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The Elements of Art - Part II

Welcome back! This week we’re going to continue to explore the 7 Elements of Art.

Last week we had a look at the elements of colour, value and form, touching on several important points. This time, we’ll have a look at line, shape, space and texture. Are you ready? Let’s go.

4. Line

Line can be defined as ‘a mark made by using a drawing tool or a brush’. It’s the most basic of the 7 elements and can be thought of as a point that moves. Lines can be created using instruments such as a ruler or can be drawn freehand. Lines can be used to lightly lay out your work, they can emphasis your focal point or they can be the finishing touch to your artwork. Lines have unlimited uses.

There are many types of lines. They can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, jagged, zigzagged, continuous, broken, curvy, arced, curly, and spiral to name just a few. Lines can move in any direction; straight or abstract.

The quality of a line can be defined by how thick or thin it is, its texture, or its length. This helps describe edges of objects, specifies form and creates movement in your artwork. Lines can also give the illusion of value. Drawing techniques such as hatching and crosshatching create values on the form making objects look 3D on a 2D surface.

Lines tell us where an object begins and ends. These are referred to as contour lines. A closed line will create a shape that is either geometrical or organic. Cross contour lines turn the shape into a form which helps you figure out the values you need to make the form look 3D. For example, a curving line can create the shape of an apple. When cross contour lines are added, the shape becomes a form. Can you imagine running your finger over the apple to feel its contours? Knowing this will help you understand where to add the tints, tones and shades we discussed last week when we learned about the element of value.

An interesting exercise you can try out to get yourself more familiar with the element of line is blind contour drawing. All you need are a few objects, a sketch pad and a pencil. Set up the objects and draw them without looking at them. That’s right, no peeking! Feel your way around the shape of each object using your pencil to create a continuous line. It’s a great way to get to understand how line works to create shapes.

Line can be implied. One last point about the Element of Line is that it can be implied. Two types of implied lines you'll find helpful are lost edges and site lines.

Lost Edges – It’s not always necessary to describe all the edges of the objects in your artwork. A really good piece of art can have a variety of edge types, all working together, to create interest. There are four types of edges: hard, soft, lost and found. Hard edges are defined and transition sharply from one colour of shape to another. Soft edges are created using gradual transitions to create blurred lines.

Lost edges are drawn or painted lines so soft you can’t see them, but you know they are there. They blend right into their background. Lost edges are considered to be implied lines. You can create lost and found edges in your work with the help of colour, value, form and shape.

Spend some time in your studio experimenting with different edges. See if you can combine hard, soft, lost and found edges in your next artwork.

Site Lines – Another type of implied line is a site line. They tell the viewer how you want them to move around your artwork. Site lines can be created between people, people and objects, or objects. The path most used for site lines is a triangle. It leads the viewer around your artwork and keeps them there.

Let’s look at this detail of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting, ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, c. 1483-86. The site lines in this piece are highlighted by the red arrows. They create an interaction between the figures, and between the figures and the viewer. The viewer, even without the arrows, would know where to look. This configuration keeps the eye moving around the painting instead of leading the eye off the edges. Even the fourth figure in the painting (uneven numbers are always best) is interacting with the three figures by simply pointing a finger into the middle of their site line triangle. Clever, eh?

How can you use site lines in your work to create an interaction between people or objects? I’m sure you already have a few ideas in mind.

5. Shape

Shape can be defined as ‘a flat area surrounded by edges or an outline’. All shapes are enclosed lines. Shapes are always 2D having only length and width. Shapes work within the confines of our artwork.

There are geometric shapes that are usually man-made and follow rules. Examples are circles, squares and triangles. Organic shapes such as the outline of a leaf, animal or flower are made by nature and follow no rules. Shapes can also be free form like the shape of a paint splatter.

Shapes work with space (our next element) to create positive or negative shapes. Think of a ladder. The ladder itself is defined so it has a positive shape. The areas between the rungs and around the ladder are not defined creating negative shapes. The inner or negative shapes help define the object. By creating one you have created the other. Just like the ladder, the chair below has a positive shape that is defined. The positive shape creates the negative shape.

Here’s an exercise you can try in your studio. Pick an object. It can be a chair, corkscrew or even an organic object like a tree. Just make sure you pick something that has negative space too. First create a contour drawing (line only) of the object and shade in the object. Then, create a contour drawing of the same object and shade in all the negative space within the object. This will help you to begin to see the negative space that makes up basic shapes in your artwork.

