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 Color

Color (or hue) is at the heart of every painting. It is arguably the most important element because
it sets the tone for how viewers feel about the work. It can, for instance, be warm and inviting or
cold and stark. Either way, color can set the mood for a piece.

There are endless ways that painters can play with color. Quite often, an artist may be drawn
toward a particular palette that tends to define the style of their entire body of work.

Color theory is one of the keys to working with color, especially for painters. Each new color you
introduce to a canvas plays a vital role in the perception viewers have of the piece.

Color can be broken down further into hue, intensity, and value. Also, many artists choose to
work with a mother color when painting. This is a particular paint hue that is mixed into each
paint that touches the canvas and it can bring uniformity.


Tone and value are used interchangeably in painting. It is, essentially, how light or dark a paint is
when you strip away the color. Understanding how to use it can greatly affect the way your art is

Every color of paint has an almost endless variety of tones available to it. You can mix it with
mediums and neutral paints to adjust its tone however you like. Some paintings have a very
limited range of tones while others include stark contrasts in tones.

At its most basic, tone can be best seen in grayscale: Black is the darkest value and white the
brightest. A well-rounded painting often has both of these, with highlights and shadows adding to
the overall effect of the piece.


While we tend to think of lines when drawing, painters must also focus on it. After all, every
brushstroke you make creates a line.

Line is defined as a narrow mark made by a brush, or a line created where two objects or
elements meet. It defines the subject of paintings and helps us imply things such as movement.

Painters should also be aware of different types of lines. Among these are implied lines, those
that are not drawn but are instead implied by the brushstrokes around it.

Landscape painters, in particular, are often concerned with the horizon line. Painters of all styles
can add dimension to their work by employing the orthogonal and transversal lines found in

SHAPE. Every piece of artwork includes the element of shape, which ties into line and space. In
essence, a shape is an enclosed area that is made when lines meet. When that shape takes on
a third dimension (as in sculpture or some mixed media), we then also have form.
Artists often train themselves to see the shapes in everything. By breaking down the basic
shapes of a subject, it creates an accurate representation of it in paintings and drawings.

Additionally, shapes may be either geometric or organic. The former are the triangles, squares,
and circles we're all familiar with. The latter are those shapes that are not well-defined or those
found in nature.

 Space

Space (or volume) is another crucial element in any art and it can be used to great effect in
paintings. When talking about space in art, we think of the balance between positive and
negative space.

Positive space is the subject itself while the negative space is the area of a painting around it.
Artists can play with a balance between these two spaces to further influence how viewers
interpret their work.

For example, a landscape with a smaller tree and horizon (positive space) that allows the sky
(negative space) to take up most of the canvas can make a very powerful statement. Likewise,
painting a portrait in which the subject (positive) looks in the direction of the negative space can
be just as intriguing as it is when they were looking straight at the viewer.


Paintings are the perfect medium to play with texture as well. This can be interpreted as a
pattern within the painting or the brushstrokes themselves.

Some paints, particularly oils, are thicker and how they're applied on the canvas or board can
give the work more depth because of the texture. For instance, if you take the color out of a
painting by Van Gogh and view it in black and white, the texture of his brushstrokes stands out
dramatically. Similarly, impasto painting relies on very deep textures.

Texture can also be a challenge for painters. Replicating the shiny surface of glass or metal or
the rough feel of a rock can be difficult. It is in objects like these that a painter can rely on the
other elements of art—line, color, and tone, in particular—to further define the texture.


The elements above are essential to paintings, though quite often we also add four more
elements to the list. One of the most important for any artist is composition.

Composition is the arrangement of the painting. Where you place the subject, how the
background elements support it, and every little piece that you add to the canvas becomes part
of the composition. It is critical to how the work is perceived.

There are also "elements of composition" to consider. These include unity, balance, movement,
rhythm, focus, contrast, pattern, and proportion. Each plays an important role in every painting,
which is why artists focus so much of their time on composition.

In art, the word "direction" is a broad term that can be interpreted in many ways. You might, for
instance, consider the format of a painting part of its direction. A vertical canvas can work better
than a horizontal one for certain subjects and vice versa.

Direction may also be used to refer to perspective. Where you place objects or how they're used
in proportion to others can direct a viewer through the art. In this sense, it's related to movement
as well and direction is an important aspect of design, no matter the medium.

Painters are also concerned about the direction of the light in their paintings. All of the painting's
elements must have light falling on them from the same direction or viewers will be confused.
They may not realize it, but something will disturb them if highlights and shadows change from
one side of the painting to another.


"Size" refers to the scale of the painting itself as well as the scale of proportions within the
painting's elements.

The relationship between objects can also unknowingly disrupt a viewer's perception and
enjoyment. For instance, an apple that is larger than an elephant is not natural. Less
dramatically, we expect someone's eyes, lips, and nose to have a particular balance in size.

