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 surface.
The Visual Elements:
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 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.
Hue: the characteristic quality of a color that separates it from others, i.e. red, blue, etc.
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.
Space: refers to implied or actual depth.
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, or solid/void.
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.
Oblique and Isometric Perspective: alternative techniques to linear perspective where parallel
edges always remain parallel never moving toward or away from each other.
Color Space: refers to the illusion of space created by color temperature and/or color
saturation (intensity of hue) level.
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 implied 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.
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 composition.
Scale/ Proportion: refers to the relative scale of one form in relationship to another form.
Contrast: refers to how value (dark vs. light), color saturation (intensity vs. neutral), and color
temperature (cool vs. warm) are used in contrasting relationships to create mass or imply
Proximity: refers to the relative visual tensions or release of tension between 2 or more forms.
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.