Learning to paint takes practice, lots of practice. While we are practicing, it's good to learn the basic foundations of good paintings.
Paintings are made with the art elements of line, shape, form, space, texture, values and color. We can speed up our art journey by learning and using these elements in our artwork.
Art elements and principles appear over and over in good paintings. The elements and principles together create the painting's composition.
Artists have different opinions on how many art principles there are. Several of the principles are overlapping each other or may be used together.
We will look at about ten principles of art and how they are used in the barn painting below.
But first, what is the difference between art elements and art principles? See the answer below.
Line is the basic and most common element of art. It is a mark that starts at one point and continues on. It may be a straight, curved, zigzag, etc. Artists may use actual lines or imply lines by movement.
Shape is a two-dimensional representation of an object. We see it as the height and width of an object.
Form is the three-dimensional representation of an object, height, width and depth.
Space can be defined as positive or negative space. An object takes up the positive space. The area around an object is called negative space.
Texture refers to the surface of items. Silk has a smooth texture and wool is rough textured. Artists may paint the textures using various values and colors. Or we may create an actual texture in the paint with brush marks or palette knives.
Values are the light and darkness of an item. Value ranges from white to black and all the variations in between. Colors also have values. Yellow is the lightest value and purple is the darkest color.
Color is a most valuable element of art. It creates emotion in our paintings. We can paint love, peace or harmony all with the use of color.
Successful oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings all use the art elements.
Let's look at the common principles everyone agrees on; rhythm, movement, proportion, balance, emphasis, contrast, unity (harmony), pattern, repetition and variety.
Whew, that sounds like a lot! We will take them one step at a time.
A painting can flow like music.
Rhythm is created by the spaces between the elements in the painting.
The red line on the left indicates the rhythm created by the patches of sun and shadow.
Movement can be indicated movement like a bird flying or a man running.
Movement can also be the path of the viewer's eyes, as they move through the painting. The road moves the viewer into the painting and up to the large barn.
This is not the barn painting, but this photograph beautifully demonstrates the principles of art proportion and balance.
Balance in paintings works just like a teeter-totter.
If there is a heavy person on one side of the teeter-totter, the lighter person must have a longer portion on their side. They sit out on the long side of the teeter-totter to balance with the heavy person.
That's the way it works in paintings. If we have a large object on one side of the painting, we need more space on the other side for balance. The rule of thirds creates perfect balance.
Proportion means the objects in a painting relate to each other's size naturally. An exception would be pop-art, but we use proportion when we want things to look natural.
Proportion is a principle that is easy to overlook when we are engrossed in painting. Don't concentrate so much on one item and paint it too big compared to the other items in the painting. All the objects in a painting need to be in their natural proportion to each other.
Emphasis and contrast are the principles of art used to create focal points. Movement brought the viewers up the road to the large barn.
Emphasis brings attention to things in the painting, in this case the large barn.
The barn is emphasized because it is the biggest and lightest building.
Contrast also, brings attention to things in the painting. Notice that the front wall of the big barn is the lightest thing in the painting.
Squint our eyes and look at the things in the large red circle. We see everything in the large circle is a darker value than the barn wall.
In real life the sky would be the lightest thing, but the barn wall was painted lighter to emphasis it.
In addition to values, artists may use contrasting colors, texture and hard edges to create emphasis.
Unity and Harmony are quite similar. They mean all the parts of the painting are working together. The items in the painting relate to each other.
Different parts of the painting are not competing with each other. The painting emits a feeling of oneness. It feels complete and at peace.
Patterns and repetition give the viewers more to see. It keeps them in the painting longer.
Patterns are things repeated over and over to create a design. That's great on fabric, but in paintings we can vary our patterns.
Notice the pattern of shadows on the front barn. Each shadow is a different shape. There is a variation in their colors. Some of the shadows go up on the roof for more variation.
Repetition of objects, colors or lines can be useful. There is a repetition of rocks in the right foreground. A single, lone rock would detract from the focal point. Multiple rocks added interest without detracting from the barn.
The leaves of the large tree on the right are another repetition. They are painted with a variety of shape, color and values to keep them from being boring.
Variety keeps our paintings interesting.
Notice in the barn painting there three separate buildings. Each building is a different size. Each building is a different color, a different shape and different values.
That's variety! It keeps the viewers interested.
There is a variety of colors, even in the same object. Variety keeps our paintings from being boring.
Composition uses the principles of art to arrange the art elements (color, values, etc.) in a pleasing manner.
Was I thinking about the art principles when I was doing the barn painting? No not at all, only four fundamentals.
Keep it simple, especially when we are learning. The important fundamentals are composition, values, color and a focal point.
When we concentrate on a good composition, a variety of values, good color and creating a focal point, we will have a good painting.
Forget about all the other technical stuff.