Amateurs paint pictures. Professionals build pictures… with these bricks.Edgar Whitney

That’s a direct quote from Edgar Whitney’s excellent book Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting. He opens with it in the chapter on principles and elements of design. To properly understand the process of composing a painting, it is essential that we know the tools with which we work. The tools, or building block of any painting are called Elements of Design.

There are 7 elements of design (linked are my articles on them):

  1. Shape
  2. Line
  3. Size
  4. Direction
  5. Tonal Value – Part I. Value Scales, Values & Colors
    Tonal Value – Part II. Tonal Value and Painting Practice (Value Study)
    Tonal Value – Part III. Value Keys
    Tonal Value – Part IV. Tonal Rhythm (Pattern)
  6. Color – 1. Basics
    Color – 2. Color Wheel
    Color: 3. Harmonies – Coming Soon!
  7. Texture

These are the elements we manipulate to create a painting. Understanding that this is our alphabet is a first step towards more creative and successful paintings. We don’t make things. We make shapes and lines of different sizes in one direction or other. We paint them with color of certain tonal value and we add texture to further increase their quality. We do this on a piece of 2-dimensional surface. And on a very basic level, that’s all that’s going on in a painting. Following is a diagram illustrating the elements and principles of design (feel free to download and share the diagram so you can refer to it in the future, but please consider crediting and linking it back to my website if you share it online).

A Diagram of Elements & Principles of Design
A Diagram of Elements & Principles of Design

Notice that my diagram shows the elements being placed on its outside edge, while the principles occupy the middle. This suggests that the elements are what we see, the ingredients of a painting. It is the individual marks, shapes, sizes, colors, etc. that the painting is made of. It is the obvious stuff, that which we perceive immediately. These are the marks that we make and they, by themselves, don’t make much sense unless they are used in conjunction with the design principles, which are explained in the next article.

Hopefully this introduction is motivating enough so you will stick around for my discussion of the individual elements in their respective articles, all of which are going to be linked in this overview.


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