Elements and Principles of Design

(Title Image Credit: elementaryartresources.com)

The Tyler Museum of Art contains artwork that exemplifies the elements and principles of design. This lesson discusses how selected artworks from the permanent collection exhibit each elements and principle of design.

If you use or reference this lesson plan, please leave a comment with your feedback. The lesson plan can be downloaded in the link below.


Elements of Design


Line

An element of design; line is created on a surface with a pointed moving tool. Lines can range in size, width, texture, and presentation. Common types of line are vertical, horizontal, diagonal, zig-zag, and curved.

Ancel E. Nunn, Landscape with Victorian Cottage and Gazebo, 1968, acrylic on panel, 21 inches X 31 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Ancel Nunn’s painting, Landscape with Victorian Cottage and Gazebo, line is found in the following locations:

  • The cottage is made with parallel horizontal lines to identify the wooden boards of the cottage.
  • The blue-green windows are made from horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines that intersect at each corner.
  • The thin columns of the cottage are made from vertical lines that help balance the horizontal lines of the cottage.
  • The boards of the gazebo are horizontal lines, and the roof of the structure is held up by vertical lines.
  • The tan grass that surrounds the cottage and gazebo are considered curved lines. Each blade of grass curves towards the right side of the composition.

Shape

An element of design; shape is a two-dimensional enclosed space that represents either an organic shape or a geometric shape. Geometric shapes include squares, circles, rectangles, triangles and other standard geometric shapes. Organic shapes include natural non-geometric shapes that are developed from curvilinear lines.

Rezalia Cleopatra Thrash, Untitled (Still Life with Dogwood Branch), not dated, oil on canvas, 26 inches X 16.5 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Rezalia Cleopatra Thrash’s painting, Untitled (Still Life with Dogwood Branch), shape is found in the following locations:

  • The petals of each white flower are organic shapes that resemble rounded squares.
  • The leaves of the flowers are also organic, containing rounded sides that meet at a point.
  • The vase can be considered an organic shape that exhibits an hourglass design.
  • The two objects next to the vase are made from geometric shapes. They exhibit: a circle, a rounded square, and an oval that lays over the rounded square.
  • The table and the tablecloth are both geometric rectangles.
  • The curtain in the backgrounds is made from organic shapes, seen in each fold of the cloth.

Form

An element of design; form is a three-dimensional enclosed space that represents organic and geometric shapes in a third space. Geometric forms include cubes, spheres, triangular prisms, rectangular prisms, and cones. Organic shapes include three-dimensional forms observed in nature, such as trees, rivers, and rocks.

Phillip Wade, Tarot Reading, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 36.25 inches X 42.60, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Philip Wade’s painting, Tarot Reading, form is found in the following locations:

  • The two boys, their clothing, candles, and the tarot cards are modeled to appear three-dimensional.
    • Wade accomplished this by setting the light source at the left side of the composition.
    • This causes dark shadows to be placed on the right sides of the figures and objects.
    • Additionally, he added small shadows to the clothing and background to emphasize the concept that the two boys are sitting at a table and interacting with tarot cards.
  • The viewer’s eye perceives the composition as a representation of reality.

Space

An element of design; this term defines the surface area between, before, and behind an object in a composition.

Billy Hassell, Roadrunners Near Marfa, 2007, oil on canvas, 60 inches X 72 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Billy Hassell’s painting, Roadrunners Near Marfa, space is found in the following locations:

  • The roadrunner is in the foreground of the composition and directly interacting with the viewer’s space.
  • Beyond the bird, the composition appears to stretch back into the distance.
    • The artist accomplished this by gradually painting the objects in the landscape in a smaller perspective.
    • For example, the mountains in the background are smaller than the roadrunner.
    • The visual shift in scale reveals that the mountains are in the distance and the roadrunner is in the foreground.

Color

An element of design; this term defines the pigments used in a painting. Color can be organized into categories, such as: hues, values, complements, and intensity.

David Bates, Magnolia and Lemon, 1999, woodcut on Japanese paper with over painting, 32.5 inches X 26.5 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In David Bates’ print, Magnolia and Lemon, color is found in the following locations:

  • The artist uses the complementary colors of red and green pigments to create a bright color palette.
  • Additionally, he balances the composition by having white and black pigments together.
  • The colors are highly saturated, causing the flower and the lemon to appear brighter than the background of the canvas.
  • The black outline that surrounds the objects in the painting helps the viewer’s eye identify the color harmonies of red and green with white and black.

Value

Value is a spectrum applied to a hue. The color can have a dark value or a light hue. This process of changing the value is caused by adding white for light hues and black for dark hues.

Margie Crisp, Pastoral, 1997, charcoal on paper, 390 inches X 22.25 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Margie Crisp’s charcoal drawing, Pastoral, value is found in the following locations:

  • The entire composition exhibits a value shift from white to black.
  • Due to the use of charcoal, the piece appears to be a night scene.
    • The moon serves as the primary light source throughout the composition.
    • The value shift is gradual and even, following the slopes of the landscape and the three-dimensionality of the visible objects.

Texture

An element of design; this term defines an artwork’s surface. The artist’s use of the chosen medium creates either implied or actual texture.

Mihailo Vukelic, Interference, 2001, cast bronze relief sculpture, 8 inches X 50 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Mihailo Vukelic’s cast bronze relief, Interference, texture can be found in the following locations:

  • Since the piece is cast in bronze, the artwork has visible and actual texture.
  • In the image above, the light hitting the work reveals the raised surface of the bronze sculpture.
  • The figures do not dramatically stand off of the bronze panel.
    • Instead, the subtle raising of the figure’s form helps the viewer identify the figures, objects, and implied landscapes.

