Visual and Design Vocabulary
Form: The shape, mass, and volume of things aside from their materials.
Two-Dimensional Form: Forms having 2 dimensions, height and width; the flat surface of a drawing or
painting - the picture plane.
Three-Dimensional Form: Forms having 3 dimensions, height, width, and depth; forms in actual space
and in reference to the illusion of mass and volume on a two-dimensional
The Visual Elements: The fundamental visual vocabulary by which all art and design is made.
Line: the fundamental mark used in describing the edges of forms. Lines can be straight, curving, jagged,
broken, or implied.
Value: refers to the degrees of light to dark - white being the lightest value and black the darkest. The term,
lighting refers to the degrees of value being created by one or more particular light source (implied
or actual) such as the sun or a lamp.
Color: the phenomenon of light which creates the visible spectrum helping us to distinguish one form from
another. Color has hue, value, saturation, and temperature.
Value: see above
Saturation: the quality or degree of the color content or chroma from low intensity (neutral)
to high intensity.
Temperature: the apparent degree of warmth or coolness in a color.
Shape: refers to the flat, 2-dimensional aspects of form.
Mass/Volume refers to the 3-dimensional aspects of form (actual or implied). “Mass” usually implies
solid forms and “Volume” usually implies 3D space as in a room.
Space: Space, by its very nature, implies depth or actual proximity between shapes.
Negative Space: The space surrounding a positive shape or form; sometimes referred to as ground, empty space, field, or void.
Positive Space: The shape of a form that serves as a subject in a composition. The relationship
between positive and negative space is sometimes referred to as figure/ground,
figure/field, foreground/background, solid/void, or proximity.
Ambiguous Space: space that is neither clearly positive nor negative but that seems to carry
aspects of both and often depending on the viewer’s point of view.
Linear Perspective: a technique for conveying an illusion of deep space on a flat, two-
dimensional surface. The technique uses precise mathematical concepts and is
based on the illusion that all parallel horizontal edges or lines of forms that are
receding from the viewer's position, seem to converge diagonally toward the
same point in space.
Atmospheric Perspective: a technique for conveying an illusion of deep space on a flat, two-
dimensional surface using various value contrasts where the lowest contrasts
create the deepest space and the highest contrasts, the most shallow.
Color Space: refers to the illusion of space created by color temperature and saturation.
Texture: tactile qualities in a work of art which may be either actual texture caused by the materials or the
way the artist works the materials or it can be visual (implied) texture where the artist uses
materials to mimic or look like the surface of another material.
Time/Motion: the depiction of time in art is used in both actual and illusionistic ways. Time can be
depicted as movement or as a moment stopped.
Principles of Design:
Design Principles have to do with how the visual elements are organized into compositions. Composition is the structure of a work of art as separate from its subject matter and style.
Format: refers to the shape of the outer dimensions of a composition including its orientation.
Unity: is the most important design principle as it refers to how the artist or designer makes us sense that
separate elements belong together in a unified wholeness.
Variety: refers to the relative variety of form, scale, value, color, and texture in a work of art or design.
Balance: refers to the visual 'weight' of a composition that is the result of either a symmetrical,
asymmetrical, or radial arrangement of the visual elements.
Repetition/ Rhythm: refers to the relative repetition and/or variation of visual elements that often leads to
rhythm, visual interest, and control of the viewers eye direction throughout a
Scale/ Proportion: refers to the relative scale or size of one form in relationship to another form.
Contrast: refers to how value or lighting, color saturation, and color temperature are used in contrasting
relationships to create mass or imply space.
Proximity: refers to the relationship between 2 positive forms and the amount of visual tension created in
the negative space.
Directional Forces: refers to how visual elements are arranged to control viewer eye direction.
Emphasis/ Subordination: refers to how the visual elements and design principles are arranged in order
to create an area of emphasis or one or more focal points in a composition.
Simplicity /Complexity: refers to the relative complexity or simplicity of a composition.
Relationship to the Environment: a final consideration to design principles should be how a work of art
is perceived in relationship to the actual space or environment in which it may be an integral part
such as a mural painted on a specific wall in a specific location or an outdoor sculpture designed for
a specific location.