Important Fundamentals Art

Significant elements of art can include line, color, value, shape, form, space, and texture.

I'm sharing everything as I deconstruct how I learned to draw and paint. Here are a few tips and practical ways to use the elements and principles in art.

What Are The 7 Elements Of Art And Why Are They Important?

The Elements Of Art

  1. Line
  2. Color
  3. Value
  4. Shape
  5. Form
  6. Space
  7. Texture


What Does Line In Art Mean?

Line is one of the simplest forms in art. Line is basically a line or stroke. In art, lines can be made with a pencil, charcoal, a paintbrush, etc. Beginning artists learn to draw line drawings. A line drawing is made by drawing the outline of something.

Line in art can also mean the path that the human eye follows through a painting. Line can refer to direction in art.

The composition of a painting can be designed in such a way as to direct the eye through a painting. In this way, lines can be designed to serve as arrows, pointing towards the most important parts of a painting.

Where Is A Horizon Line In Art?

A horizon line in art is a line often used in landscape painting. The horizon line is an imaginary line where the land meets the sky.

Look out into an open field. Where the land meets the sky off in the far distance, this is known as the horizon line. The horizon line is easier to see when looking at a barren, wide-open landscape.

Trees along the horizon can obscure this line. A horizon line in a city scene may only be visible at the end of a street or opening. Buildings may block or hide the horizon line. The horizon line is sometimes referred to as eye level.

How Can Line Be Used In Art?

Line can be used in many ways in art. Artist usually begin a drawing with line. Line can be used to create texture by cross-hatching and other techniques.

Line can be used to direct the viewer's attention through a painting. Lines can be made in virtually any shape, thickness, or texture. There are almost endless ways to use line in art.

Line Art In Drawings

Line art in drawing means that objects have a visible outline. Beginners often make line drawings before they learn how to make objects look 3D.

An artist can make line art with color. An artist can make line art with watercolor or virtually any painting medium. Line art simply means that objects are visibly outlined. The outlines create areas that can be filled in with color.

Watercolor paintings are often created by first lightly sketching an outline, then filling in the outline with color. Many cartoons are line art with color.

Draw With Straight Lines

Draw with straight lines. Curves tend to make things appear bigger. Curved lines can create movement, but can also make things appear larger.

Draw with straight lines to create realistic drawings. Draw curved or rounded subjects by connecting a series of small straight lines or marks.

Color In Art

Color Theory:

What is color theory? Color theory is a set of art principles or guidelines about the use of color in art and design.

Here are some basics of color theory. These are simple principles of art design you can put to practical use when painting.

Complementary Colors

What Are Complementary Colors In Art?

Complementary colors sit across from one another on the color wheel.

Complentary Color pairs:

  • Blue & Orange
  • Yellow & Purple
  • Red & Green

The Color Wheel

What Is A Color Wheel?

Think of a color wheel as a round pie cut into twelve equal pieces. Each piece is a different color.

The colors in the color wheel are placed around the pie in the same order they appear in a rainbow.

Colors opposite of each other on the color wheel are known as complementary colors.

Colors next to each other on the color wheel are known as analogous colors. Most of the time, an analogous color palette is a set of 3 or more colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

Watercolor painting of simple color wheel.

Colors In A Color Wheel

What Are The Colors In A Color Wheel?

The colors in the color wheel are made up of the 3 primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. In between each of these primary colors are the colors you would get when mixing these primaries together.

For example, red and yellow are primaries. Between red and yellow on the color wheel, you'll find oranges. Between blue and yellow on the color wheel, you'll find greens. Between red and blue on the color wheel, you'll find purples.

Purpose Of A Color Wheel

What Is The Purpose Of A Color Wheel?

The color wheel offers a simple way to understand color and paint mixing.

As children, we're often told we can make any color if we have the three primary colors of paint. The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow.

If you mix red and yellow paint, you make orange. If you mix blue and yellow paint, you get green. If you mix red and blue paint, you get purple.

