December 28, 2016

The Principles of Art

Otherwise known as the 'Principles of Design,' it is a universal, nebulous, and subjective concept used to compose an image. Not to be confused with the 'Elements of Design,' these 'principles' are utilized by the creator to intentionally organize the visual elements within an image.

The Principles of Art

Let's clarify the idea with an analogy to language. The 'principles of design' are grammar or language structure, as the 'elements' are words. For example, even if you speak the right words, the listener might not understand the message if there is no grammar. The spoken words may not make sense or be all out of sorts.

  • Elements are the 'what,' i.e., the components that make up an image, such as line, shape, value, space, size, color, or texture.
  • Principles are the 'how,' i.e., those elements are intentionally arranged within an image.

It is prevalent to find differing opinions on the list of 'principles,' it varies across books, articles, and sources, and there is some overlap between each individual. This makes it hard to narrow the list, but the 'Principles' include unity, emphasis, balance, proportion, and rhythm for this article.

Unity (Pattern, Repetition & Variety)

Is the quality of "wholeness" or "oneness." Something is unified when all components are working together. Unity is achieved when the parts complement each other in a way that has something in common.


Proximity is an easy way to achieve unity. For example, these fans are all of different designs and colors. Despite their differences in appearance, all have the same characteristics in common. They are unified because they share the same texture from the folds within each fan. However, their repeating arc-like shapes are aligned or in the same diagonal proximity.

'Gestalt,' a visual psychological term, is the concept that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."  This is an essential aspect of visible unity in design. The whole must predominate over the parts, i.e., you must first see it as a whole before noticing each individual piece.


Effectively shared elements create harmonies, such as repeating circular shapes or colors. They look as though they belong together, making a harmonious or visually pleasing agreement.


Any element repeated consistently throughout an image creates a pattern. 'Pattern' also reflects the underlying structure of a composition or design by intentionally organizing the values or tones within the composition.

Without variety, an image may become dull and uninteresting to the viewer. It is used to create visual interest within a unified composition. It means to change one particular characteristic of an element, to make it different.

For example, objects of the same will shape unify the composition, but significant, medium, and small sizes of the shape will create variety.

Ways to vary design elements include:

  • Line - direction, length, width, quality, or focus
  • Color - hue, saturation, or temperature
  • Value - degree of darkness or lightness
  • Space - positive vs. negative, flat vs. three-dimensional or depth
  • Size - large, medium, or small; height vs. width 
  • Shape - geometric, graphic, organic, pattern or orientation
  • Texture - roughness vs. smoothness


It is also called a 'focal point' and is used to attract the viewer's eyes to a place of particular importance or interest. In nature, it occurs when one element differs from the rest. In design, 'emphasis' is intentionally created when one part or area appears dominant over the other parts or if many other elements are directed towards it.


The juxtaposition of opposing elements, otherwise known as 'contrast,' emphasizes or highlights any key part within a design. For example, a dark value near a light value of complementary colors such as green and red.

Contrasting Colors

Placement and simplification are also both methods used to achieve emphasis. Any element or object by itself will stand out. Objects take on greater meaning or importance when they are dissolved of clutter, isolated, or surrounded by space. Simplification, otherwise referred to as the concept of "less is more." is the technique of reducing a composition to only the most essential elements that support the visual statement.

Less is More


Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, textures, or space. It includes symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, and crystallographic patterns. Lack of balance or imbalance disturbs us as we develop a sense of balance during childhood. We grow up walking on two legs, always aware of unstable surfaces which could cause us to fall.


Growing up looking at each other's symmetrical bodies and faces, we assume an imaginary vertical center axis divides symmetrical objects into two equal halves. This is called a 'fulcrum.' When assessing images, we expect to see some type of equal visual weight on each side of this imaginary fulcrum. 'Opposition,' created by two straight lines meeting or where they form the corners of a square or rectangle, also creates balance.


If equilibrium is not present vertically or horizontally, it becomes a seesaw or an unbalanced scale. Subconsciously we recognize it, and it makes us feel uneasy, just as a tilted picture on the wall suggests that we reach out to straighten it. An imbalance can be intentionally used to draw the viewer's attention to the design.


Proportion (Size, Scale & Space)

Size is the relative extent of something; a thing's overall dimensions or magnitude. Size describes how small or large an object is in relation to another object. Larger objects are defined as more important than smaller objects.


Contrasting sizes create visual interest or may attract more attention. Smaller objects appear distant next to larger entities.

