The Elements of Art - Part I
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
This month, the 3T Art Blog is focused on art basics. They're not as scary as you might think!
To get you moving in the right direction with your work from the start, we’re going to get familiar with some basic art terminology. You’ve probably heard the words colour, value, form, shape, space, line and texture many times. Did you know they’re considered to be the 7 Elements of Art? You can think of them as the foundation or building blocks of any good artwork, no matter the medium. They work together to help your art communicate with the viewer and get your message across to them.
There’s a lot to go over so I’m breaking up the 7 Elements into two blog posts. We’ll look at colour, value and form in this blog post and leave shape, line, space and texture for the next week. Let jump right in!
Colour is an element with many facets. We’re going to touch on the basics so you can get an idea of its overall importance in your work.
Colour can be defined as “an attribute of things that results from the light they reflect, transmit, or emit in so far as this light causes a visual sensation that depends on its wavelengths”.
Well, that’s one heck of a technical definition, isn’t it? Let’s make it more understandable. Our eyes and brain work together turning light waves into colour. Objects reflect or absorb light waves. We only take in the reflected light from objects. The light receptors in our eyes pick up the reflected light and send messages to the brain which then produces familiar sensations of colour that we understand.
Our perceptions of colour actually develop in our brains. It’s no wonder colour has such a huge influence on us and on the artwork we create. There are colours you love and colours you don’t. Colours make you feel emotions: happy, sad, and everything in between. Colours effect our mood. Think of how you feel on a beautiful sunny day compared to a blustery cool rainy day. How do you want your viewer to feel? What message do you want to convey with your art piece? Colour helps you answer these questions and much more.
Each colour has 3 properties: hue, value and chroma.
Hue is another word for colour but it specifically refers to the family of colours created using primary and secondary hues.
There are three primary hues: red, yellow and blue. These are considered pure hues. No colours can be mixed to create them. When primary hues are mixed they create new colours called secondary colours.
Red + yellow = orange
Yellow + blue = green
Blue + red = violet (purple)
If you mix a primary hue with the secondary colour that's next to it, you’ll end up with tertiary colours.
Blue + green = blue-green
Yellow + green = yellow-green
Red + orange = red-orange
Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
Blue + violet = blue-violet
Red + violet = red-violet
A useful tool every artist should have on hand is a colour wheel. You can buy one or make your own in whatever medium you prefer to work in. It’s a great exercise to help you to better understand the relationships between colours. The more practice you have at mixing colours the easier it’ll become and you’ll really love the custom colours you create for your next masterpiece.
Value is created when a pure hue is mixed with black, grey or white. To create any 3D form on a 2D surface, each object must have a light, mid-tone and dark component to it. Value is an Element of Art and we’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.
Chroma (or intensity) is the purest form of any colour and the most vivid in its original state. High chroma colours are bright and bold while low chroma colours are pale and dull. The highest pure chroma colours have no black, grey or white in them. Can you imagine a lemon? Bright and yellow. That’s high chroma. Now imagine a banana. It’s also yellow but its colour isn’t as intense so it has a lower chroma. Primary and secondary colours are considered pure and high in chroma. When you add black, grey and white to them, their chroma begins to lower, creating colour values.
Another term we should look at in relation to colour are the complementary colours.
Each primary hue has a complement which is always a secondary colour. They’re directly across from each other on the colour wheel.
Primary Red has a complement of secondary Green
Primary Blue has a complement of secondary Orange
Primary Yellow has a complement of secondary Violet/Purple
Complements are really important to remember because they add colour relationships to your artwork that will be successful every time. Think about how beautiful fall leaves look against a background of clear blue sky. I’m sure you’ve noticed the use of red and green for everything to do with Christmas. And if you’ve been lucky enough to see a sunset that had yellow and purple in it, then you’ll understand how amazing those complementary colours look together too.
Another interesting thing about complementary colours is that when you mix them together, they make neutral shades of grey. For example, when you mix the same quantity of red and green, you’ll end up with the neutral grey for those two complements. By adding more red to it, you’ll have neutral greys with red tones. Adding more green will give you neutral greys with green tones.
