A Budding Knowledge: The Elements of Art

How was everybody’s week? I hope you all scheduled in some time for yourself to sketch a little.  Every little doodle brings you closer to your goal.

In my first post, I gave the prompt of “flower.”  I’m really excited to show off the art I was sent as a response!

This first piece was drawn by Josie White.  I love the technique she used on the petals:

This other piece is a bit more conceptual, created by Etherea Art.  (@etherea_art on Instagram) (https://ethereaart.wixsite.com/suryannamdtahir) I love her thought process behind this!  She took the prompt “flowers” and put them on the tattoos of her subject.

Words cannot describe how much I appreciate your submissions!  These are both incredible.

I wanted to talk about flowers today because of how variable they truly are.  Each flower has a different petal shape, texture, size, and color. Each flower has its own personality. Because of this, they make a great subject matter for your art.  More on this in a bit.

What do houses, relationships, and art have in common?  They all need a foundation or they’ll crumble.  A structure built on sandy terrain will collapse.  A relationship with no common-ground interests or beliefs will not last.    Art that attempts to convey some sort of realism without an understanding of shape, form, etc…  well, it’s still totally valid art, but it might not be as successful as the artist wishes for it to be.

So, how do you “build” a work of art?  What are your tools?  These are what’s known as the elements of art.  Whether your creation is 2 dimensional or a sculpture; abstract or realistic, the elements of art are what make up the artwork.

The elements are as follows: line, shape, form, value, color, texture, and space.  While not every piece of artwork has all seven, a piece of art cannot exist without at least two of these elements present.  It doesn’t matter if the work is a masterpiece or something a child drew.  Take a look at these two images:

When you look at this famous painting, Claude Monet – Woman with a Parasol, 1875, the texture is one of the first things you notice.  The painting does not appear smooth; Monet used short brush strokes to create his impressionistic style.  The elements of art work together cohesively in this painting: take a look at the clouds. When you think of clouds, you think white, right?  These clouds have tinges of yellow and muted blue to create form, another element of art.  The use of the element color creates the element form. Color creates form in the dress of the woman as well: the streaks of blues in her skirt area create a highlight. 

Now look at this image.


This is a typical child’s drawing.  Upon first looking at it, there’s nothing too fancy about it; after all, children don’t exactly have classical art training.  However, even the works of a four-year-old can show the elements of art, and this piece does a particularly good job.  With this drawing, shapeis the focus.  Take a look at the sailboat to the right.  Our artist Alex knew that a rectangle with a pole attached to two triangles is the perfect representation for a boat.  The sun is a circle with thick lines coming out of it, and yet we know it’s the sun.  Linesof dark blue on top of light blue represent the motion of waves: color and line working together.

If this is confusing, that’s totally normal.  Let’s break each element down individually, with the help of some flowers.


I chose Peony’s for linedue to the way they fold.  Think of the way these petals intersect.  The outlines of the petals and the leaves are creating the illusion of lines.  Look at the petals themselves: the veins in the petals are lines, and these lines give the petals a sense of direction.

Lines can be thin, thick, straight, curved, spiraled, squiggled, zigzagged, dashed, dotted, long, short, and even implied. Implied line is extremely important in art:  look at the petals of the middle flower that touch the background of the image.

The tone of the petal and the tone of the background are really close together.  If you were drawing this, you wouldn’t want to create a thick line for this petal.  You would want it to blend; therefore you would imply the line of the petal.

There’s also leading lines. These lines lead your eye in a certain direction throughout the piece of art.   In this piece, your eye starts at the middle flower: this is what’s known as the focal point.  When you look at the image, it’s the first thing you see.

From there, your eye moves around the piece in a triangular pattern.  The top of the left flower to the tip of the top center leaf is one leading line.  The top center leaf then brings you down to the bottom right flower.  The bottom of the bottom right flower leads your eye to the bottom of the left flower’s petal.  These leading lines keep you looking at the piece of art, making it difficult for you to look away.