The color wheel illustrates one step further, showing how you can mix a warm green if you add a higher ratio of yellow paint to the blue paint. Mix a cooler green by adding a higher ratio of blue paint to the yellow paint.

This can offer a better understanding of color temperature.

Color Temperature

What Is Color Temperature?

Color temperature refers to how we perceive colors to be either warm or cool.

Color temperature in lighting has a much more technical meaning.

In painting, we can use the color wheel to illustrate how to mix paint colors, making colors appear to be warmer or cooler.

Warm Light, Cool Light

What's An Example Of Warm Light vs Cool Light?

The golden light we see at the end of day would be thought of as warm light. Warm colors tend to have more yellow in them.

Bluish light is thought of as cooler light. An object that is lit by an overcast sky might appear to be cooler in color.

In painting, you can purchase paint colors that are warm or cool, or you can mix colors together to make them appear more warm or cool.

Use Of Color Wheel

How To Use A Color Wheel?

You can use a color wheel to identify complementary colors. You can use a color wheel when mixing paint colors.

You can use a color wheel to design a color scheme.

Paint Mixing

Mixing Complementary Colors:

What happens when you mix two complementary colors?

When complementary colors are mixed together, they produce a dark neutral. Orange and blue together will make a dark neutral. Purple and yellow mixed together will make dark neutral. Reg and green mixed together will make a dark neutral.

How To Use Complementary Colors In Art?

Here Are 3 Practical Ways To Use Complementary Colors In Art:

  1. Neutralize bright colors
  2. Draw attention to a focal area
  3. Tone down competing elements

Neutralize A Bright Color

How is this useful? Let's imagine you're painting grass and the only color of green you have is bright and saturated. If you painted the grass with this bright green, it's likely to look unnatural or like a cartoon.

To make a more natural green or neutral green, add a touch of green's complementary color. Green's complement is Red. Add a touch of red to neutralize or gray out green paint.

If you're painting a sky, you might need to add a bit of orange to blue to reach a neutral natural-looking blue.

Imagine you're mixing a skin tone and it's a bit too orange or yellow. Add a touch of blue or purple to neutralize or gray out the color and bring it to a neutral, more realistic skin color.

Use complements to neutralize or gray-out the paint mixes to achieve natural colors.

Draw Attention To A Focal Area

Draw attention to a focal point or area of interest by placing complementary colors next to one another. Complementary colors tend to vibrate in the eye, attracting the viewer's attention.

Tone Down Competing Elements

If two elements are competing for the viewer's attention, you can amplify one element by placing complementary colors next to one another.

Tone down the less important element by mixing complementary paint colors together to reduce the intensity or "attention-grabbing" power of the paint color.

Different colors similar in value (similar in lightness or darkness) will not create contrast, so they will not attract the viewer's attention.

Different colors of different values will create contrast, therefore attracting the viewer's attention.

Color Saturation

Color Saturation - Using Color To Create Depth In Painting:

Saturated colors can make an object appear to come forward. Use the most saturated brilliant colors in the foreground, in the objects closest to the viewer.

Unsaturated, dull, or neutral colors can make an object appear to recede.

Adding a touch of a colors complement can neutralize the color, reducing the saturation.


Create Subtle Values

In nature, value changes are often subtle. Keep value changes subtle as they wrap around the form.

If you make the darks too dark and lights too light, the work may look cartoonish. If you want a more realistic painting, match the values to what you see.

Subtle value changes seem more believable, more natural.

Avoid making the darks too dark or the lights too light. Too much contrast between the lights and darks can make a drawing look animated, cartoonish, or illustrated. Careful blending of the mid-tones can help to visually turn a form, making it look more 3D.


Using Shape In Art Composition:

The shape of a composition often refers to how the eye travels across the painting. In a Z-shaped composition, the eye travels horizontally across the top portion of the painting. The viewer's eye then drops diagonally from the top right-hand corner to the bottom left-hand corner of the painting. The eye then travels horizontally across the bottom portion of the painting. Therefore, the eye follows a Z-shaped path through the composition.

