlinear : a shape whose boundaries consist of straight lines

A shape is an area enclosed by a line. It could be just an outline or it could be shaded in.

Shapes can be either geometric, like a circle, square or triangle, or irregular.

When drawing shapes, you must consider the size and position as well as the shape of the area around it. The shapes created in the spaces between shapes are referred to as negative space.


Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1946) by Arnold Newman. © Arnold Newman/Getty Images

You should also consider the shape of the artwork. 2D work does not have to have the same proportions as the page. You could try square, circular or even irregularly-shaped works.


3. Shape and form

Forms are three-dimensional shapes expressing length, width, and depth. Balls, cylinders, boxes, and pyramids are forms.


Form is a three dimensional shape, such as a cube, sphere or cone.


Sculpture and 3D design are about creating forms.

In 2D artworks, tone and perspective can be used to create an illusion of form.

Shape and form define objects in space. Shapes have two dimensions–height and width–and are usually defined by lines. Forms exist in three dimensions, with height, width, and depth.

Studies for a Ceiling / de la Fosse
Shape has only height and width. Shape is usually, though not always, defined by line, which can provide its contour. In this image, rectangles and ovals dominate the composition. They describe the architectural details for an illusionist ceiling fresco.
Rearing Horse / de Vries
Form has depth as well as width and height. Three-dimensional form is the basis of sculpture, furniture, and decorative arts. Three-dimensional forms can be seen from more than one side, such as this sculpture of a rearing horse.
Commode / Oeben
Geometric shapes and forms include mathematical, named shapes such as squares, rectangles, circles, cubes, spheres, and cones. Geometric shapes and forms are often man-made. However, many natural forms also have geometric shapes. This cabinet is decorated with designs of geometric shapes.


the area between and around objects. The space around objects is of- ten called negative space; negative space has shape. Space can also refer to the feeling of depth. Real space is three-dimensional; in visual art, when we create the feeling or illusion of depth, we call it space.


Real space is three-dimensional. Space in a work of art refers to a feeling of depth or three dimensions. It can also refer to the artist’s use of the area within the picture plane. The area around the primary objects in a work of art is known as negative space, while the space occupied by the primary objects is known as positive space.
Age of 98 / Goya y Lucientes
Positive and negative space
The relationship of positive to negative space can greatly affect the impact of a work of art. In this drawing, the man and his shadow occupy the positive space, while the white space surrounding him is the negative space. The disproportionate amount of negative space accentuates the figure’s vulnerability and isolation.
Saint Bavo / Saenredam
Three-dimensional space
The perfect illusion of three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional work of art is something that many artists, such as Pieter Saenredam, labored to achieve. The illusion of space is achieved through perspective drawing techniques and shading.


is light reflected off of objects. Color has three main characteristics: hue (the name of the color, such as red, green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is).

Light reflected off objects. Color has three main characteristics: hue (red, green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is). Colors can be described as warm (red, yellow) or cool (blue, gray), depending on which end of the color spectrum they fall.
Christ Crowned / Honthorst
Value describes the brightness of color. Artists use color value to create different moods. Dark colors in a composition suggest a lack of light, as in a night or interior scene. Dark colors can often convey a sense of mystery or foreboding.Light colors often describe a light source or light reflected within the composition. In this painting, the dark colors suggest a night or interior scene. The artist used light colors to describe the light created by the candle flame.
Annunciation / Bouts
Intensity describes the purity or strength of a color. Bright colors are undiluted and are often associated with positive energy and heightened emotions. Dull colors have been diluted by mixing with other colors and create a sedate or serious mood. In this image the artist captured both the seriousness and the joy of the scene with the dull gray stone interior and the bright red drapery.


Red, yellow and blue are primary colours, which means they can’t be mixed using any other colours. In theory, all other colours can be mixed from these three colours.

Two primary colours mixed together make a secondary colour.


Primary Secondary
red + yellow = orange
red + blue = purple
blue + yellow = green

Tertiary colours are created by mixing a primary colour and the secondary colour next to it on the colour wheel.

Colour wheel

  • Colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel are calledharmonious.
  • Complementary colours are colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. When complementary colours are used together they createcontrast. Adding a colour’s complimentary colour will usually make a darker shade. This is often preferable to adding black.
  • Warm colours are colours on the red side of the wheel. These are red and include orange, yellow, browns and tans.
  • Cool colours are colours on the blue side of the wheel. These are blue and include green, violet and most greys.
  • Black, white and grey are called neutral colours.
  • White is pure light; black is the absence of light.
  • Primary colors are the only true colors (red, blue, and yellow). All other colors are mixes of primary colors.


