The elements of design is “what” the artist uses to achieve a good design. The principles of design is “how” the artist uses these elements. The principles or design are unity, balance, rhythm, harmony, emphasis and contrast.
Unity is described as an effect resulting from individual elements of a whole that are in harmony with each other. Moreover, all these elements support the overall design and feel like they belong together. Think of a woman whose makeup, clothing, jewellery, shoes and purse seem like they where made for each other. That’s unity.
Most people find unity pleasing, because it implies order, a sense of organization and structure. To achieve it in your art, you need to select elements of design that belong together.
What gives this picture a feeling of unity? Observe how the light shades of foliages are repeated in the foreground and background. The shade in the foliage in the foreground is repeated to the right of the image on the tree covered mountain. And the water in the foreground reflects the colors of the sky and the mountains in the background. Diagonal shapes are found in the mountains and in the layout of the water and the shrubbery. All of these elements work together to create a sense of unity.
Balance in art is very similar to physical balance. Both imply a state of equilibrium or poise. In art, some combinations of lines, shapes and values are more pleasing are more pleasing than other, because they are balanced. The rules are simple, you want to keep things balanced. In order to achieve balance, you must consider the weight of the elements you have in your composition. The darker a value, the more weight it has. Similarly, the bigger the subject, the more weight it has. If you put to equal size objects at equal distance from the center of a picture, you have balance. If you add some weight to one side, you must compensate for the other. You can either move the the heavier subject closer to the middle or move the lighter object farther from the middle. Also, you can increase size or value to the lighter object so that both are in a state of equilibrium.
Here are some examples:
Rhythm is created by repetition or progression of visual elements, and moves the viewer’s eye in interesting ways. To achieve this effect, you can create progressions in values (from light to dark), in colors (orange to red), or in sizes (small to large).
Harmony can be found in the middle of extremes. As an example, in a work of art, contrasts are desirable. But too much will create discord, and not enough will be monotonous.
In a work of art, emphasis refers to the center of interest. The center of interest can be a color, a shape, an area, or anything else for that matter. Also, it doesn’t have to be in the middle of the picture plane, it can be located anywhere.
Contrast refers to putting together more than one elements that has different properties. To achieve contrast, you can use colors or emphasize an elements in the work of art by varying its size, shape, color or texture.