The Seven Elements of Design Part 1

“Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements which the painter uses to express his sentiments.”

~ Henri Matisse

The Seven Elements of Design are tools that we, as artists, use to direct the path your eye takes throughout a fine art piece. When viewing a skillfully created work of art or even a company’s graphic design advertisement, you are being shown the most important parts of an image in a hierarchal level of importance or in the case of business advertisements you’re being led to a specific destination within the design.

For a fine art piece it’s more about keeping your eye bouncing around inside the frame of the image and stopping you from wondering off to something else.  That’s why sometimes you can’t stop staring at certain pieces of artwork.

There are many ways artists do this and these seven elements are the fundamental building blocks of any visual artist’s composition and I’m going to tackle them one at a time with descriptions and examples.

Because of this, there are going to be several separate blog posts delving into each of the Seven Elements and Five Principals of design.

We’re going to start with the Seven Elements of Design. They are:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Space
  • Texture
  • Value
  • Color

For this blog post we’re going to focus solely on one of the simplest and yet most effective of the elements, Line.

Line: The simplest element is also one of the most powerful. They can be straight or curved, and may be smooth, rough, continuous, broken, thick, or thin.

A line creates division and importance within the design, helping direct the user’s eye, sometimes obviously, toward specific information or a specific focal point.

Take the following image for instance.

A stream running through a pine forest in Arizona.

As I composed this piece "Hidden Stream" I intentioanlly used three line styles to guide the viewer's eye.

The first line is an "S" curve created by the ferns.

The second is the stream itself.

And the third is an imaginary (broken or non-direct) line created by the grey rocks.


All the lines were designed with intent to direct your eye to the back of the scene where the stream flows around the bend. I did this not only to guide the viewer's eye but also to guide the mind into thinking about what lies around the bend and possibly about the final destination of the stream.

  • Shape: A shape is essentially an outline. It can be geometric (like a circle, triangle, or square), or it can be organic (such as leaves, flowers, and animals). Shape used in conjunction with other elements of art, helps give an artwork definition, texture, depth, and movement. Shape also helps guide the viewer's eye to view the subject of an artwork with ease. The best and easiest way to explain how shapes influence us is to take a look at an outline of one of the most basic of shapes: The circle.

"Horseshoe Bend Sunrise" is a perfect example of using circles to convey stucture and subject importance.

This shows the three circles I used to compose this shot with the intent to add visual weight and importance to the center mass of the granite cliffs.


  • Color: When it comes to influencing mood, nothing does it better than color! Color can play a major role in our overall state of well-being. By surrounding ourselves with certain colors we directly influence the way we feel when we start our day, when we're in the office, and when we come home to relax.

When I processed the piece "Flow" my intention was to create a piece that instills a sense of calmness and harmony.

While we all react a little differently to each color based on our own personal experiences certain colors still hold influence over us.

For instance warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows, etc.) can be inviting, comforting, stimulating, and invoke powerful feelings like joy, playfulness, and passion.

  • Red attributes - love, passion, heath, joy, energy and life
  • Orange attributes - warmth, change, and health
  • Yellow attributes - happiness, cheer, warmth, optimism
  • Pink attributes - romance, gentleness, sweetness, playfulness
  • Gold attributes - riches, opulence, and tradition.

Cool colors (blues, greens, and purples) have a calming effect and will help you relieve stress and make you feel refreshed.

  • Blue attributes - calm, wisdom, importance, trust, and integrity
  • Green attributes - health, growth, environment, tranquility and harmony
  • Purple attributes - wealth, nobility, luxury, spiritualism, magic, creativity