In the previous article I briefly introduced you to the concept of design elements. I showed you that there is 7 of them and explained that they are the artist’s alphabet. But, of course, the elements by themselves are not going to cut it. They are only half of the picture. The logical question therefore is, what is the next step? More specifically, how do we use these elements properly and intelligently to make a good painting?

The way we manipulate these elements is governed by the Principles of Design. Principles and elements of design are two sides of one coin. Frank Webb aptly compares them to nouns and verbs. It is a wonderful analogy. Elements, or the tools we use, are nouns, which are activated by verbs, or principles of design.

There are 8 principles of design:

  1. Unity
  2. Contrast
  3. Dominance
  4. Repetition
  5. Alternation
  6. Harmony
  7. Balance
  8. Gradation

Design principles are just what the name suggests, principles that we try to follow in order for our painting to make sense. According to Edgar Whitney there are 8 principles of design, while Frank Webb only lists 7, leaving out “Alternation”. It can be left out but from my point of view it is important enough to be included on its own. Alternation is a principle that helps us understand that we need to achieve a rhythm in our paintings.

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

The diagram shows the elements on its outside edge and principles on the inside. This is to suggest that the governing principles can be observed with an intelligent eye, while the elements, being on the fringe of the diagram, are out in the open for anyone to see. We as creators, however, have to not only know about these underlying principles, we have to understand them and master them.

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


Available articles on the elements of design:

  • 3. Principles of Design – An Overview
  • 3.1 Unity – coming soon!
  • 3.2 Contrast – coming soon!
  • 3.3 Dominance – coming soon!
  • 3.4 Repetition – coming soon!
  • 3.5 Alternation – coming soon!
  • 3.6 Harmony – coming soon!
  • 3.7 Balance – coming soon!
  • 3.8 Gradation – coming soon!


  1. Pam May 22, 2018 at 23:14

    Hello, I’ve just found your site and love reading your articles. However I find navigating the site difficult. I read one article and then seem to have to go back the to the main menu and scroll through to find the next article in a series, eg your design series. Is there a way you can provide links within an article to the next one in the series? That would help navigating the series easier.

    1. Daniel Novotny May 23, 2018 at 09:29

      Hi Pam,

      Thanks for reading, glad to have you on the site.

      I always provide links to relevant articles where applicable. Principles of design, however, are not yet discussed in detail and this introductory post is thus far the only one published.

      I can see how one can have problems navigating the site. I am looking for a way to incorporate shortcuts to all major or minor series so the navigation is easier.

      Sorry for the confusion and thanks for the suggestion.



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