Art doesn't just happen. How do you make art? What do you make it with? You open your artbox and what do you pull out? Crayons, pencils, erasers, chalk? Sure, but do you know what to do with them once yoy pull them out? That's the problem. In a sense, the crayons, pencils, erasers and chalk are the least important tools for making art. The really important tools are not in your hand, but in your mind.
Go back to that artbox and look at it another way. Now you might see a different set of tools, a more important set, some on a shelf called the Elements of Art, some on a shelf called the Principles of Art. These are mental tools that give you a way of looking at and organizing art.
The tools on the shelf for the Elements of Art are: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Value, Texture and Space.
Elements of Art
Line is basically any mark that isn't a dot. But there are many kinds and qualities of lines, each used for a different purpose and giving different effects. There are light lines, heavy lines, thick, thin, sharp, and fuzzy lines. You should think about what sorts of lines might be best for the work you are doing. Don't just grab a tool and go. Think about how to use it first.
In the profile at right, line plays an important part. You see the hair style through the curve of its lines. The shadows are made with a line technique called crosshatching. In crosshatching, you use straight lines close together to make shadows. You make them darker by putting more lines on top of the first, going in a different direction.
There are other elements at work here. Shape works in the oval of the head and the triangle of the eye. The crosshatching shows darkness and lightness, called value. But line is the most important element here. At least, that's the artist's intention.
A shape is a line that closes in on itself. There are a lot of basic shapes, that is, the shapes we use most often in our art. There are ovals, circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, trapezoids, and rhombuses. You use these shapes to put together most art. You take those simple shapes and snap them together to make more complicated shapes. We also have organic shapes, shapes usually with curves that are pretty much one of a kind and therefore have no names. Organic shapes are found most often in nature.
The picture at the right is made up of many blocky shapes. It is those shapes that show us the tree trunk, its canopy of leaves, the trees in the background, and the odd block-thing in the lower right. Without those hard shapes, the character of the picture would be very different.
Form is how 3-dimensional something is or seems, how much something looks as though you can pick it up, hold it, and turn it around to see the back. Shapes are flat. They give no sense that you could see the back, top, or bottom if you picked them up. They don't give an impression that they can be picked up at all. They're, to our senses, part of the paper. Forms, on the other hand, can be drawn so that they fool us into thinking they are an object lying on the paper, not a flat shape within it.
When making sculpture, you are mainly concerned with form, but you can create the idea of form on a flat sheet of paper, as well.
By drawing and connecting rectangular prisms and cylinders, the artist here gives the picture weight and form. That form is made even more clear by using lines and value to create shadows on the object.
Some art is intended to look flat. At such times, form is not a factor. But form must be considered when creating realistic spaces.
In art, value is not how much the art is worth. Value is how light or dark something is. If you draw a flat drawing with no hint of shade or color, value is not important except in the darkness of the line you draw with. If you do any shading or start to use color, value becomes important.
Shadows are made using value. A drawing colored in white and shades of gray can look as colorful as one done with a thousand colors. The picture here was drawn almost all in value. The paper was shaded gray to start. Then parts of it, like where the leaves are, were shaded even darker. More shading in the darker areas, then more shading still to get the really deep blacks. Some areas of value, like the petals, were lightened by drawing on them with an eraser. There are almost no true lines in this picture. What you see as lines are mostly just the sharp borders between values of gray.
Texture is how something feels to the touch, or how it looks like it might feel. Textures can be rough, smooth, prickly, soft, hard, and many others. Using value, shape, line and form, you can make a flat picture seem to have a rough surface.
This picture is very much about texture. The black areas of value in the pants and especially the scarf give the impression of highly wrinkled clothing. The crosshatched lines in the jacket make it look rough and leathery. The short marks on the cowboy's chin give his chin a prickly look.
Nobody really knows what color is, at least they can't give a definition that really makes sense to people. The best we can do is describe what we see when we see or use color.
Color is made up of hue, value, and brightness. Hue is the basic family of the color. All colors are either red, blue, or yellow in hue, or some combination of those. The only exception is white, which is no color at all. In art, black is all the colors mixed together and white is no color. In science, it's just the opposite.
Value is how dark or light a color is. Pink is a light value of red. Brown is a dark value of orange.
Brightness, also called intensity or saturation, is how much of the color you pack into it. The more color you pack into a hue, the more blaring the hue becomes. You can have pink, but hot pink is brighter.
You can use color in many different ways to improve your artwork. Just as easily, you can destroy your artwork if you are not thinking carefully how to use your colors. Some combinations of colors go together, some fight each other, some make artwork clear and some muddy it up. The two pictures here are basically the same picture, but they use color in different ways. How does the use of color make the pictures different? Do they have different moods?
Space is how much distance there is between things in your artwork, and how those distances work together to give a feeling to the work. You can crowd the picture by really filling the space on the paper. You have very different space if most of the paper is left empty. You can also create space through linear and aerial perspective, which use lines and value to make things seem closer to you or farther away. Darker things generally seem closer to you and lighter things farther away.
The picture here uses value and overlapping to create the impression of a very deep space. The bottom of the page, the foreground, is made to look closer by making it darker. The horizon is lighter, and looks farther away. This makes the fig Newton look very far away. The fig Newton is also slightly overlapped by the horizon, making it look even farther away, as in over the horizon.