We’re discussing the Principles of Design (one of the components of the grammar, or basics, of art) as we continue our series on How to Teach Art using the Classical Model of Education.

The Principles of Design are the way the Elements of Art are used in a work of art. The Principles of Design can help us figure out why our art doesn’t look like we wanted it to look. They can also help us articulate why we like or don’t like other works of art.

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Art and the Classical Model

Here’s all the links to this full series on using the Classical Model of Eduction to teach art:


Things We Mention


Episode #25 Highlights / Outline

The Grammar of Art

“Design” is sometimes used to mean usefulness in engineering- but here we’re meaning design in a visual sense.

The 7 Principles of Design are:

  • Emphasis: the creation of a dominate visual area to which the eye is drawn
  • Movement: the visual path the eye is drawn to follow
  • Rhythm: the use of pattern and repetition to create a visual tempo
  • Contrast: the use of opposite Elements of Art together to create interest
  • Unity- the harmony of the whole work of art
  • Balance: the equal arrangement of visual weight on each side of the work of art
  • Variety: the use of dissimilar Elements of Art

We’ll talk about each of these in detail, but first, we want to let you know about our Principles of Design poster that’s available in our store. Hanging up a poster in your art room is a great way to help students remember to think about the Principles of Design!

The Principles of Design Poster


Emphasis: the creation of a dominate visual area to which the eye is drawn

  • This is also called the focal point or the center of interest.
  • Having an emphasis gives the eyes and mind a place to stop and rest, and makes the picture makes sense.
  • Not all art has a focal point, for example Where’s Waldo books or Grandma Moses’s art (see below).
  • Almost everyone’s eye will tend to notice the same place- the emphasis usually doesn’t vary from viewer to viewer.
  • We talk about some artists who use or do not use emphasis in specific podcast episodes:

Movement: the visual path the eye is drawn to follow

  • Movement is how the eye moves through the composition.
  • Researchers have done studies about how the eye moves and the pattern is very predictable.
    • We often tend to move through a visual work of art the same direction we read (left to right for us).
  • Sometimes having an unexpected direction of movement (eg. right to left) will make the art look more exciting.
  • Movement can create an illusion of action.
  • Movement is created with lines, colors, shapes, contrast…

Rhythm: the use of pattern and repetition to create a visual tempo

  • Pattern: identical repeating elements of art (e.g. stripes)
  • Repetition: repeating elements of art- creates unity (e.g circles, but not all the same size)
  • Rhythm can create a feeling of cohesiveness, predictability, order.
  • A lack of rhythm gives a more exciting or busy look.

Contrast: the use of opposite Elements of Art together to create interest


Unity- the harmony of the whole work of art

  • This is a look of completeness, where everything looks like it belongs.
  • Not all art has to have unity. Sometimes an artist wants their art to feel more like cacophony than harmony.

Balance: the equal arrangement of visual weight on each side of the work of art

  • Size, color, texture, contrast, etc can all play a role in balance.
  • Art is usually either balanced or unbalanced.
  • Balanced art is either symmetrical or a-symmetrical
    • Symmetry: the same on each side of a central axis
      • Usually symmetry is vertical, because the eye is accustomed to a balance affected by gravity, but could be horizontal, or radial (arranged around a center)
    • Approximate symmetry: almost the same on each side of a central vertical axis
      • For example, King Tut’s Mask is approximately symmetrical but not perfectly symmetrical.
    • A-symmetrical: each side is NOT the same, but it is still balanced (e.g. one large item and several small items- different but equal visual weights).


Variety: the use of dissimilar Elements of Art

  • Variety is not as strict at Contrast.
  • It creates interest without the feeling of chaos.
  • Most artists will balance Variety with Rhythm to add interest.

Combining the 7 Principles of Design

  • Look for examples in every day life and consider each of the Principles of Design.
    • For example, the curb appeal of a house, trends in architecture, photography…
  • The rule of thirds (See photos below) is also often used in art. It is similar to Fibonacci’s number. (I’ll let Donald Duck explain.)

Next Podcast Episode: The Remaining Grammar of Art Components  (Art Grammar, Part 3)

We’ll be wrapping up our discussion of the Grammar (basics) of art next time in episode #26 as we discuss the remaining components of art Grammar: Techniques / Media, Skills, the Purposes of Art, Art History, and Art Appreciation. Then, we’ll conclude this series about the Classical Model of Education and Art as we talk about the Dialectic and Rhetoric stages.


Personal Renaissance

We’re starting a new segment this week about what we’re creating, learning and reading! We’re calling it our “Personal Renaissance” segment. It’s so good to learn new things- It’s a good example to our kids and it’s great for the soul!

  • Deanna has been creating a new theology curriculum about comparative doctrine- What do each of the major Christian traditions believe? How are we all similar? How are we each different? (Deanna is in our Anyone Can Teach Art Facebook group. If you’d like to ask her more questions about this, Facebook is probably the best way to get a hold of her!)
  • Julie has been creating Mother’s Day cards with her kids and drawing an Anniversary card for her husband
  • Julie has also been listening to an audio book called Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King.
    • (I’ve been listening to it with my children, but I want to warn you that it does talk a bit about the homosexuality that was fairly common during the Renaissance period. It’s sparked some… sensitive discussions…)

Questions? Comments?

Comment below or join us in the Anyone Can Teach Art Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AnyoneCanTeachArt/.

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