Principles of Design


Balance

A principle of design; this term defines the arrangement of the presented imagery with the elements of design. It refers to either asymmetrical compositions or symmetrical compositions.

Donald S. Vogel, Self Portrait, 1989, oil on panel, 24 inches X 24 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Donald S. Vogel’s painting, Self Portrait, balance can be seen in the following locations:

  • The figure of the artist is placed at the left section of the composition.
    • He inhabits most of the space in the painting.
    • Directly above the artist, there is an empty space in the foreground.
  • The artist’s arms are extended towards a small plant, situated at the bottom right of the composition.
    • Above the plant, in the foreground, is empty space.
    • The artist contrasts the figure of the artist with the small figure of the plant to create balance in the foreground of the composition.

Unity

A principle of design; this term defines how the elements and principles of design are combined within a composition.

Jim Stoker, East Texas Sumac, 2005, oil on linen, 35.75 inches X 54 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Jim Stoker’s painting, East Texas Sumac, unity is found the following locations:

  • The entire composition is comprised of colorful ferns and abstract spots of energetic paint throughout the composition.
    • The ferns and the spots of paint both use the following colors:
      • Red-orange
      • Yellow-green
      • Green
      • Blue-Green
      • And Red-Brown
  • Using the same pigments for the ferns and the sports unifies the composition while allowing the elements to appear erratic.

Variety

A principle of design; this term defines the combination of imagery, objects, and ideas in an artwork.

Michael Kennaugh, Twisting Skies, 2006, acrylic, gesso, and graphite on paper, 30 inches X 22 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Michael Kennaugh’s painting, Twisting Skies, variety is found in the following locations:

  • The artist uses a mixture of shape, color, and line to evoke movement, balance, and emphasis.
    • Movement is clearly seen in the rendering of the shapes and lines.
      • The eye follows each element, creating an idea of objects flowing around the painting.
    • Balance is seen in the asymmetrical organization of shapes and lines.
      • Most of the shapes and lines are placed at the right of the composition and direct the eye towards the right side of the piece.
    • The emphasis of the painting is found in the red organic shape.
      • Placed at the bottom of the composition, the eye is immediately drawn to the red hue.
      • Afterwards, the viewer’s eye begins to circulate throughout the painting by following the movement of the formal elements.

Emphasis

A principle of design; this term defines the most prominent area in a composition. The viewer’s eye is drawn to this point because the artist used a mixture of the elements and principles of design.

Dick Wray, Untitled, 1979, oil on canvas, 65 inches X 79.25 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Dick Wray’s painting, Untitled, emphasis is identified in the following location:

  • The emphasis of the piece is the composite rectangular shape that is visible in the bottom-left corner.
    • The artist highlighted the form by surrounding the shape in lines that radiate outward to the edges of the painting.
    • The bright green and red-orange hues emphasize the importance of the shape.

Movement

A principle of design; this term defines the visual movement observed in a painting. This can be identified as kinetic movement or implied movement. Additionally, movement can be defined as how the viewer’s eye moves throughout the composition.

Liz Ward, Ghost of the Old Mississippi: Baton Rouge to Donaldsonville, 2014, watercolor, gouache, graphite, and collage, 72 inches X 32 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Liz Ward’s painting, Ghost of the Old Mississippi: Baton Rouge to Donaldsonville, movement is primarily found in the following locations:

  • The bold red, yellow, and blue lines that divide Ward’s painting are curvy meandering lines.
    • The viewer’s eye follows each line down the center of the painting.
    • As the lines intersect, the movement appears to quicken.
    • Likewise, when the lines separate, the movement appears to slow down.

Pattern

A principle of design; this term defines the repetitive imagery and elements of design found in a composition.

Vincent Falsetta, Untitled (CL 05-3), 2005, oil on canvas, 60 inches X 60 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Vincent Falsetta’s painting, Untitled (CL 05-3), patterns can be found in the following locations:

  • The pattern of the painting consists of multi-colored lines that bow out towards the right and left side of the composition.
  • Examining the painting, it appears as though the original line that began the pattern is near the center of the painting.
    • The line is highlighted by two red arrows and is more jagged than the remaining lines.

Proportion

A principle of design; this term defines the comparative size between objects in the composition. It can refer to the imagery within a painting or the size between a sculpture and a real object.

Frank Tolbert, Black Necked Stilt, 2015, oil-stick on paper, 60 inches X 44 inches, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, Texas.

In Frank Tolbert’s painting, Black Necked Stilt, proportion can be found in the following locations:

  • The size of the black necked stilt, which is the largest animal in this composition, is compared to the small size of the western sandpipers and the skunk.

You can see all of these artworks in-person at the Tyler Museum of Art’s current exhibition: Building a Legacy II: Selections from the Permanent Collection. Visit the exhibition page by clicking on the image below.


For more educational resources created by the Tyler Museum of Art, visit our YouTube page by clicking on the YouTube button or clicking the link below.

If you use or references this lesson plan, please leave a comment with your feedback.

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2 thoughts on “Elements and Principles of Design

  1. Yay!!! One of my favorite subjects

    Sent from my iPhone

    Neita Fran Ward, owner/designer
    WarDancer Designs, LLC
    DBA
    Valerosa Designs & Gallery
    Bergfeld Center, Tyler, Tx
    valerosadesigns.com

    ART CONNECTION OF EAST TEXAS
    artconnectionetx.org
    97.5 FM. Live interviews Sat. 8-9am

    Like

  2. Thank you for this lesson plan! I look forward to using it with my students, especially since many of them have not had art before.

    Like

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