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Visual Arts: Home

Definitions : Elements and Principles of Design

Design elements and principles form the foundation of visual language. 

These elements and principles are used in all visual design fields and are the core concepts used to create meaning visually. 

Visual Design is the organized arrangement of one or more elements and principles (e.g. line color or texture) to create a visual message.

Elements of Design


LINE:  the continuous movement of a point along a surface.

The edges of shapes and forms also create lines.



SHAPE: an area enclosed by line. It is two-dimensional and can be geometric or organic.

 FORM: occupies space. The attributes of form are mass and volume


SIZE: the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another



TEXTURE:  the surface quality of a shape such as rough, smooth, soft, hard, or glossy.


VALUE: the lightness or darkness of a color.


COLOR: is used to create illusion of depth

From UCI Libraries, Irvine, CA

Principles of Design

RHYTHM: is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement

CONTRAST: the juxtaposition of opposing elements


BALANCE: the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and the space.



EMPHASIS: Point of focus in a picture of area that draws attention.



VARIETY: Different elements are combined to create visual interest: notably use of contrast, emphasis, difference in size and color.


HARMONY: The quality of wholeness or oneness that is achieved through the effective use of the elements  and principles of art

From UCI Libraries, Irvine, CA


Elements of Design

Color Theory

Color Theory (Iowa State)                       

This is an interesting, deliberately paced presentation about the color wheel and other topics related to color theory from Iowa State University.

ArtLex Art Dictionary

Is an art dictionary for artists, collectors, students and educators in art production, criticism, history, aesthetics, and education.


Drawspace covers basics, contours, shading, perspective, figures and eclectic mediums.

Google Art Project

  • Google Art Project  A unique collaboration with some of the world’s most acclaimed art museums to enable people to discover and view more than a thousand artworks online in extraordinary detail. Create and share your own "collections."
  • Google Cultural Institute  "Here you can find artworks, landmarks and world heritage sites, as well as digital exhibitions that tell the stories behind the archives of cultural institutions across the globe."


Google Cultural Institute : How to use the site



Library Resources


The non-fiction and reference collections of the library are arranged by Dewey Decimal Classification.
Books related to Visual Arts will be found in the following areas:



- overview of the arts
- dictionaries
- art movements and periods
- art galleries, museums

710 Landscaping
720 Architecture
730    Sculpture, ceramics, metalwork
740 Drawing, decorative arts


- techniques
- materials

Painting and painters by
760 Graphic arts, printmaking
770 Photography, computer art

Don't forget about other sections of the library collection that may contain useful information.  For example, history books for information about the period, or works of fiction such as "The girl with the pearl earring".

Library Videos