How Everything Works

Nature –  The Ultimate Creator – Pure Creative Energy – The Universe – God – Whatever Name you use to call upon the First and Last, The Alpha and The Omega of Creation – (Who speaks to us in whatever language we will listen) supplies us with a universe of examples for the process of creation – How Everything Works.

Throughout the history of artistic expression, humanity has observed those “guidelines” in Nature, studied them and organized them so that we may be more conscious of them as we create.  I believe that this has come about because most of us, as we experience life, have lost the confidence we had as children in our ability to express our unique individual creativity.  We want someone to teach us – to tell us what the rules are – so that we don’t “get it wrong” or “make mistakes.”  So those who were called upon to be teachers put the “rules” into words.  I learned them in a Design class as: The Elements and Principles of Design.  If you research this term, you will find some variations where the basic ones that I learned have been broken down into their sub-parts, but still they are all the same and exist in all aspects of nature from the atomic particles to the cosmos.

When I learned the “Elements and Principles of Design” I memorized them as facts to remember for a test so that I could pass the course.  It was not until I taught them myself that I began to understand them, and not until I began my daily practice of creating was I able to remember them as an inherent part of my makeup as a Creation of the Ultimate Creator.  In other words, we were all born with this knowledge and it will return to our conscious memory with practice.

As a Teacher, here I present to you the ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN in their clinical definitions, as I learned them.  As a teacher, I ask you to read them, then look for them in all of nature, in works of art,  and in everything around you that has ever been created until you understand that you already know them on an instinctive level. Then return to your daily art practice and watch for them to appear on their own in your creative endeavors.  They will be there without any effort other than awareness on your part and then you will remember where they came from – the Creation of your own individual, unique personality.  There never has been and never will be another exactly like you.  It is your Purpose in Life to express that uniqueness through your own creativity in whatever medium you are led to and most important in creating your own life.  Following it will reveal to you the depth of your own Being. You cannot remember these things by copying another artist, or having someone teach you.  A teacher can only help you remember, or train you to imitate what they do.  You must re-discover it through your own creative expression.

THE ELEMENTS OF DESIGN: The components of a design – any design that exists in Nature or is man-made is made up of the Elements of Design: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Texture. Some teachers have added Space and Value – which I consider to be parts of other elements.  The elements are components or parts which can be isolated and defined in any visual design or work of art.

Lines are joined to create shapes. Shapes can be made to represent forms through the tools of shading and perspective.  Forms are given additional dimension with the addition of color, value, space and texture.

“The elements of design can be thought of as the things that make up a painting, drawing, design etc. Good or bad – all paintings will contain most of if not all, the seven elements of design.” ~John Lovett

  • LINE:  
    • Here are some dictionary definitions:  (1) “A long narrow mark on a surface;”   (2) “A long thin mark made by a pen, pencil, etc. (3)  In geometry a line: • is straight (no curves), • has no thickness, and. • extends in both directions without end (infinitely);” “a mark connecting two points”
    • My Definition: Line is a device used to separate one space from another.  It shows where one object or space that we see begins and another one ends.  A painter or graphic artist uses line to define a shape – to create an illusion of shape and form on a surface.  We also use it to show movement or direction. When we study nature, and attempt to express what we see on a canvas or paper we will see lines that separate the trunk of the tree from the space around it.  There is no thickness to the line – it is only a visual separation. Lines can be straight or curved or any of the variations shown here:lineLineTypes
  • SHAPE:  
    • Dictionary definition: (1 )the quality of a distinct object or body in having an external surface or outline of specific form or figure. (2) outward appearance :  the form or outline of something the shape of a pear, circles, squares, and other shapes.
    • My Definition:  A shape is formed when lines come together to enclose a space. There are three basic shapes that make up everything we see.  These basic shapes can be stretched or distorted or combined to create other shapes.
    • The basic shapes are circle, triangle, and square (rectangle).  All other shapes are variations or combinations of these 3 basic shapes.

Circle.  The circle is the dominant shape that exists in nature.  With practice you will begin to see circles everywhere.  Circles can be elongated to make ovals or stretched or distorted and when seen from an angle forms an ellipses but when a space is enclosed by a curved line it’s basic shape is the circle.


  • Triangle 
    • Dictionary Definition: a plane figure with three straight sides and three angles.
    • My Definition: When 3 straight lines are joined together to enclose a space, whether they are equal in length or of different lengths, a triangle is formed. Triangles exist in nature, but always in variations.  A true triangle will not be found in nature, but it helps to be able to find them as a basic shape when drawing, especially in man-made structures or combined with other shapes.E4TotpXn1uUbP6VHNcvzK2VU


  • Square
    • Dictionary definition: a plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles.
    • My Definition:  An absolute square does not exist in nature.  A variation of the square is the rectangle which has 2 sets of equal straight sides and four right angles.  Variations of the square exist in nature but actual squares are constructs of humans.  Being able to identify squares and rectangles with their variations is helpful when composing a drawing.
    • nature_pattern_3_s&s

We have briefly discussed the elements of Line and Shape.  But the best way to understand something is to experiment with it.


Try this:

Use a sketch pad that is easy to manage (8″ x 10″ is a good size – it’s small enough to carry around easily and large enough so you don’t feel so confined)  Start with a pencil – a regular 2b will be fine.

Gift (yes, Gift) yourself a minimum of ten minutes EVERY DAY solely for the practice of making art.  While you’re having your morning coffee or before you fall asleep at night, or any time you feel you can commit to. Soon it will become part of your daily life – making art every day.  Here are some challenges to get you started.

1st Challenge:  The Element of Line

Spend the first 10 minutes (or more if you can) to experiment with lines.  Draw straight lines, curvy lines, vertical lines, horizontal, diagonal,  – as many kinds of lines as will flow from your pencil.  Experiment with pressure on the pencil to vary the darkness and lightness of the lines.  Look for patterns, places to repeat lines and look for directions.  Try not to think about it too much, but let your intuition guide you.  The challenge is to keep it all lines – remember that when you connect lines to form shapes, you are changing the concept of this challenge.

2nd Challenge:  The Element of Shape

Pick a shape – circle, square or rectangle, or triangle.  Cut variations of the shape you choose from a sheet of colored paper.  It can be construction paper, wrapping paper, anything that contrasts with your sketch pad page.  Spend some time just laying the shapes on the page, arranging them in a way that pleases you,  When you have a design that you like you can glue them down or photograph it and then make another arrangement.

Variations on this challenge:

Try using more than one color, but stay with the same basic shape.

Try using more than one basic shape, first in one color, then with more.

Come up with your own variations, experimenting with arranging basic shapes.


Next time we’ll talk about the Element of Form.




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