The 7 Elements Of Art And Why They Are King In Drawing
Updated: May 27, 2020
What are the elements of art? Why is it necessary to know about these when you want to start drawing? I'll explain it to you right now.
Have you heard about the 7 art elements yet? If you have, chances are you don't really know what they mean. If you haven't, let's just say you should read this article because this is one of the most basic theory sections an artist has to learn. The word element already screams "basic stuff", doesn't it?
II. The 7 Elements
Do you remember mathematics at school? Maybe you are still at school and have to suffer from way too many maths classes. If you feel like that I have some bad news for you if you want to become better at drawing.
Basic geometry is essential knowledge every artist has to be aware of.
If you hated this at school or do hate it right now, you may find it more interesting reading about how this mathematical knowledge helps you become an artist.
I'll be honest with you. In middle school I hated maths and I didn't do anything for getting better at it. I was extremely bored and unmotivated and not even the basic geometry stuff everyone else found endurable seemed interesting to me.
This attitude changed immediately and I took a 180° turn in terms of geometry. As soon as I found out that understanding geometric forms is king for drawing I instantly changed my mind and wanted to know everything about art theory.
Proportion, depth and creating realism on a piece of paper can always be broken down very mathematically. Understanding this will grant you a tremendous advance towards anyone who has no idea about it.
As I researched I also learned about the 7 elements of art, how they are important and how art can impossibly be created without them or just using one of them.
In the following paragraphs, I will mostly use drawing as examples of creating art since this is what Mac H. - Creative is all about. Don't let this confuse you if you're here and you're an aspiring canvas painter.
All of the elements and principles we will talk about can be applied to every kind of painting and drawing. Be sure to always keep that in mind while reading. Besides that, I hope you learn something today and get a decent amount of value from the article.
II. The 7 Elements
The elements of art can be referred to as ingredients of unique artworks. Every piece of art you have ever seen consists of at least one but more likely more of these elements.
Whether you're looking at a figure drawing, a landscape painting, a still life drawing or just a beginner sketch in a school book. You will always find one of these elements in every single piece of art. Without the elements art simply couldn't even exist.
Let's start off with the first one right now.
Starting with the element which is called "line". Well, it's about lines... What could there possibly be to talk about in depth? Actually, more than you might think right now.
Lines are probably the most basic things you can use to start a drawing. The very first sketches of a child are being started with lines. Even after years of practice and gaining experience this fact still remains the same.
Professional artists everywhere use lines to create art. It's just what everything contains when you look around. Obviously not everything consists of lines but if you observe your surroundings you will find thousands of thousands of lines.
Lines aren't always black. This is a grave and very common beginner mistake. Everyone draws these lines they're seeing in dark black tones of value when they start off with drawing. Don't look like this surprises you now.
You and I, we both know we did this all the time in the beginning and maybe you're doing it still. This is absolutely no reason to be ashamed or anything. If you want to read about common, devious beginner mistakes and how to avoid them read this post (click).
A line can also be described as an edge in art. A shared boundary between two areas with different values. For example, when you're drawing a face in front of a light background, you will never see a clear black line shaping the whole face.
When the light source is located in front of the subject you will see light and slim shadows at the border of the face but they're never completely black. When the light is being emitted from any other angle you often see strongly varying areas in terms of lights and shadows.
The boundary between a very dark and a very light valued area is an edge. When drawing try to create your outlines just by connecting these values with each other. It will make your artworks look more realistic almost instantly.
The second element we're talking about today is the element shape. Shape is the two-dimensional version of the form of an object. "Form" will be the next element I will explain to you.
You create shapes by connecting the first element, lines. It is as simple as that.
When you're drawing a simple rectangle you are already using two elements of art. You draw 4 lines attached to each other, which creates the outline of a rectangle. Important hereby is that the shape is always flat!
Shapes only consist of height and width. They are two-dimensional.
As soon as you start sketching a simple circle let's say to start the sketch of a human head. As soon as you have a roughly sketched ring in front of you, you have used many messy lines to create one long outline of a shape. I think you get the idea.
Between shapes, you can additionally differentiate between two non-identical types.
The first type of shape is the geometric shape like circles, triangles or rectangles as we have already mentioned so far. The second kind of shape is called an organic shape and this type includes outlines of leaves for example.
These organic shapes can be found in nature and consist of different parts of geometric shapes.