6. Space

Space is all around us. It can be defined as ‘the area around, between or within the objects that make up an artwork.’ Just like shape, space can be positive or negative but it can also be open or closed, shallow or deep, and 2D or 3D indicating background, middle ground and foreground. The most interesting part about space is it doesn’t have to be clearly presented in your artwork but the illusion of it can’t be missed. That’s really powerful stuff!

Here’s a quote I wanted to share with you from American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who said, “Space is the breath of art.” Space is unlike the other elements because it’s present in just about every piece of art created, whether intentional or accidental, no matter the medium. Think of how a sculptor relies on space and form to create their work. Artists who draw or paint imply space using the other elements we’ve learned about on a 2D surface to create the illusion of 3D space. Photographers actually capture space with their cameras.

Some essentials to consider when thinking about creating the illusion of space in your artwork are: placement, size, colour and value, detail and perspective.

This painting by Andrew Wyeth, 1948, titled ‘Christina’s World’ is the perfect example to illustrate these essentials. Each one of them is present in this beautiful artwork and it’s these essentials that make it such a strong painting. You can see and feel the vast amount of space Wyeth has created around the components in his painting. Let’s have a closer look at these essentials and how they can help you and your artwork.

· Placement – This begins as soon as you’ve conceived your design. The components in your artwork should be placed according to their importance in the order you want your viewer to see them. Objects placed lower in your artwork will always appear closer than objects placed higher up. Objects closer to the viewer are considered more important.

In Wyeth’s painting, the figure is the most important component and has been placed the lowest in the artwork. The farmhouse and barn are placed much higher up becoming secondary components in the piece.

Another thing Wyeth has created with his placement of components are site lines for the figure and the viewer. The figure’s site line is toward the farmhouse. The viewer’s site line begins the same way, from the figure to the farmhouse, but then it’s directed to the barn and back to the figure. This site line triangle helps the components interact with each other even though they’re quite a distance apart and they keep the viewer in the artwork by not letting their eye wander off the edges.

· Size – It is important to keep the size of the components in your artwork proportional. If you don’t, you won’t be able to convey the illusion of space. Size helps position the background, middle ground and the foreground. In Wyeth’s painting, the figure is the closest to the viewer and is the largest, then the farmhouse and finally the barn.

· Colour and Value – These two elements are key in helping you create space in your artwork. Colour is always most vibrant the closer it is to us. As objects appear to recede into the distance, their colours become duller and lighter. Values help with this illusion. Do you remember our look at tones last week? This is where they come in to play giving a painting the illusion of depth.

Wyeth achieves this by adding colour to the figure and to the grass below and slightly around her in the foreground. He then dulls and lightens the grass to give it the illusion of receding (middle ground) right up to the almost colourless, greyed farmhouse and barn. Wyeth finishes off the background using an even lighter grey sky behind the buildings.

You can observe this in real life to develop a better understanding of it. You don’t have to be in any special location so see depth. I’m reminded of a spring morning in May when I couldn’t sleep and was up early. With a cup of tea in hand, I headed to the back deck. The sun was just starting to show itself and the air was heavy with a haze we only get at that time of year. Looking off into the park behind our house, I could see the darker forms of the trees closest to me. Past them, the trees became duller, lighter and greyer. The next row of trees even more so. Finally the trees in the farthest distance were so light they were almost white. Try it out. Do a little observation. It’ll help you see when you create your artwork.

· Detail – Like colour and value, detail is most defined the closer to you an object or component is in your artwork. In Wyeth’s painting, we can see that the figure and the grass below and beside her have the most detail. As he works his way up the painting, details begin to blur. The farmhouse and barn are just a few strokes of the brush to give the impression of the buildings. They’re almost completely without detail. He gives the shapes of the buildings form by using values to make them appear 3D.

· Perspective – This is a whole topic in itself but we should touch on it in relation to space. Perspective creates distance which is something we need to create the illusion of space on a 2D surface. Perspective is responsible for the size of the objects we see. Objects closer to us are much larger than objects receding into the distance. Imagine you are standing on the sidewalk with a building to one side of you and the street to the other. What do you see when you look down the street? You see rows of buildings getting smaller and the street narrowing as you look farther away. And if you could look far enough into the distance, you would see the buildings and street narrow to a pinpoint together right at the horizon line, which is your eyelevel.