The eye tends to follow lines and shapes. The artist can lay out a path they'd like the viewer's eye to follow depending on where the artist places lines, elements, or shapes.

  • L shaped composition
  • S shaped composition
  • Triangle shaped composition
  • Grouping objects into one shape

An L shaped composition is often used in landscapes or city scenes.

An S or Z shaped composition is often used in landscapes.

You can group several objects together to form one larger shape. An example of this would be several flowers grouped together to form one dominant shape or bouquet.

A triangular shape is often used in portraiture or paintings containing a single figure.

Consider Using 3 Different Shapes

Consider using 3 different sized elements within the composition to create interest. Think of each element as a shape. Use one large shape or element, one medium shape or element, and one small shape or element.

Overlap Shapes

Overlap shapes within the composition. Instead of placing objects so that their edges touch, consider overlapping the objects or shapes to create more depth.

Following the principles of artistic composition is an easy way to map out a pleasing image.


Use Color Changes To Model The Form

Use subltle color changes as you move around a form. Solid areas of one single color will appear flat.

Keep value changes subtle as you move around the form. Blend the midtones between lights and darks to create the illusion of a curved surface.


Spatial Depth

Create Depth In Painting: What is depth in art? More specifically, what is depth in painting? Obviously, a painting is usually a flat two-dimensional object. Therefore there is no actual depth.

Artists must create an illusion of depth. The illusion of depth can be created in a variety of ways.

Think of depth as the distance between objects. It's a representation of space from near to far away, like what is seen when looking at an expansive landscape.

Negative Space

Balance The Negative Space

If you have several inches of negative space along one side of the composition, consider having a similar amount of negative space along another side. Don't center the subject, just be aware of the negative space.

A similar amount of negative space along one side of the painting and along the top of the painting can balance the composition.

Consider the negative space.

If the space seems too great on one side compared to another, consider breaking up that space with a color change or by adding a neutral object or element to break up the space.

Depth In Art

  • Subtle color changes create depth
  • Sharp edges bring an object forward
  • Blurred or soft edges take an object back or recede in space, creating depth
  • Use the most saturated color in the foreground
  • Use unsaturated or grayed-out colors in the background
  • Use complementary colors next to one another to create a focal point or to draw attention to an area or object

Paint The Illusion Of Depth

How To Paint Depth Using Color Theory:

  1. Saturated color in the foreground, preferably at the focal point
  2. Less saturated color in the distance
  3. Adjust or alter colors as you move around the form
  4. Areas of solid color will appear flat
  5. Subtle color changes create depth

What's A Simple Way To Create Depth Perception In Painting?

Reserve the most vivid, rich or intense colors for the focal point, especially if this focal point happens to be in the foreground of the painting.

Create Depth In A Painting By Using Weaker And Less Saturated Colors In The Distance.

To make the paint color less saturated, consider adding a touch of the colors complementary color to the mix. Mixing complementary colors together neutralizes or grays out the color, reducing the color intensity or saturation.

If you'd like to mix a muted blue paint color, for instance, add a touch of orange paint to the mix. If you'd like to create a muted yellow color, add a touch of purple or violet to the paint mix.

Atmosphere In Art

Atmospheric Perspective In Painting:

To create the illusion of space when painting, apply techniques of atmospheric perspective.

  • Softer edges in the distance
  • Less detail in the distance
  • Less saturated color in the distance
  • Less contrast in values in the distance


Mark Making & Texture In Art:

Keep lines, mark making, and texture consistent. If using diagonal lines to color in or texturize an area, continue the use of diagonal marks throughout the entire piece of art.

If using vertical strokes to fill-in an area, use vertical strokes throughout the piece. If the marks are random, continue the random pattern throughout to keep the work consistent.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones