The Principles of Design - The ways artists use the Elements to create interesting compositions


    Throughout history, artists have used the Line, Shape, Space, Texture, Form, Color and Value to create countless works of art.  The way artists use the Elements of Art is called composition.  Artists and people who study art created a system for creating compositions that capture your attention and excite your eyes.  They are called the Principles of Design. By applying these concepts to the design of your artwork, you can create much more interesting visual compositions.


    The Principles of Art are:

    • Pattern

    • Movement/Rhythm

    • Proportion/Scale

    • Balance

    • Unity

    • Emphasis




    The term composition means ‘putting together,’ and can apply to any work of art, from music to writing to photography.  In art, composition refers to the way the artist arranges (or puts together) the visual elements within a painting or sculpture. In the visual arts, composition is often used interchangeably with the word “design.”

    Composition is used to arrange or organize the components in a way that is pleasing to the artist and, hopefully, the viewer. It encourages the viewer to look at the entire work of art, taking in all of the visual information and ultimately coming back to rest on the focal point.

    The focal point is the part of the artwork that stands out  the most - it is the part of the artwork that the artist has tried to make more important than the rest of the subject matter in the painting or sculpture.


    Vermeer Girl with Pearl Earring Contrast in art and design occurs when two related elements are different - the greater the difference, the greater the contrast.

    Contrast adds variety to the total design and creates a visual distinction between objects within a composition. It is what draws the viewer's eye into the painting and helps to guide the viewer around the art piece.

    Some artists are masters at using contrast to create dynamic imagery.  Vermeer is among them.  Look at one of his famous paintings, The Girl With the Pearl Earring. Notice the contrast of the dark background with the woman's face.  It makes her really stand out, and helps to emphasize the importance of her features.


    Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer 

     Video explainging the Principles of Design

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