Proportion refers to the relative size, scale, or the number of various elements in a design and how they relate to each other. Proper spacing is always a careful consideration in every design.

Artists began to recognize the connection between proportion and space during the Renaissance Era. They produced the illusion of 3-dimensional space using sizes that diminish in the first perspective drawings.


'Proportion' in figure drawing is the size of a limb or body part relative to the scale of the whole body. In design, 'proportion' creates emphasis, significantly if something is intentionally scaled out of proportion. For example, if one figure is made to look more prominent than other figures in a composition, it is out of proportion; however, the Egyptians used this to provide further importance to the pharaoh.


Rhythm & Movement

Rhythm is a repeated combination of elements but in variations, continuance, flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition of regulated visual elements. It is characterized by objects with spacing, size, alteration, and/or progression variations.


In visual art, movement confuses everyone because it can be either literal or compositional. 'Literal Movement' is a person or thing physically moving from one place to another, defined as 'motion.' 'Compositional Movement' applies to the visual elements in an image intentionally set precisely to lead our eye throughout or around the picture. Elements may or not be subject-dependent. The eye will follow any design element with similar characteristics, such as all diagonal lines, square shapes, or alternating value tones.

Unity, emphasis, balance, proportion, and rhythm create pleasing visual compositions, but dominance or subordination is key to success in these designs. To form a complete group of parts, attach or relate all elements to a single dominating element that determines the whole's character. In other words, one 'principle' or concept has to dominate the composition.

December 19, 2016

Why Learn to Draw?

As we move further into the 21st century, our communications accelerate, images are now a vital part of our everyday lives. We are blasted daily via our cell phones, the internet, television, magazines, and newspapers. With all of the Arts disappearing from schools in the education curriculum, the study of images or the Visual Arts is now more critical than ever, especially drawing!

Study of Orange. Conté on toned paper.

The Visual Arts possess a unique, compelling form of communication! Whether a quick sketch on a napkin, an illustration in a book, a schematic, blueprint, preliminary drawing, or work of art, it communicates any idea, design, imagination, memory, feeling, or belief to anyone, sometimes regardless of culture.

The 20th century saw an unprecedented rise in newspapers, magazines, and television images. Discussing journalism and publicity from a newspaper article in 1911, Tess Flandars was first quoted as saying,

Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words.

Anyone can learn how to sketch or draw. It is a skill that can be learned. Your skills will improve over time if you practice or take a class.

Drawing is one of the oldest forms of human expression within the Visual Arts. A person uses various drawing instruments to mark paper or any other two-dimensional medium. Drawing instruments include graphite, pencil, pen and ink, colored pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, inked brushes, various kinds of paints, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, or even multiple metals (such as silverpoint), used during the Renaissance. Drawings may also be considered artwork or fine art.

Sketching or a sketch is a quick drawing that contains little detail but captures the main features. Sketches are usually executed freehand or rapidly, not intended as finished work of art, and are often used to explore a theme or may help to plan another, more detailed drawing.

Both sketching and basic drawing skills will help you develop the ability to manipulate line, shape, value, texture, or space, all of which are part of the Visual Elements of Design that are used to translate any verbal idea or message to an image.

If you were to write an article in French, how efficient would your communication be if you did not know the language or even the basic or most straightforward vocabulary? Sketching or drawing skills are essential for any designer, architect, scientist, or engineer and vital to any representational artist.

During the Renaissance, artists, engineers and architects were all in the same profession. An excellent draftsman was deemed omnipotent supreme! Good drafters possessed a unique skill in which they could record, create, design, invent, experiment, organize, or clarify their thoughts through a sketch or preliminary drawing.

Putting their ideas onto paper or images communicated their vision to the vast majority of a population, who were never taught to read. Think about it, everything in the human-made world now comes from a sketch, drawing, or blueprint, even if it comes from a computer-generated image.

The act of drawing requires the orchestration of multiple brain mechanisms functioning together, including observation, planning, processing, visual and spatial intelligence, emotion, motor skills, and also personally expressive mark-making.

All of the work of the hand is rooted in thinking.” — Martin Heidegger

Over time, with the practice of drawing, you will increase your ability to carefully observe, understand the observation in your mind, translate it and relay that translation to your hand, which will enhance your mental capabilities and capacity to solve problems.

Learning to draw is a fantastic process itself and will enrich your life!

October 1, 2016

The Anatomy of Light & Shadow

Anatomy of Light & Shadow

You can create the illusion of volume in any two-dimensional medium with a basic understanding of how light and shadow work together, combined with a bit of academic knowledge.

