An elemental workshop.

Artwork can be anything from simple to controversial – anyone to look upon a picture will feel a certain way, and one could say “personal preferences” determine reactions, yet what does the artwork express itself?

Table of Contents:
Part I – Introduction to the elements. <- You're reading now.
Intermission A – Identifying anime as an art.
Part II – Introduction to the principles.

Learning To Read

There’s a difference between staring at words, and reading.

The greatest mistake in art is to take the aesthetics at face value – by looking at an artwork, one can of course formulate whatever opinion they so desire, based on whatever factors they may use, consciously or otherwise, to establish such an opinion.

However, rarely will one attempt to read an artwork based on its actual properties – or in other words, rather than attempt to say an artwork makes you feel a certain way, attempt to comprehend what the artwork itself is trying to say. And that’s unfortunately as many simply don’t know how – or haven’t the subconscious for it.

When studying an image, it is a fatal flaw to assume meaning can be derived from subject matter alone – yet that is what is most commonly done. Upon being met with an artwork, one will most most typically give only a brief second to pull conclusions based off general facets as medium, the contents of the piece, and whether it appears “new” or “old” – and then simply spiral off into admiration or disgust of the subject matter.

This fails in that one is neither studying the application, the artist’s usage of material on canvas, nor the true characteristics of the work – and that means one will also not understand the artist’s purpose, reasoning, or intentions.

To effectively scope an artwork for meaning, one will need to understand what makes it – much like they know the alphabet, and thus are able to read and recognize words.

The Elements Of Art

A picture says a thousand words, if not more, and to get that story, one must analyze the piece for its compositional qualities. They’re akin to pieces of evidence a detective would use to conjure up an anecdote – or context clues in an exposition which further tell a part of the plot otherwise inexplicit.

For identifying such, one looks to the seven elements of art – to list them out, they’d merely be a scary list of words with little worth, and so we must acquaint ourselves with them individually, subsequently building an understanding of them, as well as how they interact to make a finalized piece.

1.) Texture

Texture is a surface quality which one can see or feel – for example, when looking at a towel, one can see many miniature strands of fiber batched together like a thicket, and from that sight, one will already have in mind an understanding of how that towel may feel if touched. Always keep in mind however, the elements are interdependent – and texture relies on shadow, hard shadow results in hard texture, and vice versa.

If one wanted to sketch a fluffy towel, they’d not want to grind heavy shadow into their paper – however if they did, they could turn whatever sight into one far more stale than it’d typically be.

Tissues of the industrial age.

Now if one comes across a piece with hard texture, such as the tissues of steel above, it becomes only logical to deduce further from there – an artist decided to portray a soft subject matter, tissues, under hard themes. This facet speaks of the artist’s personality – and here is where one should start to contemplate further meaning. Of course however, there’s more to it than merely that.

Texture provides a sensory perception for the physical items or surroundings – and those in turn can relay further specifics or emotions. As aforementioned, the elements are interdependent, and it is crucial to constantly consider how they act with one another.

Wood is a natural texture – and as seen in this marvelous work, it is implemented as the background.

Being a natural component of the environment, wood gives a gentle and relaxed feeling – this is also why wood floors are revered, the texture they behold is much beloved due to the fact the eye is eased by them. Notice how the context of the texture is taken into account – as well as its origins. And not forgetting the other aspects of the artwork, which are also natural, such as the butterflies, and beautiful flora, one can ascertain the artwork’s intended vibe.

It’s worth mentioning, her hair is also a texture – however a lacking one as it mainly depends on lighting over lines to define strands, yet in this is how artistic style is achieved. There’s no “wrong” or “right” in aesthetics – only differences, compare the hair of the girl above to mane of the female below, also note the emphasis of a popularly used, oft-seen, and highly attractive texture, fabric:

A predominance of cloth and fabric textures

2.) Value

In the above tissue box example, the texture depended heavily on the shadow – the shadow was strict and dark, and so the tissues came out to be stainless steel in appearance. Value is the usage of shades and highlights, or darks and lights, within an art piece. It is perhaps the most integral of the elements in that light is the very source of sight – value is closely conjoined with color.

Manipulating light can achieve many effects – and of course, a more realistic representation will result in realism, whereas anything else could be viewed more artificial. Imagine a switch like that of a radio – light can be tuned to many different degrees, and depending on what the artist ultimately employs, it will have an impact on the overall atmosphere and relevant details.

Dark colors suggest a lack of light – as in a scene taking place at night or within an interior. They also convey a sense of mystery or foreboding, grisly things to come – whereas lighter hues have the opposite effect, referencing a source, or a point, of light being reflected or emanated.

A flood of intense white light acts on the scene.

Predominance of light in this piece above suggests the scene is basked in the sun – the background consists of a pattern, light, and color combination made to imply a series of glass panels. One can see how, moving from right to left, the panels are gradually more engulfed in light till a sudden intense white – and this shows the radiance of the sun, the time of day, and also defines the mood of the scene.

