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Thoughts from the Studio

Last month, we began our visual vocabulary series, especially in regard to formal analysis for the visual arts, beginning with the basic components. We continue this month with a look into: The Essential Elements of Visual Art: Creating composition is a type of construction requiring specific structural elements which include:

  • Line

  • Shape

  • Value

  • Color

  • Texture

These elements are regarded as essential to artists, who utilize them separately or in combination for the generation of artistic imagery and are considered to be the structural scaffolding that fundamentally support the production of the visual language of art. While, they are being introduced in this article as a group; it should be noted that they are individually worth studying. Essential to any artwork, each element generates its own list of vocabulary terms and techniques to be studied independently for a greater knowledge of how they lend support for the creation of strong composition and the interactive role they each provide in the establishment of organic unity. Let’s briefly introduce each element with their artistic definition of each and their role in composition: Line: The path of a moving point that is made by a tool, instrument, or medium as it moves across an area. A line is usually made visible because it contrasts in value with its surroundings. Artists use line in a variety of ways and as the most basic means of communications. Drawing is thought to be the communal language of artists and the initial mark-making process the birthplace of ideas. It can be defined as contour in formation of individual components within the composition – or as the overarching line of the whole composition that provides a visual path for viewers to follow. Shape: An area that stands out from the space next to or around it because of a defined or implied boundary (line), or because of differences of value, color or texture. We first see shape in regard to line – the edge of the shape is the defining contour that identifies itself to the viewer. Is it a recognizable shape in the representation of object/s as related to the real world, or is a fantasy shape of imaginative expression created by the artist. We look at shapes independently and in relation to the composition. The placement of shapes in the creation of compositions, form the building blocks or “landmarks” for viewers to navigate the pictorial space. Value:

1. The relative degree of light or dark upon an object or existing in the overall composition. 2. A characteristic of color determined by value, or the quantity of light reflected by a color. Anybody who studies art has to study value – it is a key element in the creation of form. Two-dimensional media rely heavily on value in the optical creation of three-dimensional representation of our natural world. Without value- lines and shapes are flat, decorative marks on the page. Value provides the ability for artist to create shapes that have the appearance of a 3-D form. Value also provides the structural support to color and texture – so that they too can appear dimensionally. Compositionally, value is key in setting an overall mood with its dramatic and emotive use of dark and light. The balance between light and dark within a composition is how an artist might handle atmospheric effects, creating illusion of objects (shapes) surrounded or existing in space. It further enhances and strengthens the visual path began with line and shape – for the viewer to follow – by shedding “light” on the areas the viewer should notice first. Color: The visual response to the wavelengths of sunlight identified as red, green, blue, etc.; having the physical properties of hue, intensity and value. Color is an element that arouses universal sensitivity, provoking an emotional response. I often say we feel color before we actually see it – meaning that we have an immediate response, before we engage our analytical faculties as to what we are seeing. Cultural associations and personal experiences influence the way in which we “see” certain colors as well as the physical perception of light, be it natural or artificial. Because of this inherent visual response, most art schools require students to study color theory and some devote an entire semester’s study to this one essential element. Artists use color to lend form and meaning to the content or their subject matter and overall feeling and/or emotion of the spatial quality of the pictorial field. Color has many characteristics which lend their strength to creating interest and counterbalance to navigating the forward and backward movement of pictorial depth of field. The creation of mood, ambiance and drama for expressing emotions and feelings are determined by an artist’s choice of color. A well-ordered color composition will attar and direct the attention of the viewer thus lending weight to solidifying the organization of the elements in support of organic unity the initial “visual” path laid down by line, shape and value. Texture: The surface character of a material that can be experienced through touch or the illusion of touch. Texture is produced by natural forces or through an artist’s manipulation of the art elements. Like color, texture invokes an initial response, in that it activates two sensory processes at the same time, seeing and feeling. Even in the illusion of 3-D objects created by 2-D media, we “see” the texture of things and “feel” them with our visual prediction, thereby identifying imagery with both visual and tactile experiences. This sense of touch lends information about the objects themselves as well as our perceived relation with where they exist within the composition. For example, textural details can be seen in things in the forefront while, objects in the mid and background can be softer and less detailed as they appear further back or deeper into the spatial depth of the composition. Next month, we will look at examples of artwork and how these elements and their definitions work together creating form and with the principles of organization in the creation of compositions.

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