Element And Principles In Art - As I Know Them

Principles Of Art List

Facial Proportions Drawing & Painting:

Proportions Of The Face

Want to know how to draw facial proportions? Here's how to draw proportions of the face.

Drawing Eyes

Where To Place The Eye Line - Art:

The eye line falls halfway between the top of the head and bottom of the chin.

Drawing Nose

Where To Place The Nose - Art:

The bottom of the nose falls halfway between the eyebrow line and the bottom of the chin.

Drawing Lips

Where To Place The Lips - Art:

The lip line falls halfway between the bottom of your nose and the bottom of your chin.

Drawing Eyes

Eye Width - Proportions Of The Face:

The distance between the eyes is usually equal or very similar to the width of the eye itself.

Drawing Ears

How To Draw Ears:

The height of the ear measures equal to or very similar to the distance between the eyebrow and the bottom of the nose.

Drawing The Human Body

Proportions Of The Human Body:

  • Foot Length = Distance from wrist to elbow
  • Elbow to fingertip = Knee to heel
  • Soles of the feet to top of the head = The full measurement of the arms outstretched
  • Center point of the human body is the navel
  • The face = one tenth of person's height
  • Open hand from wrist to tip of finger = one tenth of person's height
  • Chin to top of head = one eight of person's height
  • Head and shoulders view = approximately one sixth of person's height
  • Center of sternum to top of head = approximately one fourth of person's height
  • Bottom of chin to underneath side of nose = approximately one third of head height
  • Bottom of nose to eyebrow line = one third of the head height
  • Forehead, from eyebrow line to roots of hair = one third of the head height
  • Foot length = one sixth of person's height
  • Forearm length = one fourth of person's height
  • Width of the breast = one fourth of person's height

From De Architectura written by Vitruvius

The Elements Of Art

7 Elements Of Art

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


Draw With Straight Lines

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

Draw with straight lines. 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.

Practical Ways To Use Complementary Colors

How To Use Complementary Colors In Art?

3 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 your 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 your 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 your 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.


Using Shape In Your 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 your 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 your 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, but artists create an illusion of depth in a variety of ways. Think of depth as the distance between objects or the representation of space from near to far, such as an expansive landscape.

Negative Space

Balance The Negative Space

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

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

Consider the negative space as you layout your painting. 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 your most saturated color in the foreground
  • Use your most 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 your 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 your most vivid, rich or intense colors for the focal point, especially if this focal point happens to be in the foreground of your painting.

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

To make your 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 your mix. If you'd like to create a muted yellow color, add a touch of purple or violet to your 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


Create Subtle Values

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

If you make your darks too dark and lights too light, your 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.


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 your marks are random, continue the random pattern throughout to keep the work consistent.

Warm Lights, Cool Shadows. Cool Light, Warm Shadows.

Color Of Light & Shadow In Art:

Here's a simple rule for choosing color when painting light and shadows. If the lights and highlights are warm in color temperature, the shadows will be cool in color temperature. If the lights and highlights are cool in color temperature, the shadows will be warm in color temperature.

Rules For Oil Painting:

Paint Fat Over Lean

What Is The Fat Over Lean Rule?

Oil paint is made of ground pigment mixed with oil.

Oil is fat. The fat over lean rule in oil painting refers to the amount of oil you are mixing into your oil paint.

Follow the fat over lean rule to avoid your paint cracking as it dries.

Example Of Fat Over Lean Layers:

  1. Leanest Layer: Paint thinned with solvent - very little fat or oil
  2. Lean Layer: Paint straight from the tube - contains minimal fat or oil
  3. Fat Layer: Paint mixed with additional linseed oil, walnut oil or painting medium - contains added fat or oil
  4. Fattest Layer: Glazing layers - has the most added fat or oil

The first layer of paint applied to an oil painting is often thinned with a solvent such as turpentine. This first layer is often referred to as a grisaille underpainting.

Because the solvent thins the oil that is in the paint, this layer would be considered lean. Lean means the paint layer contains less fat.

Paint straight from the tube contains minimal oil. This paint contains only the fat added by the paint manufacturer.

Paint straight from the tube would be considered fairly lean.

Adding painting medium or oil to the paint adds fat. When you add oil or medium to your paint, you are creating a fat layer.

Glazing layers often contain the highest amount of painting medium or oil such as linseed oil. Some artists add enough oil to make these layers transparent. These should be the last layers applied to a painting because glazing layers contain the most fat or oil.

The fat over lean rule has nothing to do with the thickness of the paint, it refers to the amount of oil you've mixed into your paint.

As you paint, take note of how much oil you are mixing into your paint. Your first layers should contain little to no added fat. Your final paint layers should contain the most oil or fat.

Thick Lights, Thin Darks

Paint Thick Lights And Thin Darks

Reserve the thickest paint for your highlights. Keep your darker shadow areas thin.

