Compose with Elements & Principles of Art


In most works of art the composition – arrangement of the art elements line, shape, color, texture, and value – is informal, or asymmetrical. We do not see a pattern or radial design. And yet, the composition seems to be balanced and pleasing. Artists balance their compositions by instinctively adjusting the placement of each art element.

Patricia A. Renick, Garden Dancers, 1995. Welded steel painted black. Courtesy of the artist


Analyze a Composition

A guided discussion of a nonobjective work of art can help students understand the kinds of judgments artists make as they create. In order to describe the differences and similarities among lines, shapes, textures, colors and values, children and teachers alike must use descriptive adjectives and adverbs to describe the positions, directions, subtleties and effects of the art elements they see.

Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled (Drawing for “Diagram 17”), 1925. Black ink on ivory paper. Courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA. C2005 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris

Initiate a discussion by asking questions such as the following:

  • Can you point out and describe the lines that you see in this drawing?
  • What lines and shapes repeat? What effect does this have? (Repetitions are pleasing and tend to unify a composition. They can be a pathway through a work of art.)
  • Can you describe the ways in which the repeated lines and shapes differ from each other? (length, direction, thickness, solid, open…)
  • Why do you think the artist made them different? (Differences create contrast and variety, making compositions more interesting .)
  • Are there any lines that do not repeat?

*The artist who created this carefully balanced composition is credited with inventing a revolutionary new form of art known as nonobjective art. Nonobjective art is an arrangement of pure lines and shapes that have no recognizable subject matter. Kandinsky believed that lines, shapes , and other elements of art could be used as symbols to communicate.


Time to Practice

Practice using the line printing tools to break up and design the space of the paper. (no paint at first) Play with composition. Depending on the age and experience of your students, decide how many line tools to offer and when to offer them. It often works best to offer them one at a time. This is a good time to practice with the curved line tools.

What unusual lines and shapes can you create by connecting?


Share & Reflect

By Jake, age 6

Rabbit by Naomi, age 9

You will probably notice that children have created both nonobjective (nonrepresentational) and realistic compositions. Invite children to tell what gave them the idea for the composition.

Notice or have students point out interesting lines, shapes and ways of using the tools. You might consider having children demonstrate strategies for creating particularly unusual lines, shapes and effects.

Have students discuss ways in which they balanced their compositions. It is helpful to use the organizing principles as a reference.

Variations & Extensions