Light is there, but see that it lacks color in favor of white – thereby giving a serene vibe as its been utilized for elegant patterns. Notice how the female is shaded darker, as are her surroundings, and this is what distinguishes them in the scene. Also, the transition of light across the female’s body shows what position she’s facing – giving her ravishing figure depth, and allowing us to understand where she’s looking.

3.) Line

A line is an identifiable path spanning across two points of the image, with its purpose most commonly being to define a shape, form, or polygon of some sort. Lines can vary in length, thickness, and direction – and they serve as the main communicator with the onlooker, guiding the eye around the composition, and even being capable of relaying information, words, arrows, and other symbols for instance.

The line directions vary with her expressions and actions.

In the example above, one can see how an aggregate of lines come together to shape a cute little Black Rock Shooter – the lines are diverse, and their movement depends on what they are attempting to represent. Looking at the last pair of sketches, and focusing on the one to the left, observe how her twintails are long, relaxed, and gently flow with curves, giving a free-flowing sense of movement – whereas the hair directly atop her scalp consists of shorter, more bunched up and quickly drawn lines, offering a more compressed, restricted feeling.

Each set of lines says something different, yet important in defining the image as a whole.

4.) Shape

Shape is the utilization of second dimensional space to define either a polygon, which is one’s typical assortment of circles, squares, triangles, and so on – or an “organic” figure, such as those of objects, like an instrument, or a humanoid. While the other elements of art interact to achieve different effects, shape is exclusively defined through them. In other words, one cannot have shape without the remaining six elements of art – however, the remaining six can exist without shape.

Curved shapes are attractive by nature.

Eyes observing the above, as if one hasn’t already had their attention stolen away, one can see how the shape of the female is defined – she’s an hourglass figure, sectioned by color. The different components of her attire are all shapes – and as result of the hues they boast, they gain definition. And likewise, the separate parts of the artwork, the girl, the floor, the instrument case in hand, are each visibly characterized – distinguished as individual fragments of 2-D space with their own shadow, color, and role.

5.) Form

Form is the subsequent result of several shapes – when shapes combine to have depth, width, and height, they achieve form. The shape of the blouse worn by the musician above, alongside the shape of her leggings, hands, upper body, and etc, all collectively make a single element of form, a female. Depending on how elaborate a form is, or the other factors acting on it, like shadow, it could in turn instigate a variety of intended feelings.

6.) Space

A large distance of land stuffed with many elements shows a lively affair.

Space is highly self-explanatory – it’s a plane of distance between the edges of objects in the artwork. “Negative space” allows one to distinguish between different visual components – whereas “positive space” is space filled with content. Usage of space has drastic impact on an artwork – a cluttered piece with little negative, or empty space visible, may feel lively or abstract, however the opposite could be the case in a contrasting scenario.

7.) Color

Color wheel with primaries and secondaries highlighted

Color is the most comprehensive of the elements.

It regards the usage of hue, and that in fact is a subject worth examination on its own. However, the basics of color are that there are three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, which in turn mix to make secondary colors, orange, green, and violet – and those then allow for the creation of tertiary colors, that being basically everything in between, exotic flavors which one will soon see as we continue along.

One must know that color goes hand-in-hand with value – shadow can effect the shade, tint, or tone of a color. It is value, when used in conjunction with a hue, that results in a certain emotion being expressed. Color is also ineffective if used haphazardly. As mixing hues achieves other hues, failure to utilize them properly can result in an unaesthetically pleasing mess – yet that’s another matter in itself.

What one needs to know in respect to color is how to identify color schemes – and the color wheel helps greatly with this. Never for a second think that a color wheel is a child’s tool – as even if you’ve seen it in kindergarten, unfortunately, you likely are as knowledgeable about it now as you were then.

Several color schemes exist, and these are specific color combinations – each of which can display a different set of emotions. Certain color schemes can be more easily understood – e.g., a “warm” color scheme consists of the hues one would expect, summer colors like red, orange, and yellow, and as one would never imagine, they could portray a scene like summer. And in a summer scene, one could then subsequently pull more emotions from what summer means, and how it is showcased in the art.

That’s merely a common example however – the artist below took a warm color scheme to winter themes:

Warm color scheme with neutral tones

The girl sports a scarf, jacket, and despite the odd situation of color, she smiles – the sky is grey, looking as if preparing to rain in the distance, yet the dark clouds are in the bottom half of the composition. The storm has passed – and now, all is well. With the creeping lighter values off to the sides of her person – the brilliant sun of summer could be approaching.

Now obviously, a “cool” color scheme utilizes winter hues – namely blue, violet, and green.

Cool color scheme

There’s also a few more advanced color schemes – they’re more complex in that while it’s easy to slap several colors on a canvas, to implement these meaningfully within a composition is more of a challenge, as is being able to read them for purpose, emotion, and relevance to other aspects of the artwork.