One of the most important skills used in creating representational art or realism is to develop your own observation from life or nature (not using photographs).

Practice with a sphere, ping pong ball, or egg. If you are a beginner start with a single light source first. It will simplify the lighting conditions whereas multiple light sources or ambient lighting conditions make it more complex.

Light vs. Dark

Notice in a single source lighting condition, when LIGHT hits a sphere more than half of the object is light. This region is called the LIGHT SHAPE, the rest, including the shadow underneath, is called the SHADOW SHAPE. It includes the FORM SHADOW (created from the combination of a core shadow and reflected light) and the CAST SHADOW. These two major regions may be measured to capture or adjust the overall proportions of the object.

Observe each shape by squinting your eyes, it allows a smaller amount of light to flow into your vision. This reduces the amount of 'hue' or color that you see and helps simplify the shapes. Group the light areas and the dark areas, working from general to specific. As time allows, the LIGHT SHAPES and DARK SHAPES may be further broken down into smaller shapes.



VALUE is the lightness or darkness of a single tone.

TONE is a single color swatch by itself with a unique combination of characteristics. Each has its own hue or color, value, intensity (color brightness or dullness), and temperature. Note that tone is also sometimes defined as any color that has been mixed with grey. There is no hue or intensity in charcoal or pencil drawing only grey tones.

SHADE is created from any tone plus black (in a drawing it would be a darker mark or darker pencil). TINT is any tone mixed with white (in drawing it would be the white of the paper or the lighter tones).

A GRADATION is a minute change in value, over several tones. It allows us to visually make sense of what we see when LIGHT falls onto a round or curved object and the surface turns away from the light source. Soft lighting creates a gradual gradation. Harsh lighting creates a dramatic change in gradation.

A VALUE SCALE is a tool used to measure the lightness or darkness of any tone. It has a TONAL RELATIONSHIP, each tone relates to another, getting darker or lighter in equal increments. A complex scale may contain as many as nine to eleven distinct tones. Any scale can be simplified into six, five, or even three tones. The LIGHT SHAPE or DARK SHAPE may be simplified using only two tones until the shapes are clearly defined.

Value Scale in Six Steps

The Anatomy of Light & Shadow

#1. HIGHLIGHT also known as 'THE LIGHTEST LIGHT' is the lightest area of the sphere. The shinier the object, the brighter the highlight will be in relation to the rest of the tones.

#2.  MID TONE or AVERAGE TONE is located in between the highlight and halftone. It accents the form of an object, whether it is curved or round.

TONES: #1 Highlight, #2 Mid Tone, #3 Half Tone, #4 Core Shadow, #5 Reflective Light, #6 Cast Shadow

#3.  HALFTONE or 'LOCAL COLOR' is the darkest tone within the light shape. It is where the light itself fades into the shadow region and indicates where the object begins to turn away from the light source in 3D space.

#4.  CORE SHADOW follows the form of the object and darkens quickly. It is the area where light cannot reach the surface. It is counter-intuitive to shade an area in the middle of an object and is the hardest tone for new students to remember darken.

#5.  REFLECTIVE LIGHT is created from the light that bounces or reflects from the surface upon which the object rests. It usually complements the core shadow and rounds off the form. Be careful to not make it too light, think of the moon compared with the sun. It is always lighter than the core shadow but, darker than the entire LIGHT SHAPE.

#6.  CAST SHADOW is the shadow that is created by the object itself. It is “cast” underneath or falls behind the object. Cast shadows have three different characteristics than form shadows. 1) Cast shadows are always darker than the form shadows. 2) Cast shadows have harder edges than form shadows. 3) Cast shadows are darker in the area that is closest to the object that is casting it, tones become lighter as the shadow moves away from the object.

Light & shadow create complex TONAL RELATIONSHIPS. The secret to maintaining these relationships is to check them against a value scale. With a little practice, you will eventually learn how to CONTROL your tones and will no longer need the scale.

Tonal Relationships

September 18, 2016

Pastel Pencil Techniques

Pastel Pencils are perfect for various styles, from loose drawings to finer details or linear drawings. It's all in the way you hold your pencil combined with the way you sharpen & maintain it!

Pastel Pencil Set

Sharpening Your Pencil

Use a sharp pocket knife, razor blade, or X-acto knife to remove the Wood, exposing at least one inch of pigment. From now on, you will have to pay attention to the pressure so you do not break the tip. You will also need to ensure that the pencil has an excellent round conical shape, as shown.

