Elements & Principles of 2D Design

  • Line – The way we treat our lines establishes a particular/dominant mood/emotion.
  • Shape – Flat, 2D aspects of form, as opposed to volume (think silhouette)
  • Value/Tone – Relative lightness or darkness
  • Texture – Can be actual or implied
  • Space – Positive space is the figure/object you’re drawing; Negative space is the area AROUND the figure object you’re drawing
  • Color – (we won’t use color in Beginning Drawing)


  • Balance – can be Symmetrical or Asymmetrical.
    Symmetrical = dividing a composition into two equal halves with seemingly identical elements on each side.
    Cat Face
    Asymmetrical = balance based upon a visual sense of equilibrium that can be felt more than it can be measured. There are no specific rules for asymmetrical balance except that of diversity
    image credit
  • Repetition/Rhythm – a repeating visual element (line, shape, pattern, texture, movement); a flowing and regular occurrence. A subcategory of repetition is pattern.
    Pattern – any compositionally repeated element or regular repetition of a design or single shape; pattern drawing sin commercial art may serve as models for commercial imitation.
  • Focus/Emphasis/Dominancethe prime center of visual importance within a composition to which all other visual elements yield; it holds the viewer’s attention because of its attractive and dominant influence on its surroundingsRule of Thirds – a compositional tool that makes use of the notion that the most interesting compositions are those in which the primary element is off center. Basically, take any frame of reference and divide it into thirds placing the elements of the composition on the lines in between.
    Visual Center – The visual center of any page is just slightly above and to the right of the actual (mathematical) center. This tends to be the natural placement of visual focus, and is also sometimes referred to as museum height.
    visual center
    Golden Rectangle – Another method of arranging a composition.
    Golden Rectangle
  • Unity/Harmony
  • Scale – The overall size of an object
    [collage by Nacick Paliughi]
  • Proportion – The relative size of different elements of an artwork. An example is the exaggerated proportions in caricatures.

  • Contrast – When one extreme is pitted against another. Bright vs Dark. Heavy vs Light, Rough vs Soft, etc.
    Sam Whatley Subtractive2
  • Movement – How the artist leads the viewer’s eye around the page
  • Depth – overlapping forms suggest depth; changes in scale can suggest depth; illusionistic perspective can suggest depth, atmospheric perspective (see images here) can suggest depth
    foreshortening also shows depth


  • Picture plane – the size and shape of your paper/drawing surface.
  • Closed composition – forms seem well contained by the edges of the picture plane
  • Open composition – the imagery appears unrelated to the size/shape of the paper, creating an impression of extending beyond the picture plane
  • Gestalt – “The sum of the whole is greater than its parts” is the idea behind the principle of gestalt. It’s the perception of a composition as a whole. While each of the individual parts have meaning on their own, taken together, the meaning may change. Our perception of the piece is based on our understanding of all the bits and pieces working in unison.
  • Positive and Negative Space –

  • Point of view – the position from which the composition is seen by the artist (eye level and distance from the subject)
    Composition exercise in class by John Ciampoli

3D Design

Credit Link


Line: The edge of a shape or form or the direction followed by anything in motion.
-Implied Line- is a line that doesn’t really exist, but appears to be present.
-Actual Line- is a line that is actually present.

Value: Shadows from lightness to darkness
-Value variation gives a sense of space and depth to an object—emphasizing its three dimensionality.
-Strong contrast in value can create emphasis.

Color: Color is Light reflected from a surface. It can create emphasis, harmony, emotions, unity, and movement.
-Color has three distinct qualities:
1. Hue- color
2. Value- lightness to darkness of a color
3. Intensity- brightness to dullness of a color
– mixing its complimentary color can dull intensity.

Texture: Quality related closely to our sense of touch. It can create emphasis, movement, pattern, emotion.
-Implied texture- is texture that appears to be present but it is an illusion. It is not really present.
-Actual texture- is texture that really exists and it can be felt.

Shape: Shape encloses a two dimensional area. Shape can create most of the elements and many of the principles.
-Types of shapes: Organic-curved edges, continuous Geometric-sharp edges, angles

Form: Form encloses a volume or three-dimensional area.
-Light and dark value variations and space are used to emphasize form.

Space: Illusion of depth and space.
-Ways to create space:
1. Overlapping — Shapes or forms in front of each other
2. Holes and cavities


Balance: Refers to the equalization of elements in a work of art.
-There are three kinds of balance:
1. symmetrical- formal, divided in half same
2. asymmetrical- informal, divided in half not same
3. radial- circular, design starts from center > out

Unity/Harmony: Relates to the sense of oneness, wholeness, or order in a work of art. Combining similar colors,
shapes, lines, textures, and patterns in an artwork can create harmony. Movement: Refers to the arrangement of parts in a work of art to create a slow to fast action of the eye.
-Pattern, contrast, line can create this.

Rhythm: It is a type of movement in an artwork or design often created by repeated objects.
-There are different types of rhythm:
1. Regular- Example: 9s9s9s9s9s9
2. Irregular- Example: qqeeqqeyyy

Emphasis: refers to placing greater attention to certain areas or objects in a piece of work.
-Emphasis can be created through sudden and abrupt changes in opposing elements.
(Example: bright yellow dot in large black area)

Proportion: Refers to the relationship of certain elements to the whole and to each other.

Pattern: is created by repetition of (not limited to) shape, line, color, or texture

Variety: It is achieved through diversity and change. Using different line types, colors, textures, shapes…..

Gradation: Refers to a way of combining elements by using a series of gradual changes.
-Examples of gradation:
1. gradually from small shapes to large shapes
2. gradually from a dark color to a light color
3. gradually from shadow to highlight

4D Design:

Elements and Principles of 4D Art and Designby Ellen Mueller (Oxford University Press, 2016).