Line: a dot moving through space or across the picture plane.  Lines can be thin, thick, straight, curved, crooked, wiggly, jagged, light, dark…. How may other descriptive words can you think to describe a line?

Shape: something created when a line encloses a space or when a line separated one area from another.  Shape may be organic or biomorphic , and geometric (circle, triangle, rectangle, square and so on)

Color: the way we see light reflected from a surface or refracted through a prism.  Colors may be subjective (artist selects his/her own colors) or objective (what the eye actually sees).  See color vocabulary sheets for more information.

Value:  Lightness and darkness of tones.  Adding white or black may change value in colors. 

Space:  Positive space is the subject of the work.  Negative space is the area around the subject.  Also- illusion of depth on a flat surface.

Texture:  The way a surface feels or looks like it feels.  Textures may be real or simulated (made to look like a texture).  These are all texture words - smooth, rough, hard, soft, bumpy, scratchy, or velvety.  How may other texture words can you name?



Pattern:  the use of an object or element is repeated to create rhythm.

Variety:  changes in the way an object or element is repeated to prevent boredom or monotony.

Emphasis: dominance, center of interest: the first thing that attracts your eye to a work of art or what the artist wants to emphasize the most.  

Balance:  elements of equal weight that appear on opposite sides of the work of art. These may be symmetrical (same on both sides), asymmetrical (balanced by not the same). And radial (all elements in a picture branch out in all directions from a common point).

Harmony:  All elements and principles work together to create the whole - colors can be shapes are similar.

Movement:  real or implied movement.  The imaginary path the eye takes across the work of art.

Contrast:  Dark against light.

Review the links below


Introduction to the Elements of Art (LineShapeColorColor2Color3Texture, Value, Space,Space2 Form) and


The Principles of Design (BalanceMovementContrast,EmphasisRhythmPatternUnity, Harmony, Variety)


The Elements of Composition in art are used to arrange or organize the components in a way that is pleasing to the artist and, hopefully, the viewer. It helps give structure to the layout and the way the subject is presented. It also encourages or leads the viewer's eye to wander around the whole painting, taking in everything and ultimately coming back to rest on the focal point. In Western art they are generally considered to be:


  • Unity: Do all the parts of the composition feel as if they belong together, or does something feel stuck on, awkwardly out of place?
  • Balance: Having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, whereas an asymmetrical arrangement creates a sense of unease, imbalance. (See example)
  • Movement: There many ways to give a sense of movement in a painting, such as the arrangement of objects, the position of figures, the flow of a river. (See example
  • Rhythm: In much the same way music does, a piece of art can have a rhythm or underlying beat that leads and paces the eye as you look at it. Look for the large underlying shapes (squares, triangles, etc.) and repeated color. (See example)
  • Focus (or Emphasis): The viewer's eye ultimately wants to rest of the "most important" thing or focal point in the painting, otherwise the eye feels lost, wandering around in space. (See example)
  • Contrast: Strong differences between light and dark, or minimal, such as Whistler did in his Nocturne series. (See example)
  • Pattern: An underlying structure, the basic lines and shapes in the composition.
  • Proportion: How things fit together, big and small, nearby and distant.