Shape is almost always tied to line.  When you think of shape, you’re probably thinking of triangles, circles, squares, and maybe even stars and .  These are inorganic or geometric  shapes. Shapes are all around you, though.  Any closed line can be considered a shape.  Any shape that isn’t geometric is an organic or natural shape.

What makes shape so unique is that it requires another element of art in order to work.  You need a bounding line for shape to appear. The shape of a daisy’s petals would not be distinguishable from the center of the daisy were it not for the difference in valueand color.  The spacein the background of the flowers creates their own shape, as well, making the shape of the daisies crisp.  Shapes are 2 dimensional, but when the third dimension is added, it creates form.


Simply put, form is what creates the illusion of three-dimensional art on a 2D surface.  You’re reading this post on a screen (or if you printed it out, paper) which is 2 dimensional, but this rose appears 3D.  Like shape, form can either be geometric or organic.  The form of an object creates highlights and shadows.  In this rose, you can see where the sun is hitting the object the most: that’s the highlights.  The shadows are where the sun is hitting the object the least.  The shadows are the darkest areas of the rose.  Form creates depth, perception, and value.


Value is closely tied to form.  An object can have value without form, but it cannot have form without value: this would break the illusion of 3D, making it a shape. 

Value is what refers to the lightness or darkness of a tone.  Value is easiest to notice in grayscale work, but it’s important when working in color as well.

This pansy has an incredible value gradient.  Starting in the middle, there’s a small section of white.  From there, it’s immediately dark: almost black.  Then it gets lighter, and then darker once again, though not as dark as that second color.  Let’s look at the same image in grayscale

Now you can really see the difference in value of the flower’s petals.  However, there’s a new problem that arised.  The value of the green background and purple petals are almost the same, making the image look muddy.  It may be helpful to adjust the value when you’re drawing so get a crisp image.


Color is fun!  It’s usually most people’s favorite element of art. Colors can be muted or vibrant.  Color theory is a hugesubject that will be discussed at a later point, but here’s a quick overview:

Red, Yellow, and Blue are the primary colors in an RGB spectrum.  If you only have these colors in your pallet, you can mix them to create any of the other colors, (orange, green, or violet.)  Different ratios give you different results.  Try mixing some color!

The colors chosen in this bouquet are actually very close to the primary colors.  The florist chose an off blue-violet, a dark pink, and a yellow flower, with some white to tie it all together.  The way you use color can vastly influence the mood of a piece of art.

With that said, working with color before you have an understanding of value (or your medium) can be incredibly frustrating, and you may not get the results you want.


Looking up at the night sky, you might get intimidated by how vast space is.  What you might not realize is that there’s space all around you. This space can be positive or negative. This doesn’t have to do with the energy in the room (although that’s important, too) rather it has to do with where things lay.

In this photo, two flower vases sit in the middle of the composition.  They take up space.  Everything surrounding it is negative space: it’s where nothing is going on, really.

Now, let’s take this same image and crop it differently.

Feels a little uncomfortable, right?  There’s less positive space than negative space.  It feels empty and off-kilter.  Placing your subjects in a space properly can change the entire mood of the image.


Last but certainly not least, we have texture.   Texture is one of my personal favorites.  Take a look at your surroundings.  No matter where you are, there’s probably at least one interesting texture.  Look at your clothes.  Are you wearing something soft like fleece, or something tough like leather?  Can you tell how it feels without even looking at it?  If you’re outside, can you see any wood or stones?  Maybe brick?  These all have a visible texture.

You can practice drawing with the elements of art using any of these images as a reference photo. They’re all public domain, meaning you can use them for any purposes.  I would love to see your renditions of these flowers! Please email bmartin.artdesign@gmail.com with any art that you would like to show me, and it could end up in the blog!

I hope you have a great week, and I’ll be seeing you soon to discuss the Principles of Design.


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