The leave, for example, can be subdivided into rectangles and multiple parts of circles. The tip of a leave where two lines create a corner can also be seen as some kind of triangle. Seeing the world like this and always subdividing objects into basic shapes often helps beginners drastically improve their drawings.
I recommend to you trying that from time to time to practice your perception skills of proportions. You can read more about human proportions in this article. I've written that article to help beginner drawers understand proportion basics better.
Do you see now, how it is almost impossible to create art only using one of the seven elements? And we have merely gone over the first two so far.
A form is the further development of a two-dimensional shape.
Forms don't still merely include height and width but also length or depth. A ball or sphere is the form version of a circle, the prism is the next stage of any polygon and the cube is the form of the rectangular shape.
So a form has not only a flat surface but also a volume and if it is not in a drawing or painting but a real object you could look at it from more than one side. This is basically what makes the form a form and not a shape.
Disregarding the difference between shape and form, there is one significant similarity as well. A form can also be divided into organic and geometric versions just as mentioned in the shape part.
In fact, a human is one large organic shape and this can also be subdivided into different geometric forms. Look at the mirror and observe your body. What geometric forms can you see?
If you try to make the subjects in your drawing or painting look three-dimensional, even real, getting this element correctly on paper is the key to do so. It is not that hard to achieve a three-dimensional look but it takes a lot of time and effort to make it look real.
Shading is a big part of creating realistic subjects with depth. There are many different options for shading your subjects to create a realism-like look. Before I'm digressing too much from the topic I'll give you a quick overview of main shading techniques.
What are the best shading techniques to create a 3D look?
A quick example of contour shading would be this great video.
I'm definitely going to talk about the different shading techniques in a separate article. I really want to get detailed when it comes to shading since this is a huge source for beginners to make lots of mistakes.
It is crucial to get the shading right to create good, authentic-looking forms in art.
The fourth element of art called "space" is essential and we've gone over this topic in detail in the very first article on the Mac H. - Creative Blog.
Mainly you separate space into two areas but there is a gigantic mass of knowledge you can gain about space and different kinds of space. This sounds like way too much theory at once right?
Don't worry about it, we will go through it step by step so you definitely understand everything. You will certainly be able to follow along and we definitely won't cover everything about space.
There will be much more you can learn about it after reading the following paragraphs but we will cover the most important ones right now.
The two main categories I've just mentioned are pictorial space and the other one doesn't really have a name. Normally I refer to this second type of space as "relationships" between objects because it has its own perception skill and does not belong to the space perception skill. It sounds more complicated than it is right now.
Nevertheless, here it is included in the fourth element of art. Space in the seven elements of art includes both "relationships" and pictorial space.
Let me clear out the not-that-spectacular one at first. Relationships are just easier to understand so you get into it more easily. So in one way, space defines the distance between objects on a two-dimensional layer.
By that, I mean the space that can be seen between objects that are located next to each other. Let's take a look at this photo together.
You can see a certain distance between the woman and the left birch. A distance measurable on a two-dimensional level. Coming back to the mathematical skills you could also see this picture located on a coordinate system with two axes.
Can you picture this image on such a coordinate system? I hope you do and the first kind of space is literally the distance between the tree and the girl solely on the x-axis.
The second main category of space requires a three-dimensional coordinate system containing three axes. Let's call the axis that indicates the depth "z". The z-axis shows us the second kind of space.
It shows us how far an object is away from the viewer.
This imaginary line that starts at your eyes and goes directly towards the object you're looking at in a picture, this is the z-axis. On that axis, different objects can also have a distance between each other. This is also called space.
Exactly that is the kind of space that is called pictorial and there are multiple possibilities to use pictorial space in art. I won't go into depth here but if you're interested you can read the article about the basic perception skills that are mandatory for drawing.
One of my favorite artworks of all time is called "Christina's World" by the artist Andrew Wyeth. It communicated almost instantly a feeling of hopelessness and loneliness to me. The distance from the girl to the house is pictorial space accentuated by the wide feeling between them.
(In pictorial terms the fields are between them on the z-axis but in relationship terms, they are between them on the y-axis.)
One last type of space that I want to add as a little extra is negative space. I love talking about it and explaining it to others for a good reason.
Negative space is a great way for beginners to learn to draw from life!
Holes or other open spaces within and around your subject are called negative spaces because they don't actually belong to the object but they define the shape of it anyway.