Wyeth has cleverly moved his horizon line up in the painting. By doing this, he has not only created drama by making the figure’s size small in relation to the feeling of the vast emptiness surrounding her, but he has also given us an understanding of how the figure in the painting, Christina, feels in her world.

I know we’ve gone through a lot of information relating to space so far, but before we move on to our last element, let’s have a quick look at positive and negative space.

Positive Space defines the shapes and forms in your artwork. All the empty space around shapes and forms is considered Negative Space. The space around objects creates other objects. The image below shows you what' I mean. Have you seen the illusion of shapes called the Rubin Vase before? I’ve seen it many times in many ways and always find it interesting.

What did you see first? Did you see the white vase or the black silhouettes of the faces? You can’t see both of them at the same time, only one or the other. The Rubin Vase shows us negative space is just as important in our artwork as positive space. It creates interest around objects and helps define how the objects themselves interact with each other.

Have a look at the design of your latest artwork. Do you like how the positive and negative spaces interact? Are you making use of the essentials that help space be dramatic and interesting in your work? If you don’t like what you’re seeing, think about how you could use what we’ve learned about space and rearrange things to make it more appealing to you and your viewer.

7. Texture

Well, we’re here. The last element! Let’s learn about texture and how you can use it in your artwork.

Texture can be defined as ‘the perceived surface quality of an artwork in any medium.’ In art, texture can either be tactile or visual.

Tactile textures are real textures. You can feel them by touch. Depending on the medium you work in, you can add textures to your artwork physically creating surfaces that are rough, smooth, soft, hard, dull or glossy to name a few. A sculptor may want part of their piece to be very rough while another part of it may be smooth as glass. Collage artists may cut and tear different materials to build up areas of their artwork. Artists who paint with a brush or a palette knife can create bold textures by building up layers of oil paint. This technique is called impasto and has been used by artists for a very long time.

Vincent van Gogh’s work is a good example of impasto. Looking at his piece, ‘Starry Night’ , June 1889, it is easy to see the strokes of his painting tools creating a 3D tactile texture on a 2D surface. The textures in this piece give it strong emotion and create movement all around the work.

Visual textures are implied by artists who draw and paint. They are 3D illusions created on a 2D surface by an artist using the six elements we’ve already learned about: colour, value, form, line, shape and space. Photographers also use visual textures in their work. Actually, they can only create visual textures. Their shots may capture rugged mountains, coral reefs, or a fuzzy caterpillar, but since the surface of the photograph is smooth and glossy, your view of these textures will always be visual.

Visual textures are either simulated or invented.

Simulated textures are representational of how the visual texture would really feel to your touch. Imagine how soft a rabbit’s fur feels compared to the rough bark on a tree. Simulated textures can create emotional reactions to your artwork. Your viewer will have tactile associations with the simulated textures you create. For example, imagine a painting of a cat or a dog. We know how a cat or dog feel when we touch them. This evokes a connection in us to our pets, past or present, possibly making us feel happy or sad. Imagine a painting or photo of a sleek black car on a summer’s day. We know how a car in the sun would feel if we touched it. Ouch! And we know what emotion that would evoke, don’t we?

Values are very important to keep in mind when you create simulated textures. Your objects still need to have form to be successful in your artwork so you can give your viewer the emotional response you want.

Invented textures use a repetition of line, shape, colour, and value. They are purely made up by the artist and are not intended to represent any texture found in real life. Any object can have invented textures on them whether they are geometric, organic or freeform.

How could you bring texture into your artwork? Would it be tactile or visual? Experiment with it and see how texture can add movement to your artwork and create an emotional component that really connects with your viewer.

This brings us to the end of the 7 Elements of Art. I hope you’ve had a good take-away or two from what we've discussed. I know the elements will help you with your next artwork. Get to the studio and try they out!

If you have any questions, you can email me at The 3T Art Blog was set up to help you create the art you’ll love.

Next week, the 3T Art Blog is going to take a look at some interesting facts about art and artists over the centuries. It’s going to be fun! Don’t miss it. You can sign up to get each week's 3T Art Blog post right in your inbox. Just go to my website at You can fill out the comments form or just wait for the pop-up.

See you next Thursday!


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