Take time in your studio to mix up your complements and see what combinations you can come up with.
We all use values when we create our art pieces. Values are what we need to create an atmosphere in your work, illuminate a focal point or make a flat object appear 3D on a 2D surface.
Value can be defined as the lightness and darkness of a colour. Values are just as important as colour in your artwork, maybe even more so.
To understand values, you only need to look at a black and white photograph. Values are created using black, grey and white. It’s called a grey value scale. If you were to look at a sepia coloured photograph, you’d be looking at a colour value scale.
Let’s have a look at the grey value scale first. Are you familiar with a grey scale? Maybe you’ve already had the opportunity to make one of your own. It can be created in whatever medium you work in. They’re handy to have in your studio as a reference. Making a grey scale is a great exercise to help you understand the lightness and darkness of a colour.
A grey scale starts with white at 0% value (reflects all light) at one end and black at 100% value (absorbs all light) at the other. In between the two are various values of grey. Most grey scales have 10 graduations but they can have as many as will benefit you.
Some artists create work using only a grey scale with no colour at all. These pieces can be very dramatic just as black and white photography. They convey a certain feel with the message they are sending to the viewer. In painting, this technique is referred to as “en grisaille”. You can also use the grey scale as an underpainting on a new artwork you’re creating. This saves you time by cutting out the guesswork about how light or dark your colours will need to be when you start applying them.
Colour value scales are very similar to the grey scale. You may have heard the terms tints, tones and shades but may not be sure of their definitions.
Tints are light values created by adding white to a pure hue. Pastel colours are considered tints. Tones are mid-range values created by adding a neutral grey to a pure hue. Shades are dark values created by adding black to a pure hue. Colours such as forest green or burgundy can be considered shades.
Tints, tones and shades are what colour value scales are based on.
If you can, set some time aside to create value scales for the colours you most frequently use in your artwork. Add notes as you go so you can refer back later to the % of black, grey and white you added to a colour. It will make it easier later on when it comes to remixing a colour and will help you see the value of other colours and understand how to mix them.
Form is a straight forward element unlike colour and value. Its concept is simple and clean but no artwork is created without it.
Form can be defined as any three-dimensional enclosed space that has volume. In drawing and painting, form is created using line and value. Form can be either geometric or organic.
Geometric forms are measurable. These are objects such as cubes, spheres, and cones. Basically, they’re shapes like circles, squares, and triangles that have been given height, width and depth. This creates volume. The volume of a form is created using values: tints, tones and shades. Without this, no matter what forms you have in your artwork, they will appear to be flat. Values create the volume you need to make objects look 3D on a 2D surfaces. This is an important point to remember and will help you create realistic components in your work.
Organic forms are free-flowing, curvy and create movement in your work. You see organic forms every day. They originate in nature where you’ll find them in flowers, clouds, animals, trees and the human figure. Organic forms follow the same rules of value to create 3D objects on 2D surfaces as geometric forms do.
Organic forms are asymmetrical making them a complete contrast to geometric forms, but consider how geometric and organic forms can be blended together in your artwork.
Let’s imagine a landscape of trees, mountains, and a river under a blue sky. These organic forms create a beautiful artwork. Now add a structure to it. Maybe a small cabin in the distance. That’s a geometric form and all you need to add a bit more interest to your work. Or consider an artwork of a city with a tree-lined street. The city provides the hard lined geometric forms while the trees bring the flowing organic forms to the work.
Opposites can work really well together as we found out earlier with our complementary colours and now with the element of form. Do you have any ideas of how you can use geometric and organic forms in your work?
I hope you enjoyed learning about these Elements of Art. Colour, value and form play a large role in our artwork. We still have four elements to go. Stop by the 3T Art Blog next week to learn about the remaining elements: shape, line, space and texture.
If you have any questions, email me at: email@example.com
Thanks for stopping by!