Monochromatic color scheme of red and pink

“Monochromatic” is usage of a single hue – if an art piece takes advantage of only one color, and its tint or shade variants, for instance red and pink, then it is monochromatic. On the other hand, “achromatic” refers to the entire absence of color – a black and white image.

Achromatic color scheme

“Analogous” colors are those right beside one another on the color wheel – one example would be orange, orange red, red, violet, and blue – however, there should still be a single main hue which resides above all for a strong focal point. This scheme is incredibly pleasing a sight, and easy to remember – it’s also often present in nature, a sky at sunset couldn’t be without one.

Analogous color scheme transitioning between green, blue, violet, red, and orange

“Complementary” colors are colors directly across from one another on the color wheel – orange and blue make a pair, and yellow with violet makes another. A notable feature of this color scheme is the stark contrast it provides – and it is quite effective at getting a point across since of course, certain features would stand out unmistakably.

Blue ensemble complements orange background.

And lastly, there comes “triad” – which as some may correctly insinuate from the name, involves what is essentially a triangle of colors on the color wheel. Red, blue, and yellow would be one example of such. This scheme never ceases to be spectacular in appearance, yet its usage is perhaps the most rare as it doesn’t generally represent any organic or common sights – it’s mainly an abstract route of diversion.

A triad color scheme of red, blue, and yellow amongst other schemes of the color wheel.

A few more schemes exist, such as “split-complementary” or “split-analogous” – yet those are merely off-shoots of the above, and so long as one can recognize these, they can easily develop a knack for figuring how certain artists alter color schemes to suit their specific tastes.

Elements And Principles

One should now have a working knowledge of elements which make an artwork – by breaking an image down into these components, one can obtain almost every drop of possible connotation. However, it should be kept in mind that the elements of art are more so the “tools of the trade” – the technique lies in the “principles of design”.

It’s integral to know how a chainsaw works before you pull the cord and let it fly.

Selected Further Studies:

1.) Anime Girls Are Sexier With Depth – application and effects of depth.
2.) Vofan Does More Than Nisemonogatari – Vofan’s intricate style and shape emphasis.
3.) Kantoku = Master Of Loli Artwork – elaborate value and hue usage of Kantoku.
4.) Elemental Eyecandy Of “Another” Anime – art as it impacts an episode of anime.
5.) Lust Provoking Girls In Kimonos Gallery – backgrounds reacting on the focal point.


  • songz says:

    Wow, this was a great read. I liked that you added an example picture for each type of element. But alas, I’m not art savvy enough to dive any further, other than praising this article.

    • Seven says:

      Thanks for the complements – I’m sure you can succeed in learning a lot about the arts, naturally savvy or not, anyone with a deep respect for it should be able.

      I love to recommend GA Art Design in situations as this – it’s not only a splendid anime all around, yet it legitimately will acquaint you with a few basics of art and design. It’s certainly a wonderful learning method for starters.

  • kamihimmel says:

    impressive article.Aesthetic in 2DM is a nice aspect.But without professional or expertise in aesthetic and designing,we can only dip into this topic but cant dig into it.

    • Hawkward says:

      There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as some people might say.
      The same can be said here, I learnt about the basics of photography before, which covered the essentials of a shot, such as framing, composition, lighting and focus. Art appreciation something that almost everyone can learn about, and doing so really helps you to spot the more intricate details within an image, as well as the meanings behind those.

      Personally, I’m the sort that is interested in all types of the Media spectrum, from music and film productions, to art and photography. And I also feel everyone should have one of these creative interests, as while they’re common hobbies, they can be extremely beneficial skills in a huge array of ways.

      As you said, to proper dig into a topic of this sort, you may need a professional, but don’t think Seven’s trying to train artists here, but rather spread interest, and at least change to some extent how people judge an image, as many details are left unnoticed many people.

      So far so good Seven, the image on the section about lines was very effective at illustrating the point. In particular the feeling of motion from a few of the poses, all other examples were fantastic as well. My only suggestion would be to link to pixiv accounts if said artist has more work of that particular style.

      Looking forward to any future parts ~

    • Seven says:

      The elements of art apply to all visual media and aesthetics, not merely 2-D design or illustrations – you will see more with the principles of design.

  • Dusk252 says:

    This was a really good read, that’s for sure. I’ve already expressed my admiration for your sharp analysis of artwork more than once here, I believe, and I loved your idea of transmitting at least a bit of the knowledge you use to such effect. I can say I learned quite a bit here, and since this is Part 1, I’ll be looking forward to the rest^^

    • Seven says:

      Great to hear – incidentally, I also look forward to the rest. I’ll enjoy managing to release all of these.

  • triton6783 says:

    Was there ever a part 2?

  • mixedsnack says:

    as expected from Seven! You really have an eye for art. Eagerly waiting for part 2.

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