Paint your highlights last, with the thickest of paint. Thicker paint tends to catch the light. Brushstrokes within thick paint add texture. Use this to your advantage to make your highlights the most light-catching parts of your painting.

Oil Over Acrylic

Paint Oil Over Acrylic, Never Acrylic Over Oil.

You can paint oil over acrylic but should never paint acrylic over oil. This is a limitation of the medium. Gesso is often acrylic.

Focal Point In Art:

Here Are 3 Simple Things You Can Do To Make The Focal Point Stand Out

  1. Reserve hard edges for the focal area
  2. Use the most intense color in the focal area
  3. Use complementary color pairs to capture the viewers attention

Sharp edges can be used to create a focal point, especially if the rest of the painting is composed of soft edges. Consider painting wet into wet throughout your oil painting. Wet paint against wet paint creates softer edges.

Reserve your most intense saturated colors for the focal point. If the rest of your painting is somewhat muted in color, intense color in the focal area can capture your viewer's attention.

Place complementary colors next to each other at the focal point. Complementary colors next to one another tend to vibrate in the eye, drawing attention to the area.

Consider a thin line of red along the edge of a green leaf. The flesh color along the edge of an eyelid may be mixed with a hint of orange to accentuate blue eyes.

Use complementary colors next to one another to make an object or area more prominent or noticeable.

Size Of Focal Point

How To Determine Focal Point Boundaries

Fix your gaze on an object, notice how only a small area appears to be in focus. The things that are not in focus are in your peripheral vision.

The things seen at the edge of our visual field appear to be in soft focus.

According to Joan Vickers, on page 18 of her book Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training, she states that "the area over which we are able to see clearly is actually very small".

Focal Point Size

How small is the area of focus? Vickers suggests this focal area to be about the width of our thumb when you fully extend your arm out in front of you.

How might we plan our focal point accordingly? Hang your canvas at the height you anticipate the finished piece to be exhibited. Stand where you'd expect your audience to be when viewing the finished work.

Extend your arm and raise your thumb. Place your thumb over the focal area and note the boundaries of this area. Reserve your sharpest lines, strongest contrast, sharpest edges for this area.

Art Rules Of Composition:

Rule Of Thirds

Plan your composition using the rule of thirds. Divide your canvas into thirds. A composition is said to be more interesting if the focal point falls along one of these dividing lines. Avoid placing your focal point in the center of your painting.

The Golden Rule

Plan Your Composition Using The Golden Rule.

Measure your canvas. Divide the width of your canvas into a ratio of 1 to 1.618.

If your canvas is 16" wide, divide 16 by 1.618. The answer is 9.89. Measure 9.89" from the edge of your canvas and make a line across the canvas. Repeat and mark the opposite side as well.

Now measure the height of your canvas. If your canvas is 20" high, divide 20 by 1.618. The answer is 12.36. Measure 12.36" from the bottom of the canvas a line.

Draw or extend the line all the way across the canvas. Do the same on the opposite side of your canvas.

You should now have 4 lines drawn on your canvas. These lines should intersect at 4 places.

Choose one of these intersections to place the focal point of your painting.

Oiling Out - Painting In Oil

Oiling out your painting.

Before applying another paint layer to a dried oil painting, you may want to oil out your painting.

Oiling out painting technique.

Applying a thin layer of oil across the surface of a dried oil painting prior to applying the next paint layer is known as oiling out.

What to use for oiling out a painting.

Linseed oil or walnut oil work well for oiling out a painting.

How to oil out your painting.

Brush or rub a light layer of linseed oil or walnut oil onto your painting.

Some oil paint colors can become dull when they dry. They no longer reflect light. Oiling out before painting the next layer will renew the sheen of your paint colors, letting you see the true depth of color.

Oiling out provides a wet surface to work your paint into. Wet paint on dry paint leaves hard edges.

Oiling out will let you work the paint into the oil, softening edges. Oiling out your painting lets your paintbrush glide across the surface, making it easier to apply the next paint layer.


Stretch Watercolor Paper

Stretch your watercolor paper prior to painting. Stretching your paper will provide a drum tight surface.

This stretched surface can handle more water and will resist wrinkling when water is applied to the surface.

Don't Use White

Don't Use White Paint In Watercolor.

Leave the paper blank everywhere you wish to have white.

Here are 3 watercolor masking materials you can use to keep areas of your paper white and clean:

  • Masking Tape
  • Masking Fluid
  • Masking Film

There is no need to use white paint in watercolor unless you are painting onto a colored paper.

Don't Use Black

Don't Paint With Black In Watercolor.

Instead of painting with black paint, consider mixing a dark out of a very dark blue and a very dark brown. The resulting color often appears richer than black.

I like mixing Payne's Grey and Prussian Blue when painting in watercolor. In oil painting, there are oil painting color palettes that make beautiful use of black paint such as the Zorn palette. Therefore, this is a suggestion rather than an actual rule.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones