Monday, February 6, 2023

The Seven Elements of Design

There are seven elements of design, considered to be the building blocks that all modes of art are based. The seven elements are Line, Shape, Form, Space, Texture, Value and Color. If you are an art student, you should look for these elements when designing your artwork. If you are an appreciator of art, you should seek these elements when you observe art.


Lines are points in space where the length is greater than the width. They mark the distance between two points and can be straight or curved. In visual art, lines don't only need to be made with marks and outlines, but can also be implied or abstract. They can be used to create shape and form, as well as give a sense of depth and structure. Lines are the foundation of drawing and stand alone as a powerful visual tool. Depending on the types of lines—continuous, broken, vertical, jagged, horizontal—you can drastically change the feeling of an artwork.


Shape is the result of closed, two-dimensional flat lines. They can be geometric, such as squares or triangles, or they can be organic, have no defined parameters and are more curved and abstract. Shapes in art can be used to control how the viewer perceives a piece. For instance, triangles can help draw the eye to a particular point, while circles represent continuity.


When a shape acquires depth and becomes three-dimensional, then it takes on form. Cylinders, pyramids, and spheres are some of the more common forms, though they can also be amorphous. In sculpture, form is of the utmost importance, though it can easily be introduced into drawing and painting using 3D art techniques.


pace can be manipulated based on how an artist places lines, shapes, forms, and color. Space can be either positive or negative. Positive space is an area occupied by an object or form, while negative space is an area that runs between, through, around, or within objects. Artists often think about the foreground, middle ground, and background of their artwork, purposefully placing shapes and lines throughout the space to achieve the perfect composition.


Texture is how an object looks or feels. Sometimes texture is tangible, such as in sculpture. It also can be implied, as for example a sketch of the fur on an animal. Smooth, rough, hard, soft, furry, fluffy, and bumpy are just some different textures that evoke different responses.


Value is the lightness or darkness in color. The lightest value is white and the darkest value is black. The difference between values is contrast. The lightest value is white and the darkest value is black, with the difference between them defined as the contrast. Playing with value can not only change certain forms, but also influence the mood of the artwork.

Value is so important that the Italians created a term—chiaroscuro—that specifically refers to the use of light and dark in a piece of art. Photographer Ansel Adams is an example of an artist who expertly used value to his advantage by using areas of contrast to create interest in his landscape photography.


By working with hue, value, and intensity—three building blocks of colors—artists can tap into a wide range of emotions. There's nothing that changes an artwork's emotional impact more than color. Masters like Van Gogh, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec all expertly manipulated color in their art to provoke different feelings. Color can be used symbolically or to create a pattern. It can be selected for contrast or to set a specific mood.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Snow: Winter’s Whipped Cream

I love to paint snow scenes. Snow makes an otherwise monotonous winter landscape come alive. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a snow-covered bank on a meandering stream on a bright sunny day. It’s like putting whipped cream on an otherwise ordinary piece of pie!

Now don’t get me wrong, going out and painting plein air in frigid conditions is not exactly fun, but I’ve learned to gear up properly and I don’t waste any time when I’m out standing in snow and ice in thirty-degree weather. I usually prep my canvas and lay out my palette with paint in the comfort of my warm home.

A Bend in the River

Gearing Up

For clothing, I bring my blizzard boots, the tall ones with two-inch soles that look like hand-me-downs from Frankenstein. I also wear long johns under my sweat pants and my long, quilted paint-stained hooded coat and hat. My only concession is that I’m limited on how warm I can keep my hands, so even with thin cotton gloves covered by nylon gloves, they do go numb after a while. I figure it’s an incentive to work fast and have a good plan. I do a value drawing, take photos, and then work quickly, laying in the darks and large shapes first, making sure I get the most exciting parts of the scene. I usually spend from two and a half to three hours capturing the highlights and engraving the picture in my memory, then I beat feet to the heat and finish it in my studio.

Tips for Painting Snow

Here are a few things to consider when painting snow scenes:


The shadows and texture of snow can change depending on the weather conditions and time of day. A cloudy day can create a creamy, orangey hue, while a bright sunny day can give off cool blue hues.

Shadows in the snow will have more light within them than typical shadows. Notice how light reflects on tiny peaks and drifts and how foreground shadows can appear very, very blue. You will almost never see pure white in a snowy landscape, but a wide range of different hues and values.
Snow Blanked Field


Keep in mind that snow will absorb or reflect the colors surrounding it. For instance, the shadows in snow will often reflect what it happening in the sky.

The Sky

Large areas of snow will reflect the sky if there is nothing else around.
  • If the sky is bright blue, your snow should be a more subdued reflection of that hue.
  • If the sky is gray with clouds, your largest areas of snow will be gray.
  • If it is dusk, your snow may appear pink and purple in reflection of the fading winter sunset.

Winter Marsh at Town Field


White tends to appear warmer as it recedes, so incorporate yellows and pinks into your snow as it travels into the distances towards the horizon.

Return to purple and blue shadows in the farthest distance.

In the foreground, the closer whites will require blue hues. The middle ground in a snowy landscape tends to have a purplish hue; shadows also tend to appear blueish and purple.

Brightening Whites

Use a tiny dot of Cadmium Orange to make the snow appear whiter. A very tiny dot. Small specks of orange, placed in the right area or areas can really make the white pop. Using orange tints in your trees or other plants, as well as dark blue accents, can also make the snow look whiter relative to those hues.

“A color will frequently generate its own complement. In the winter, if there is a greenish sky, the snow will look pink and its shadows will appear blue-green.”                       - Emile A Gruppé

Monday, August 8, 2022

Our Feathered Friends

One of the most popular subjects in oil painting is that of a warm-blooded vertebra covered with feathers and usually sporting a beak. Also known collectively as birds, these interesting feathered creatures range in all manner of variety and size from exotic South American and African showstoppers to swamp creatures with large feathery combs and long spindly legs, to proud strutting peacocks and honking geese and graceful swans, to the more commonly spotted sea birds, chickens and roosters, and the endless variety of songbirds that visit our feeders every winter. I’ve painted a number of them over the years and still enjoy seeing them come to life on my canvas.

I’ve also taught several workshops on painting different species of birds over the years. Some considerations when painting birds include:
  1. Start loose, cover large shapes and then refine.
  2. Alternate your colors, tones, and values to create an engaging contrast on the surface.
  3. Make sure that your strokes move in the direction that your feathers lay. Layering is key here to get an effective feather look.
  4. Choose a complementary background.
Cardinal in Snow
Proud Rooster
House Finch in Verbena Bush

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Drawing the Adult Head

Drawing and painting an adult portrait can be daunting at first, but it need not be. If you understand proportions, you can begin to get a good idea of where to place facial features.

One of the easiest ways to figure out the proportion of a face’s features is to begin with a basic egg shape and divide it into thirds, starting at the hairline and ending at the chin. The top third will fall between the hairline and just below the center of the eyes.

A third of the way down from the eyes is the bottom of the nose, which lies halfway between the eyes and the chin. The bottom third is the area between the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin.

Dividing further, the bottom of the lip lies approximately halfway between the bottom of the nose and the chin. The length of the ears extends from brow line to bottom of the nose.

Looking straight at the face, if you draw a line straight down from the middle of the eye, you will touch the edge of the lips. There is one eye width between the eyes, with the head being approximately five eyes wide. If you draw a line straight down from the tear ducts, you will touch the outer edge of the nose.

In profile, the head fits a square. If you draw a horizontal line through the halfway point of your square, it will pass through the lower part of the eye, while a vertical drawn through the halfway point will pass directly in front of the ear.

Not all heads are the same, and head shapes and sizes vary with age. Use these measurements merely as points of reference to compare to your model and make adjustments where necessary. For example, your model may have a high forehead or a wider jaw.



“The reason some portraits don't look true to life is that some people make no effort to resemble their pictures."

-       Salvador Dali

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Bones and Muscles: The Foundation of the Human Body

To continue on the subject of anatomy, we’ll compare the male and female skeleton and muscles of the human body. Most artists will eventually be challenged with drawing a human figure or portrait. Figures are added to landscapes to depict daily life, record events in history, display symbols of religious faith, and to simply make a statement. Well before photography became popular, portraits provided a historic record and a status symbol of a person’s worth. Then as today, a well-done portrait captures the personality of the subject. As an artist, it’s important to understand the underlying structure of the body and its proportions before you tackle figure or portrait drawing or painting. When you gain this understanding, you will have a strong foundation that will look original, natural and convincing.

The Human Body

Capable of performing all types of tasks, flexible and strong, renewable, and self-governing, the human body has the resilience that is unmatched by any manmade machine. Cartilage and muscles are the glue that hold bones together and upright and aid in movement, with the bones bearing a body’s weight and acting as protectors for the eyes, brain, inner throat, heart, lungs and other organs.

Differences Between Male and Female Skeletons

Though men and women share a few structural similarities such as bone types and muscular shapes, there are quite a few differences.

The male skeleton’s shoulders are set wider while their hips are narrower. The jaw is more prominent than a female’s, and the neck thicker. The arm muscles in the male are larger and more evident than a female’s muscle structure. The hands are larger, the muscles and bone structure of the fingers more prominent.


The wider hips, longer waistline, lower and larger buttocks, along with more defined thighs and a wider pelvis of the female are designed to support the extra weight of carrying a child. Other than the thighs and buttocks, the female’s muscles are generally less noticeable. Additional shapely differences between a female and male body, besides the obvious ones such as hair and breasts, are the female’s thighs, which are flatter and wider, and the female’s feet, calves, ankles and wrists, which are smaller and more delicate.

Abstract drawing of the proportions of an ideal female figure.


When drawing the male figure, the ideal proportions are at least eight heads tall, with the navel and the elbow landing on the fifth head position. The waist is slightly wider than one head unit, and the space between the nipples is one head. The male figure is two and a third head units wide. The ideal proportions for the female figure are from seven and a half to eight heads, with the navel falling below the fifth head slightly, and the breast nipples centering at the sixth head. The waistline is one head unit wide, and the wrists are even with the crotch. The width of the female figure is two heads.

“It is impossible to draw the clothed or draped figure without a knowledge of the structure and form of the figure underneath. The artist who cannot put the figure together properly does not have one chance in a thousand of success-either as a figure draftsman or as a painter.”

- Andrew Loomis

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Women in Art: Why Biases Still Exist

Women today enjoy a lot more freedom to choose a profession and obtain education. Art professions are now open to both men and women, and women’s art has gained in stature, albeit slowly. For centuries, women were discouraged from becoming artists, and unlike men who studied art, their instruction was restricted until the late 19th century.

Social Barriers

In France, women were banned from receiving free training at the state-sponsored École des Beaux-Arts until 1897. Up until that time, women turned to the studios of established artists or to private academies, often at the cost of inferior instruction at much greater expense.

Women artists were not allowed to attend life drawing classes until the late 1800s. Without access to nude models, female artists could not receive the training necessary for the production of “important” works of art. As a result, women artists were virtually excluded from state commissions and purchases as well as from participation in official competitions such as the coveted Prix de Rome, a prestigious scholarship offered to history painters for continued study at the French Academy in Rome. To make a living as an artist, many women turned to lesser sought subjects including portraiture, genre painting, landscape, and still life.

Furthermore, it was considered degrading to one’s class if a woman aspired to become an artist, with many claiming that the profession detracted from their roles as wives and mothers. In a letter to the mother of Edma and Berthe Morisot, their private art instructor expressed the implications of the two girls’ burgeoning talents: “Considering the characters of your daughters, my teaching will not endow them with minor drawing room accomplishments, they will become painters. Do you realize what this means? In the upper-class milieu to which you belong, this will be revolutionary, I might say almost catastrophic.”

In general, the most successful female artists of the nineteenth century, such as Rosa Bonheur and the Americans Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, remained unmarried. And, as if staying single weren’t enough, those women artists who became successful were usually associated in some way with male artists as pupils, models or offspring.

The Turning Point

The slow rise of acceptance of women in the art world paralleled the activism of the women’s suffrage movement beginning in the late 1800s, the introduction of women in the traditionally male dominated workplace during WWII, and in the 1970s, the support of the Equal Rights Amendment and the introduction of birth control.

Still, there remains disparities in representation and income. Today only a few works by female artists enjoy representation in major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe. At major auctions, women’s artworks sell for a significant discount compared with men’s artwork. In fact, only two works by women have ever broken into the top 100 auction sales for paintings, despite women being the subject matter for approximately half of the top 25.

Why this inequality persists today is hard to discern. Differences in gallery representation; the cultural biases of art interpretation; the cliché of the art world “bad boy”; the sexism of aging; the imbalanced weight of parenthood; the proportion of curators, collectors, and gallery representatives who are female; and the lack of assertiveness among female artists have all been proposed as hypothetical causes.

Artists pictured, Top to bottom: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Augusta Savage, and Frida Kahlo.

“I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Paintbox: Ultramarine Blue

In London’s National Gallery is an unfinished oil on wood panel, The Entombment, by Michelangelo. Many of the unfinished parts of the painting, such as the cloak of the missing Virgin, would have required quantities of the expensive blue pigment ultramarine made from powdered lapis lazuli, the only blue worthy of the Virgin Mary’s robe.

It’s possible that lapis lazuli was in short supply and had not arrived from his patron, which could explain why the painting was not completed before Michelangelo’s departure from Rome to Florence in 1501.

Definition and Composition

Cennino Cennini said of ultramarine in his Book of Arts in 1400, “A noble color, beautiful, the most perfect of all colors.”

Ultramarine is a deep blue pigment, originally made by grinding lapis lazuli into a powder. The name is Latin for ultramrinus, meaning “beyond the sea.”

Lapis lazuli is a mixture of the minerals calcite, sodalite, pyrite, and lazurite. Finer grades contain more sulphur, which produces a violet color, while inferior grades contain more calcium carbonate, giving it a grayish tone. The impurities are removed in the processing to produce the pigment. 


 Between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries, the main west-east axis, the Silk Road, brought Asian materials, including silk, inventions and art to Europe. The Silk Road consisted of land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe. Mediterranean trade between the Middle East and North Africa and Europe in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries was conducted largely by Italian and Greek maritime republics.

During this period, Italian traders introduced lapis lazuli to Europe from Afghanistan, most notably, from ancient mines in Sar-e-sang, the “Place of the Stone,” a settlement in the Kuran Wa Munjan District of Badakhshan Province. Today, it can be found in other locations including Asia, America, Chile, Zambia, and Siberia but only a couple of Afghan mines produce the highest grade (a very deep purplish blue) of this unique stone. In 1826, French chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet created a synthetic version of ultramarine by heating kaolinite, sodium carbonate and sulfur. The result was a more vivid color and less expensive to produce than traditional ultramarine. The new color was named French Ultramarine.