When teaching a student the basics of investigative writing, you start by asking the basic “w” questions: Who? What? When? Where? And why? These are fundamental and act as a great start for fact gathering for the young writer. Likewise, there are seven fundamentals for the young artist to use as a foundation when understanding, discussing or making art. As you wind down the homeschool year, a great way to review some fundamentals of art is by way of these seven art elements. A firm understanding of these seven elements will serve your student well as they discover what makes art pleasing to the senses. Here are the seven art elements and a quick exercise to reinforce comprehension of each one.

Line

A line is a dot that moves in space. The most basic line is one that is drawn, with some type of implement (pencil, pen, marker, crayon, etc.) Lines can have qualities such as thick or thin, etc. The quality of the line matters in what the artist is trying to convey. For an exercise in line, ask your students to make lines across a piece of paper based on a series of words. Provide various tools, like a pen, a thick marker, a brush in paint, a crayon and a piece of chalk. Use at least six different words (i.e., strong, broken, jagged, soft, flowing, angry) and provide time for each word.

A line can also be implied as a result of two shapes coming together, like the edge of a table. Or a line can have dimension, as in sculpture or other 3D forms, such as a branch of a tree making a line in space.

Shape

Most kids know their shapes from the time they are a toddler. A shape is an enclosed space, and there are two categories of shapes: geometric and organic. Geometric shapes include the circle, square, rectangle, triangle, oval, diamond, and all the various polygons. Organic shapes are those that are not geometric and come from life (pear, egg, leaf) and usually are free form. Think of a cloud; that is an organic shape. Line and shape together make up the most basic aspects of drawing. Learning to see things in terms of shape helps young artists increase their skills at observation.

Space

When an artist thinks of space as an art element, he or she is talking about how the area of the artwork is used (like the space on a canvas) as well as how to depict depth in space. Drawings on a flat surface are an illusion; depth in space is created by several things the artist can do to create that illusion. Overlap is one. Size and scale of objects is another (objects in the distance appear smaller).

Value

Value is the light and dark found in a piece of art. The lightest possible value is white. The darkest possible value is black. When white is right next to black, the result is considered high contrast. But there are so many shades of grey in between. Using value effectively in a drawing or painting is what makes things look realistic. Colors have value, too. Add white to a pure color, and you get a tint (a light value). A great example is pink. Pink is actually a tint of red. Add black to a color, and you get a shade (a dark value). So maroon is actually a shade of red. Some artists, such as Rembrandt, were expert at exploiting a wide range of values in their work to create dramatic effect.

Ask your student to press hard with a standard pencil and make marks up and down on the paper, starting on the left and moving to the right, gradually decreasing pressure to get lighter and lighter, until at the other edge of the paper, it is barely touching the paper to be the lightest grey possible. What results is a value scale.

Color

Learning the color wheel and the correct placement of colors is a great first step for students to understand color theory. The most basic colors are the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. These colors cannot be made from mixing any colors together. You need these three colors to start. But from these three colors (and black and white) any other color can be made!

The secondary colors are green, orange, and violet. The secondary colors are made by mixing two of the primaries. It is always fun for kids to mix their own paint colors using the primaries, because doing it for themselves helps the concept to stick.

Have your student make a color wheel in the correct order by tracing six circles around the edges of a plain paper plate and filling in with markers, primary colors first, then in between each primary color, the correct secondary color.

Texture

Texture is how something feels or how something looks like it would feel. Utilizing a variety of textures makes an artwork interesting. Learning how to simulate textures with various tools and techniques is a wonderful skill for the young artist. Whether it is drawing fur on a cat, or the shingles on a roof, artists spend considerable time and attention on getting textures just right. Vincent Van Gogh was able to achieve a variety of textures in his pen drawings. The illusion of texture is achieved by varying values.

Ask you student to make a drawing of something with texture, like a cat with fur, a porcupine with quills, or a beach with sand. Anything with a texture will do!

Form

Form is generally thought of as the 3D version of the art element shape. Henry Moore’s sculptures are large curving forms that are polished smooth. Form can also be used to talk about what looks like a three dimensional shape on a two dimensional surface. You can turn a simple shape into the illusion of a form by adding value changes across the surface of the shape. The easiest way to understand this is to turn a circle into a “sphere” by adding tone, shade, and shadow.

In addition to the seven art elements, there are eight art principles (balance, rhythm, contrast, movement, unity, harmony, emphasis, and pattern) which I explore here. But knowing, understanding, and being able to recognize the seven art elements in a piece of art, is a great place to start for any curious student, young or old!

Copyright 2014, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Pat Kneply

Pat has been drawing and painting since she was able to hold a crayon. Pat has a degree in art education, a teaching credential, and has taught art in Pennsylvania and California. Pat lives in a windy part of southern California with her husband and two almost-grown sons.