What Are the Elements of Art?

I’ve talked a lot in this blog about getting back to basics in my drawing practices, but what, exactly, are those basics?

In my studies, I’ve been taught that there are seven essential elements of art:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Value
  • Space
  • Texture
  • Color

Those are all words we’re familiar with, but what do they really mean in drawing?

linea-5-222x170Let’s start with line. Take a pencil, touch it to the paper, and move it. You’ve made a line. Lines, of course, are the most basic element in drawing. Lines can be thick, thin, light, dark, and they can be straight or curved. At this point, we can run smack into geometry and learn about angled lines actually being multiple lines, and about how a straight line can be defined as the shortest distance between point A and point B.

basic-geometric-shapes-vector-18983502Moving right along, we can use lines to create shapes, our next essential element in drawing.

All of the shapes here are made with straight or curved lines. Simple shapes like these form the basis for most of our drawing.

In making quick sketches, we can learn to identify the basic shapes we see.

 

Freeform shapesIn addition to geometric shapes, we can also have organic shapes, or freeform shapes as they are sometimes called.

Freeform shapes are fun to draw. I love doodling and creating playful shapes like the ones shown here.

With lines we draw shapes and then we turn those two-dimensional shapes into what appear as three-dimensional forms, the next essential element in drawing.

Forms

Oh, how many times I’ve practiced drawing shapes and forms! And yes, organic, freeform shapes can appear three-dimensional as well.

What’s the difference between a shape and a form? For that, we turn to our next element of art — value. By creating value contrasts between light and dark areas, our shapes gain depth. The shapes we draw are flat, enclosed areas, but forms have volume.

The next concept — space — has always been a bit trickier for me. The shapes we draw do take up space; so do our forms. In art, however, we need to understand two different spatial concepts — positive space and negative space. For a long time, I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of negative space.

Here’s a look at positive space: 

Positive Space

And negative space?

Negative

The technical definition here is: the space that surrounds the positive shapes in a composition.

You’ll find a great slideshow presentation at Enriched ArtThe illustrations I’ve used for positive and negative space are from this presentation.

That leaves us with two remaining elements: texture and color. These are both ways we have of enhancing drawings and making them appear more realistic.

Elements+of+Art_+TextureWith practice, we can learn to create a lot of different textures — wood, fur, rock, water, soft fabric, just to name a few. We can create the illusion of a shiny surface, a glass object, or wrinkled skin.

And color, of course, can be added to our drawings. We can use colored graphite, colored pencils, colored inks, or we can add color with paints and pastels.

colortheory

 

As I prepare for Inktober coming up next month, I am spending a lot of practice time reviewing and working on these essential elements. I know this is basic information, and you may shrug and say “Hey, I already know all of this.” Yes, I’m sure you do. I know all of this, too, but from time to time, we can all benefit, I believe, from getting back to these basics, approaching them as if we were learning them for the first time, and re-discovering these simple elements of art and how we can use them.

 

Happy Drawing!

 

4 Comments

  1. LoL ….I am studying for my Praxis II Art and one big chunk of it is dedicated to the elements of art. The exam asks you to memorize the elements and their definitions….as many visual learners and art teachers are, I am not great at memorizing words….wouldn’t be better to ask students to draw the elements instead of ask them to write from memory? We should have artists write these types of exams….not writers in love with vocab. definitions…..;)

    Liked by 2 people

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