Visual Elements of Design

The "Elements of Design," also known as the "Elements of Art" are essential building blocks used to translate an idea or message into a visual concept, design or composition. In the Visual Arts, these elements are found in drawing, painting, mixed media, photography or any other means of two-dimensional (2D) visual communication and the list varies, depending on the source.

Similar to words within a spoken language, they are used to articulate an image or visual message. Each element has a meaning on its own or may relate to other elements within a context to convey a specific mood or emotional response. They are deliberately used to control how visual messages, images or stories are composed.

Line

Is a long narrow mark on a surface. Lines may also be created from edges of shapes. In or out of focus, they may be sharp, firm, soft or lost. Lines may create boundaries or contours defining shape or form. Lines may create the illusion of motion or lead the viewer's eye throughout an image. Lines may also convey mood. For example, sharp or jagged lines portray a different feeling than elegant or smooth lines. 

Line

Straight lines may be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Organic lines may be radial, spiral or curved. Line lengths may be either long, short, continuous or broken, whereas the line width my be thick, thin, uneven or tapered. Lines may also be implied, and their quality nay be soft or bold.

Shape 

Is an enclosed area or figure. Shape may also be defined as an area that stands out from the space around, due to an implied boundary or edge. In drawing, shapes may be enclosed by lines or a line. Shapes have the characteristic of length and width. Silhouettes are shapes or forms filled in with a single tone or a color. The outer edge or contour of any shape automatically creates a negative shape on the other side up to frame or edge of paper. 

Shape

Form differs from a shape in that it includes any visual information regarding its location, scale or orientation. Form is the configuration of a shape in which is well understood how this objects sits in space with regard to the to the viewer. For example, a square is a shape, a cube turned three quarters becomes a form. There are endless varieties and combinations of shapes or forms including, natural, geometric, abstract or free form. Whether they are simple or complex, the meaning of shapes or forms is derived from the viewer's culture.

Value

Is one of the many characteristics of color, it describes the lightness or darkness of a shape or object. Variations in light and dark values create patterns. Our vision uses these patterns to determine one shape or object from another, even in low lighting condition when we cannot determine the hue or color. Value also conveys mood or lighting conditions. For example, values with little contrast evokes a different feeling than values with extreme contrast.

Value

Tones can be light, dark or in between. A tone is a single color swatch or a single shade of gray, which may be compared to another tone or a single step on a value scale.  A gradation is a gradual change from one tone to another, used to depict the volume or three-dimensional characteristics of an object or shape. Gradual changes in value create the illusion of a 3D object on a 2D surface. 

Texture

Is both a visual and tactile phenomenon, including the feel, appearance or consistency of a surface or substance. Without a sense of structure, texture is just a pattern that may create variety or visual interest. Texture also conveys mood. For example, rough texture evokes a different feeling than soft or smooth.

Texture

Natural texture is the appearance of a material, such as wood grain, metal, glass or leather. Tactile or physical texture is the actual variations of a surface or material, which may also be felt by touch, such as animal fur or reptile skin. When light hits the variations within the surface, it casts small shadows. Visual texture or implied texture is an realistic illusion of a physical or natural texture on a 2D surface, usually by the repetition of alternating values. 

Color

Is a characteristic of human visual perception producing different sensations on the eyes as a result of the way an object reflects or emits light. It is described as hue and contains a spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple. Color also has other characteristics such as value, intensity, and temperature.

Color

Colors are capable of affecting our mood, they can also create a feeling of warmth or coolness. Hue combinations may create harmony or discord. Scientists have found that actual physiological changes take place in human beings when they are exposed to certain colors. The symbology or meaning of hue or color is always derived from the viewer's culture.

Space

Is a continuous area or expanse that may be free, available or unoccupied. It refers to the distance between shapes or objects. 3D space is recognized as having height, width, depth, and is referred to as actual space. Nothing exists without it and is the distance or area around each object, between, above, below or within real places.

Space

2D space is the illusion of depth. In the Visual Arts, it is primarily limited to height and width. It can be created by linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, amplified perspective, placement, elevation or overlap.

The "Elements of Design" are different than the "Principles of Art," which include various ideas or ways to organized the elements. Composition is the art of organizing these elements into a harmonious or pleasing whole.

Are you using these elements to articulate your visual message?

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