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Principles of Art

We must begin our study of the principles by reviewing the elements through which the principles are created:

Line, Shape, Colour, Texture, Value, Size, Space and Depth (Direction which I believe to be a principle)


Movement shows actions, or alternatively, the path the viewer's eye follows throughout an artwork. Movement is created by using elements in the picture to give the feeling of action and/ or to guide the viewer's eyes throughout the artwork. In this way your art should flow as you are leading the viewer’s eye. You control what they see and how they see it, much like following a path that leads across the picture plane to the item you really want to be seen by the viewer and back again.


Emphasis is the point of attraction in a piece of art that draws the viewer’s eye. If something in a piece of art has emphasis it stands out among other shapes, lines, and viewing points of the painting/drawing.  This is generally the focal point but may also involve a secondary focus like the sub plot in a novel. It must also be balanced so it does not become heavy handed.


Unity is the wholeness or belonging that is achieved through the effective use of the elements and principles of art. If not countered with variety if can become monotonous or boring very easily.


Variety is of course the use of a diverse range of elements to create interest. Variety and unity must be discussed together as the artwork with too much variety and no unifying factor becomes disjointed and busy.


Harmony is often confused with unity.  Although there should be a large degree of unity in a harmonious painting there must also be the same sort of contrast that harmony gives to music.  This contrast is finer and much more clearly defined than when we speak of contrast as the dominant principle.  When striving for harmony an overstated contrast will create discord making harmony a more elusive and difficult principle to use well.


Contrast is created by using elements that conflict with one another. Often, contrast is created using complementary colors or extremely light and dark values. Contrast creates interest in a piece and often draws the eye to certain areas. It is used to make a painting look interesting.


Balance is arranging elements so that no one part of a work overpowers, or seems heavier than any other part. The three different kinds of balance are symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Symmetrical (or formal) balance is when both sides of an artwork, if split in two vertically, horizontally or diagonally, appear to be the same. The asymmetrical balance is the balance that does not weigh equally on both sides and is far more interesting. Radial balance is equal in length from the middle as in a mandala or a pinwheel.


Proportion is a measurement of the size and quantity of elements within a composition as well as the relationship of the individual parts of any one object in relationship to one another. When done well it goes unnoticed when done poorly even an untrained eye will notice something unnatural, unbalanced or deformed.


Pattern and rhythm (also known as repetition) is the creation of choppy movement throughout the picture plane through the use of repeated similar elements. It causes the eye to jump or skip from one area of similarity to the next then the next rather than flowing through the piece as in movement. It can be either regular or irregular lending a tone of formality or informality respectively to the work. Rhythm can make an artwork seem active and energized.



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