When it comes to determining the size of any piece of art, painters also have many things to
consider. Oversized paintings can be just as dramatic as a very small piece and both have their
challenges. Plus, artists must consider what the intended buyer might have room for.

On many levels, size is one of the biggest considerations for any artist.

Time and Movement

All of the other elements affect how the viewer perceives and looks at a painting. This is where
time and movement come into play.

Time can be viewed as the amount of time a viewer spends looking at a piece. Are there various
elements that continue to capture their attention? Is it intriguing enough so they stop and don't
keep walking past your art? Admittedly, this is one of the elements that concerns many artists.

Movement is also one of the elements of composition, though its importance should not be
overlooked in that grouping. This refers to how you direct the viewer's eye within the painting. By
including various elements in strategic places and incorporating the other elements of art, you
can keep viewers moving around the painting. This, in turn, increases the time they spend
looking at it.
The Principles of Art
Imagine you're using your favorite pen to draw a spaceship. You take into careful consideration where to place this
spaceship on the page and how far away to draw the moon and stars that the spaceship is about to fly by. You want to
show that the spaceship is moving, so you draw a few squiggles. Finally, because of your love of star gazing, you color in
a nearby shooting star with your favorite shade of yellow and voila; you have just created your own artwork.
Without even knowing it, you have just used some of the principles of art. They include:

1. balance
2. proportion
3. emphasis
4. variety
5. movement
6. rhythm
7. harmony

They are used to organize the basic elements of art: line, shape, form, value, color, space, and texture. They are
sometimes also referred to as principles of organization or design principles.
Another important element in creating art is composition. A composition is the placement or arrangement of visual
elements in an artwork, and art principles help figure out the arrangements of those visual elements.

Each Principle Defined

Balance: The sense of stability achieved through implied weight of an object. There are three different types of balance:
symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.
Symmetrical balance: When one image is mirrored on the other side to repeat itself
Asymmetrical balance: When different types of elements create a visual balance
Radial balance:The distribution of elements around a central point in all directions
Here is an example of asymmetrical balance, showing a bright red apple in one corner balanced by a large area of neutral
color on the other side. Together, they work to create balance in the overall composition.

Proportion: The ratio of one art element to another. It is important to keep in mind the relationship between different
elements of the composition so that the scale of your artwork always makes visual sense.
Emphasis: When one element of an artwork stands out more than another. This creates a sense of importance and is
intentionally used to communicate a message or feeling. Emphasis creates variety in your artwork. This image of one
lone, yellow pear among a bowl of red apples demonstrates the principles of emphasis.

Variety: The counterweight to harmony and creates visual interest by slightly changing or using different elements
together in a composition. It can be created with contrast, change, elaboration, or diversifying elements. With variety, it is
important to consider how the elements are working together so that you still have harmony and unity within a
composition. This image of different fruits and vegetables is an example of variety.

Pattern is a very important design concept which refers to the visual arrangement
of elements with a repetitive form or intelligible sequence.


Your paints cannot physically move, but you can arrange the paints in a way which
gives the illusion or suggestion of movement.

One of the most effective techniques for creating movement in your painting is to
use bold and directional brushwork. By doing this, you can suggestively push your
viewer around the painting as you please. You could also suggest movement
through repetition or pattern.

Rhythm is a principle of art that can be difficult to describe in words. We can easily recognize
rhythm in music because it is the underlying beat that we hear. In art, we can try and translate that
into something that we see in order to understand an artwork's visual beat.
The Classical period (5th - 4th century BC)
In the early 5th century Greek artists began consciously to attempt to render human and animal forms
realistically. The classical artists of Greece and Rome created sculptures, pottery, murals, and mosaics.
The purpose of much of their art was to show the importance of ordinary people and civic leaders, as well as gods
and goddesses. Teaching religion to people who could not read or write.
Medieval paintings usually depict religious subjects or topics of war. The practice of portrait painting did not begin
until the end of the medieval era. Human faces in paintings throughout the era were very flat, unrealistic and looked
alike. Human and animal body parts are disproportionate and usually elongated. Medieval painters had not yet
learned how to handle perspective, so architecture and landscapes are awkward.
Religion played a major part of daily life during the Middle Ages, reasons why the artists of the early Middle Ages
were predominantly priests and monks who lived in monasteries. Their art became the primary method of
communicating narratives of a Biblical nature to the people.
Art historians attempt to classify medieval art into major periods and styles, often with some difficulty. A generally
accepted scheme includes the later phases of Early Christian art, Migration Period art, Byzantine art, Insular art, Pre-
Romanesque, Romanesque art, and Gothic art, as well as many other periods within these central styles. In addition each
region, mostly during the period in the process of becoming nations or cultures, had its own distinct artistic style, such
as Anglo-Saxon art or Viking art.