Tip: Make sure you have several sheets of paper underneath the surface you are working on to cushion the encounter of the pencil.

Remove the Wood from the pencil with a Sharp Knife, then Smooth it with Sandpaper.

Holding the Pencil

Make sure you hold your pencil at the very end for loose drawings. Then wave it like a magic wand touching the paper with a soft touch, using your whole arm to move the pencil.

For finer details, such as eyes brows on a figure or portrait, make sure the point is sharp, then hold your pencil the same way you usually would if you were writing something down. This will provide more control.

Tip: When working in pastel, make sure you have a mahl stick or an extra sheet of paper underneath your hand to keep from smudging the drawing or existing marks on your paper.

Flat Tone or "Smoothing"

Flat Tone or Smoothing

Creates a nice even tone without any texture. Lay down some hatching with the pencil and then use a Q-tip, your finger, or a cotton stump to smooth the pigment into the paper.

Tip: For larger areas, wear nitrate or surgical gloves and use the palm of your hand to rub the pigment into the paper.



Is a result of mixing one hue or color family with a different hue or color family. They combine together to create a new color. Lay down one color on top of another, then rub them together using a Q-Tip, stump, or burnishing tool.

Tip: The pencils' degree of softness (dustiness) makes them easier to blend. If you love to blend then, you should look for softer pastel pencils, like the conté brand.



Is similar to blending. However, you combine white to a single tone to lighten the value.

Tip: Use a clean Q-Tip so you do not contaminate the color.



Is similar to blending; however, you are combining black to darken the value.

Tip: A little black goes a long way, so you will have to practice the pressure when adding in the black.

Broken Color

Broken Color

Refers to a painting technique 'invented' by the Impressionists. One-color is laid down, and another color is layered over it. No blending occurs. The colors are mixed optically by the viewer. This technique can also unify an image if the strokes are similar.

Tip: This is an advanced skill and takes some pre-planning on your part. Otherwise, you may end up just blending the colors together.



Is the act of creating a line or depression on a piece of paper, affecting the marks made over it. For example, using a paperclip to score the paper, we can put down thin lines, then when a flat tone is layered over, the original paper shows through without any pigment.

Tip: Any tool can be used, such as a knitting needle or an embossing tool.



Is a technique where making tones on paper over an uneven surface creates designs and marks that may or may not be organic. The marks may be left or used as a basis for further refinement.

Tip: You will create a frottage from the surface you are drawing on top of. If this is not the desired effect wanted, make sure to have extra sheets of paper underneath the surface you are working on.



Is a technique where isopropyl alcohol is applied with a slightly wet brush. The alcohol dissolves the binder in the pigment and turns it into a wash. When dry, the pastel is permanently bonded to the paper. Brushstrokes may be left as visible or blended to flat tones.

Tip: Use a Hake brush for backgrounds or flat tones.

Some examples use the same subject matter but different techniques in some smaller studies.

Blending & Smoothing

Using an Isopropyl Alcohol Wash

Broken Color

Note that there are many more pastel pencil techniques listed here are only few.

You can also download this reference material in PDF format from our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

August 28, 2016

Shape, Form & Pattern

Shape, Form & Pattern
Artwork by Christy Olsen

Are all related concepts but have nuances that set them apart within the visual arts.


1. an enclosed area or figure.
2. a dimensional form, defined by a line or a change in value or color.

One of the Elements of Design, shape, is a potent tool for visual communication.

When looking at an object or image, 'shape' is the first retinal impression the human eye registers before color, texture, space, or anything else.


  • Contours are the outlines or outer edges of a shape.
  • Contrast is the difference in value, luminance, or color that makes a shape distinguishable.
  • Length is the measurement or extent of something from end to end, the greatest of other dimensions of a shape.
  • Proportion is a shape considered in comparative relation to a whole.
  • Silhouette is a shape filled with a single tone or a color, usually black.
  • Width is the measurement or extent of a shape from side to side.

Types of Shapes

Most works of art contain multiple types of shapes.

Geometric Shapes

These two-dimensional shapes may be manipulated with mathematics but lack three-dimensional visual information about their location, scale, or orientation within space. They have uniform measurements and are usually man-made.

Geometric Shapes

Graphic Shapes

Are visual images or designs that serve as a pictorial representation or may give the viewer information when written words are not adequate. Symbols stand for ideas, beliefs, or actions. Logos are emblems or symbols commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations, or individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition.

Graphic Shapes

Organic Shapes

They are associated with the natural world and may or may not have a name. These free-form shapes have very few straight lines, such as leaves, plants, trees, or animals.

