The Elements of Art

Hey guys, we're back with some more art basics for you today! 

We already talked about color theory basics and why "the psychology of color" is totally misleading. Today I want to keep going on this theme and share some vocabulary with you that helps us talk about the visual world: the elements of art.

Though these terms are simple, they're absolutely essential to talking about any form of visual art or design!

Ready? Let's dive in!

The 7 elements of art:

• Shape

Shape encloses a two-dimensional area and can be geometric – think of squares, triangles, or perfect circles – or organic, which is more natural and loose. 

• Form

Form encloses a three-dimensional area. You can think of form as the three-dimensional analogue of shape. For example, a circle is a two-dimensional shape, but a sphere or cylinder is a three-dimensional form.

• Line

Line can be a few different things. A line can define the edge of a shape or form, but a line can also be the direction of something in motion.

• Color

You're definitely familiar with this one! Color is actually light reflected from a surface. There are three terms we can use to describe color further: hue (the name of the color, like blue), value (where the color lies on a scale from light to dark), and intensity (where the color lies on a scale from dull to bright). [Related: The Basics of Color Theory, Why Color Psychology is BS]

• Value

Value is how we know light from dark. For example, think of a messy white sheet on an unmade bed. We know the whole sheet is white, but some areas appear darker where the folds or crinkles cast a shadow. That's value at work!

• Space 

Space refers to the area between and around objects. Space can be positive (filled) or negative (empty).

• Texture

Texture is the surface quality of an object that we sense through touch. We can also see implied texture through a photograph or painting. For example, a sheep has a soft, wooly texture. Even if you've never touched an actual sheep, you can imagine how that texture would feel by just looking at a picture of a sheep. 

Each of these elements is a basic building block of visual design – think of it like a single word.

And when you start to combine elements together, you begin to create visual sentences that can all add up to a whole story. The concepts expressed by combinations of these elements are known as the principles of art. We'll leave those for another day!

To illustrate each element for you, I put together this handy chart showing examples of each one:

I hope you enjoy!


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