Formal Elements

The formal elements are used by all artists and by getting to know them, there properties and there uses will allow us as artists to add depth and variety to our work.


A line can be used to outline a shape, create texture and depth, to shade. It is indeed the starting point of the formal elements.

Terry winters takes particular advantage of the use of line as you can see by this example of his work, a very chaotic image created by repeatedly layering lines over lines. In places the lines, created with oil paints, have been layered so much they have created a bock of colour.

This conveyed the chaotic, scrawled look that was suited to the essence of my small crafts company ‘Rough Designs’ and so I  incorporated it’s style into my business logo.

Terry Winters, Internal and External Values


A shape, enclosed by an outline, is created through the use of the other formal elements such as line and tone. Although similar, it differs from form as it is always a 2D image rather then 3D.

Shapes are often a prominent component of traditional African art, whether it’s a part of a mosaic, textile piece or painting. Patterns such as the one shown bellow have become the inspiration for fashion prints in recent years and even spilled over into nail art and other accessories.

Designs like these are actually quite simple but with the use of colour they appear more complex. They remind of the work by Bauhaus artists such a Paul Klee who rely heavily on the use of geometric shapes.

The patterns shown here are something I could see myself using when screen printing allowing me to increase my skill level by experimenting with a variety of colours.


Form uses mass to create a 3D object. This can be done through the use of any combination of materials and not always those which are usually associated with Art.


Tone is created with shading, colour and the contrast of light and dark. With the right level of skill it can be used to create some wonderfully realistic pieces. Here is an example of the incredible work it can help to produce.

Sail away: An elegant ship appears to be sailing through a sea of white paper sheets in one of the artist's creations

Here you can see the artist, Ramon Bruin, has used shading to give the illusion that the image is 3D when in fact it is simply a 2D drawing. Although this is inspirational I could not hope to relate this to my own work as I simply do not have the skills needed.


Space can be made up through positive and negative space, positive being the space that is used and negative the space that is left unused.

An illusion of space can be created through perspective drawing. You can see how effective this can be from the street art pictured bellow where it actually looks as though there is a deep hole going down into the floor.

Streetpainter-Hell_in_London. Click for large version.




Brining The Formal Elements Together

Although most artwork combine a number of the formal elements I felt that this haunting piece by Chiharu entitled ‘Silence’ brings them all together nicely.

It demonstrates the use of form by building a web like sculpture using lines of black thread around a grand piano and chairs.

I found it difficult to stop looking at this piece, from the beginning where the thread rises from the floor, entwined with the objects, all the way up to the top left hand corner and across to the right where it looks like layers of pencil drawn lines.

To me the association of cobwebs create an illusion of age and time and although there is little negative space the empty chairs and unused piano manages to leave the room feeling empty. These things combined gives the piece an edge of sadness.

It creates shapes of triangles as the threads cross over and the change of intensity creates tone.

Although I cannot feel the texture from just seeing a picture I can easily imagine what the threads feel like, this could be altered by how taught they were but in order to create a structure like this they wouldn’t have much slack.

And so that just leaves colour from this particular piece by Chiharu although she has created similar work using red thread.