Organic, Free-form, or Natural Shapes


1. the structure of something.
2. the visible configuration of something.

Form is an actual, three dimensional shape or is used to conveys three-dimensional information to the viewer. Form differs from shape because it includes visual information regarding location, scale, or orientation.

Elliptical distortions, curvatures, or angles suggest perspective. Forms provide information to the viewer, so they know how that object sits in space. It is well understood if they are looking up or down upon an object. Forms may be geometric or organic.

Forms include location, scale, or orientation.


1. a repeated shape or decorative design.
2. something designed or used as a model.

A pattern will consist of repeating shapes. Patterns are pleasing, and the concept of repetition is one of the Principles of Art. 

  • Geometric Patterns are based on mathematics and use geometric shapes. They repeat predictably.
  • Organic Patterns are formed in nature. They often have slight variations or never repeat themselves exactly.
  • Spiraling Patterns are circular, winding in and around themselves, similar to ocean waves.
  • Branching Patterns are the repetition of forking lines or the deviation of lines or cracks.

Patterns are repeated shapes.

Putting it All Together

Understanding the nuances between shape, pattern, and form will help improve your drawing skills and help you look for the differences. If your contours are stiff or have straight lines, they will feel more like geometric or man-made objects instead of organic shapes or forms. If your shapes look more like graphic symbols than a realistic interpretation of what they represent, your drawings will look more stylized. If you have repeating shapes, they may look more like a pattern than texture or random flowers in a field.

August 7, 2016

Introduction to Color Theory

Color Adds Excitement to Our Lives!

'Color' is all around us. It adds excitement and emotion to our lives. Everything from the clothes we wear, the pictures we paint, and the environment we live in revolves around color. Without color, the world would be a much less attractive place.

Color Theory is a set of guidelines that uses the element of color to create harmony, communicate ideas, or invoke an emotional response in the viewer.

We call it "theory" because we use generalizations to create aesthetically pleasing results.

It relies on using six colors or 'hue families' that follow the visual spectrum of light "ROYGBV." These color families can be further broken into tertiary colors, making 12 color families on the traditional color wheel system. Most importantly, they are all in the same order around the wheel.

Primary Colors

Are YELLOW, RED, and BLUE. When mixing pigments (subtractive color method), secondary colors are created by combining these together. Note that these three make a beautiful color scheme on their own, which is later introduced below as a "triad."

Primary Colors

Secondary Colors

Are ORANGE, GREEN, and VIOLET. They are created by mixing two primaries. For example: ORANGE = RED + YELLOW. They also create a "triad" color scheme.

Secondary Colors

Tertiary Colors

They are formed by mixing two secondary colors together. For example, they include YELLOW-GREEN, BLUE-GREEN, and YELLOW-ORANGE.

Tertiary Colors

Now that we have all of the twelve essential color families in order around the wheel, the following color schemes are based on their relationships to each other as we go around the wheel.


Are the colors directly opposite from each other on the color wheel. Compliments together are incredibly eye-catching and vibrant.

Red & Green Complement

Purple and Yellow Complement

Split Compliments

Split compliments are less vibrant than compliments. Complements with an additional split complement are also eye-catching but more varied than a simple complementary scheme.

Orange & Green Split Complement

Color Compliments with Split Complement


Are any three colors with a specific relationship on the wheel, with three colors between each. This combination creates a colorful yet balanced scheme.



Also known as a "square" combination, are any four colors with a specific relationship on the wheel that creates an "X" shape if connected by lines. It makes a colorful yet balanced scheme but is more complex.




Is a single color with variations that change in lightness or darkness. "Tints" are created by adding white to a single color which lightens it. "Shades" are created by adding black to a single color which darkens it. 'Monochromatic' lack variety; however, they are quiet and soothing.



Are colors right next to one another on the wheel. They feel natural, calm, or soothing and have little more variety than the monochromatic scheme. 



Are colors that have been diminished or "neutralized" by adding gray, black, earth tones., or their own color complement. Most of the colors found in plants or nature are neutral colors.

Neutrals or Low-Intensity Colors


Means no color or void of any color, also referred to as a "monotone achromatic." This scheme consists of black, white, and gray combinations only.


Clash of Polychrome

Of course, clashing colors will work if you do not want to create color harmony. Color on either side of its complement or a mixture of many contrasting colors will create a polychrome or color clash.

Clashing Colors

Putting it All Together

Let's recap these color combinations. Notice how they are all about relationships on the wheel...

Color Theory Relationships