  • Secondary colors are two primary colors mixed together (green, orange,violet).
  • Intermediate colors, sometimes called tertiary colors, are made by mixinga primary and secondary color together. Some examples of intermediate colors are yellow green, blue green, and blue violet.


  • Complementary colors are located directly across from each other on thecolor wheel (an arrangement of colors along a circular diagram to show how they are related to one another). Complementary pairs contrast because they share no common colors. For example, red and green are complements, because green is made of blue and yellow. When comple- mentary colors are mixed together, they neutralize each other to make brown.

Colour schemes


Monochrome means one colour. Artwork can be created that explores the toneand intensity of a selected colour.

You can change the tone of a colour by adding its complementary colour or by adding black or white to it. Adding white to a colour creates a tint, and adding black creates a tone.

You can also alter the tone of a colour with saturation techniques. This means adding either more paint or more water. The more water that is added the lighter the tone and the more paint the darker.

Limited colour

Fairey, Shepard (b. 1970): Barack Hussein Obama. Hand-finished collage, stencil, and acrylic on heavy paper, 2008. Washington DC, National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian Institution. Sheet: 175.3 x 115.6cm (69 x 45 1/2′). Frame: 187.3 x 127 x 5.1cm (73 3/4 x 50 x 2′). Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection in honor of Mary K. Podesta. © 2011. Photo Nat. Portrait Gall. Smithsonian/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

You can select a limited number of colours and use these to represent different tones. For example, you could pick two complimentary colours, or you could use only the three primary colours. This can create a striking image.

monochromatic : color scheme with only one hue & its complete value range


complements : two colors directly opposite to each other on the color wheel


color triad : three colors an equal distance apart, forming an equilateral triangle

primary triad : triad of primary colors

color triad : three colors an equal distance apart, forming an equilateral triangle

tetrad : four colors equally spaced on a color wheel

analogous : colors closely related in hue, usually adjacent on the color wheel


warm colors tend to advance, cool colors tend to recede


is the surface quality that can be seen and felt. Textures can be rough or smooth, soft or hard. Textures do not always feel the way they look; for exam- ple, a drawing of a porcupine may look prickly, but if you touch the drawing, the paper is still smooth.


Walworth Ladies (2009) by Sokari Douglas Camp. © Sokari Douglas Camp

This is to do with the surface quality of something, the way something feels or looks like it feels. There are two types of texture: actual texture and visual texture.

Actual texture really exists, so you can feel it or touch it. You can create actual texture in an artwork by changing the surface, such as sticking different fabrics onto a canvas. Combining different material techniques can create interesting textures.

Visual texture is created using marks to represent actual texture. It gives the illusion of a texture or surface but if you touched it, it would be smooth. You can create visual texture by using different lines, shapes, colours or tones. Think about how different marks can be used to show texture.

actual : a surface that can be experienced through the sense of touch

simulated : a convincing copy or translaAon of an object’s texture in any medium (photo, print, sketch etc.)

abstract : a texture derived from the appearance of an actual surface but rearranged and/or simplified by the arAst

invented : a created texture whose only source is in the imaginaAon of the arAst; generally a decoraAve paMern



The relative degree of light or dark

3225.demartin_Illustration2 7-step & gradated value scales


Pyramid of skulls, 1898-1900 (oil on canvas) by Cezanne, Paul (1839-1906) Grand Palais, Paris, France / The Bridgeman Art Library

This refers to the lightness or darkness of something. This could be a shade or how dark or light a colour appears.

Tones are created by the way light falls on a 3D object. The parts of the object on which the light is strongest are called highlightsand the darker areas are called shadows. There will a range of tones in between the highlights and shadows.


Shading is used to capture these different tones in a drawing. It helps to create an illusion of form in a 2D artwork. When shading it’s important to think about the direction of the marks you are making as this can help to emphasise the form of the object.






Closed Value composition: a compositon in which values are limited by the edges or boundaries of shapes


Open Value Composition: a composi9on in which values cross over shape boundaries into adjoining areas



Contrast means the amount of difference between the lightest and darkest tones. It should be combined with a range of mid tones. Contrast in tones can help create a dramatic artwork.

High Value Contrast


Low Value Contrast




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  1. Pingback: The Colors of Emotion | Earthy Inspired

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