Black White Magpie


Design appears in nature, human-made environments and artworks. Understanding design elements and principles offers a person a visual vocabulary, develops awareness of a rich visual life, enhances design abilities.

Elements (tools for expressing visual ideas) include line shape form colour value texture space.

Principles (or guidelines) include balance unity contrast pattern emphasis movement rhythm.

Media (materials chosen) have their own qualities and effects, complimenting the expression of ideas. 

Elements and principles collaborate with design, asking, and maybe answering questions like “Is there a purpose?” or “Is there a function?”.

Looking at design requires time and thought. Seeing recognising understanding observing asking making deconstructing learning.

We live within space. Forward backward outward inward around under over behind into. All actions within space.


Two Dimensional Space

Height and width, no depth, flat. The picture plane. A canvas or piece of paper.

Space appears flatter when colour values (darks shades tones and lights tints of colour) are closely related. Positive space (generally bolder stronger or more solid colours) works with negative space (neutrals backgrounds spaces between the positive).

Regular repetitions of shape line colour (patterns) develops a two dimensional feeling.

Larger objects seem closer. Smaller objects or objects higher on a page, seem further away. Both create illusions of depth in visual art. Another way of creating three dimensional space in a two dimensional artwork is making an object of a known size smaller.


Three Dimensional Space

We may not always be conscious of three dimensional space. When space seems contained, a busy street, air with smog, dust or fog, we may be acutely aware of lacking space. Filled enclosed crowded creates congested space, a lack of openness.

A vital part of a three dimensional object is the space around it. Holes windows gaps allow space to flow through and permeate the object. The object or form occupies space.

Shadows identify and help define space inside objects. Bright light (midday in summer) causes dense shadows, emphasing space, giving objects volume. Soft blurry shadows (long shadows on a late winter afternoon) creates different effects.


Three Dimensional Space in Two Dimensional Art

Linear or one point perspective, where lines converge into a single vanishing point, suggest space and depth. An horizon line (imaginary line at eye level) has one vanishing point located upon it. Two point linear perspective has two vanishing points.

A vantage point or point of view, can produce dramatic spatial concepts. Looking straight up from ground level, or looking directly down. Perhaps from the roof of a high building looking at people walking on street level.


Subjective Space

With artworks we can create our own space and manipulate it at will.

A cubist concept of space may show one object straight on, from above and from below in the one artwork. A surreal space may create a fantasy space, an ambience, where objects and places combine in impossible ways. Optical illusions may create ambiguous space.



Exploring Visual Design by Gatto, Porter and Selleck. Published by Davis Publications Inc. Massachusetts, U.S.A.


Published by

Shirley Burley

Artwork Craft Writing Graphic Design Photography

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