Next to the negative spaces, there is still the actual object of interest and these actual areas belonging to the subject are called positive form. For now, I won't go any deeper into this topic.
However, if you want to learn more about relationships, pictorial and negative space in art be sure to check out the perception skills article on the site. You'll find the part about spaces in section number two of that article.
The texture is the ingredient in an artwork that is responsible for the "feel" it communicates to the viewer. How would the subject feel if you touched it? Can that feeling by depicted in a two-dimensional painting or drawing?
A good artist can draw the texture of an object by copying exactly what he sees as a printer does without putting his emotions into his art. I'm not hating against photorealistic reference drawing right now. This method is great for beginners to create first drawings and learn to perceive proportions and value correctly.
A great artist, however, is able to create the texture visually in a way that you can almost feel it by just looking at it. Putting emotional power into your work is the real meaning of art and should be the highest goal of every artist in the world, in my opinion.
Have you ever had this feeling when looking at a great artwork? Let me show you a great example I've seen here.
It's an intermediate's drawing of reptile scales and water drops on top of them. Now imagine touching these scales slightly with one of your fingers. Can't you immediately feel the bumpy surface and the cold water drops on your finger?
This is what a good texture drawing looks like. Other examples for textures would be old and rough tree bark, fluffy fur of an animal or the smooth surface of a simple stone. If you want more examples of texture drawings I recommend looking for them on Pinterest here: https://bit.ly/3bmKJDq
I've mentioned value already a few times now and I think especially for drawers this element of art is one of the most important ones, if not the most important one. Value is defined by the luminosity of a piece of art.
Value refers to the darkness and lightness of a color. This applies to any color imaginable but mostly for drawing artists, we're talking about the gradation from white to black.
Using the full range of value in a drawing means that the artist uses everything available from the white of the paper to the darkest black they have. Different tones of gray are included in the full value range of course. Black and white are connected by the spectrum of the color gray.
Not using enough of the value range you have available is one of the most common beginner mistakes. Often you're too timid and even afraid of using too much darkness in an artwork that could destroy everything you've created so far.
Starting off with light values and using more and darker tones over time to create impressive depth is what I'm recommending you to do in your next sketch. You can learn more about avoiding beginner mistakes here.
About this very last element of art, I just want to say a few quick things. I think it is mostly quite obvious what this is about. Nevertheless, the art element color has some pretty cool effects and purposes.
In art, color is not only used to depict the correct look of every object (in case you use color at all), it is also used to symbolize certain feelings. Through color, specific emotions can be communicated to the viewer of the artwork.
Different colors and their meanings in art:
Red - Excitement, Passion, Violence, Danger
Blue - Tranquility, Depression, Trust
Yellow - Betrayal, Envy, Dishonesty
Green - Refreshment, Nature, Peace
Purple - Nobility, Mystery, Arrogance
Orange - Energy, Enthusiasm, Warmth
Brown - Stability, Simplicity, Endurance
Just a little fun fact on the side about me: My absolute favorite color is red. It combines the strongest emotion a human being can feel and expresses a certain balance between anger, violence, aggression or war on the one side and passion, love, heat or excitement on the other side.
Extremes of different kinds united in one color. Amazing, isn't it?
The seven elements of art are absolute basics to know for you as aspiring pencil artist.
Every great piece of art combines these elements to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It's like cooking something. Put in the right ingredients and the right amount of it to create a good meal.
I want to encourage you now to try different things with these elements. Be completely free and experience how powerful it can be to connect the right art elements with each other. Don't afraid of making mistakes! Failing and getting up again is true growth.
Get your pencil, a piece of paper and start right away. Now it's your turn to put the learned theory into action. Don't forget between all the learning and watching motivational youtube videos that actually drawing something is the best teacher.
I provide you with a decent 50:50 ratio of learning theory and effective practices for drawing beginners in my mailing list. When you join you can expect one email from me every day and this is not some kind of algorithm that writes the emails. It is actually me and I'll write to you in person.
I've put a lot of effort and time into creating a free online course for you as well! In this course, I'm teaching you my number one drawing beginner's technique called Zentangle in three parts spread over three days.
This method combines strong relaxation and concentration exercise with drawing basics that will open you the doors leading to the path of a real drawing artist. All of this is completely for free because giving aspiring artists the most possible value and genuinely helping you with becoming a real drawer means a lot to me personally.
Start your drawing journey with me here: mac-h-creative.com/free-course
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