Art elements - colour - student watercolour spectrum experiment

Exploring Elements of Art with Children

Point, Line, Shape, Form, Space, Colour, Value, Texture

It is important for students and teachers to pay attention to visual features in art.

Building vocabulary and learning to notice then describe and discuss creative processes, we become aware of common elements in visual designs.

As students learn about art elements, they become aware of design decisions made by others, plus they explore choices for creating their own art.

Art elements are the basic features that make up images (such as the shapes or colours). Design principles may guide the way that elements are combined in a composition (to create unity, balance or emphasis, etc. )

The list of art elements varies slightly from one resource to another. These are words we use to help us talk about and understand visual features. Students can understand that our ways of describing might vary. Like all things with art, we are not limited to one way of doing or describing things.  However, there are some fundamentals that help us to clarify and communicate about processes.


The basic art elements are LINE, SHAPE, COLOUR, VALUE (dark/light variations -shading), TEXTURE.

  • We could also start with POINT. As a point moves its path creates a LINE.
  • Along with SHAPE, we need to consider 3-D FORM as well as SPACE.
  • Along with TEXTURE we also often discuss PATTERN

Lesson Planning

In the past, some people have organized entire courses around Art Elements and Principles. This would be a dry and limited approach that is not our interest at all. However, it is important to work with students to help them become aware of design possibilities,  choices and some vocabulary to talk about art.

Introducing the Vocabulary

Creating a visual resource with students creating images to demonstrate the meaning of art elements, can be an effective introductory lesson. We can also reinforce understanding from time to time with warm-up activities and discussions tied in with many types of lessons. Whatever our approach, each lesson can have a clear focus while still offering opportunities for students to create their own creative solutions. Limitations help to create and focus the challenge, but there should always be potential for different solutions allowing individual unique styles and personal variations.

Visual Resource Collection Example

Pastro, H. A., & Mann, L. (2011). Exploring the Elements of Art. In K. Grauer, Starting With . . ., (pp.126-133). Victoria, B.C.: Canadian Society for Education through Art.

ETEP II students were assigned this article for reading this week. It includes an example of an assignment where students create a poster collection.

Art Elements Book Lesson Example

Unified Authentic Student Design

We could create a small sample Art Elements accordion book, inspired by a lesson created by art educator Olivia Gude.  The idea with this lesson is for each child to make a personal art project that provides a relatively quick introduction to Art Elements (and Principles, for older students), leaving time in the rest of the year to focus on varied strategies for art making.  It is a pleasant activity that introduces vocabulary to learn about visual forms for conversations and decisions about art processes.

Gude, O. (n.d.). Elements & Principles Book. Retrieved October 16, 2016, from
From the Spiral Workshops at the University of Illinois in Chicago

Her lesson, linked HERE, is intended for middle and secondary students, so our variation would need to be adapted for a younger age group. Like the posted example, we could invite students to work with a single shape for overall unity, repeated with variations in size and other qualities. For example, the entire book could be made with circles, but some will be smaller, larger, linear, shaded, textured, etc. As another example, to show shape and space, students could cut out the circle(s) and keep the background, thinking about shape/space or positive/negative balance. At the Elementary level, conversations about principles of composition will come up as we go, but for this project our focus would just be on some Art Elements.


Another child-centred way to introduce Art Elements in an Elementary classroom early in the year, could be with a week, or two weeks of activity centres and/or sketch journal challenges. These could be relatively quick playful activities with a mix of individual challenges and collaborative art-making games. We will talk about examples for this approach in class.

An Interesting Note

for teachers considering priorities for arts curriculum:

Principles of Possibility, by Olivia Gude

Understanding art elements and principles is useful, but we are reminded that there are higher priorities once a few basics are introduced. People get most excited by seeing students showing passion for art and personal expression. We love children’s art that communicates personal family stories. We are moved by portraits that reveal character, and by vivid unique work displayed along with thoughtful artists’ statements. Visitors are excited to see classrooms with children who are actively engaged and challenged.

Consider the importance of empowered experience, empowered creating, attentiveness to surroundings, and considering possibilities at every turn.

Collaborative Planning Today

With a partner create an activity station for a twenty minute art warm-up activity connected to your art lesson planning that you are each working on for next week.  Make the visual examples and prepare materials for your station.

Homework for Next Week – October 25th

1. A Lesson Plan for your Practicum is Due!

For information see UBC Connect for your planning template and other guidelines.

You may also find helpful resources linked from the blog posted two weeks ago HERE

2. Chapter 15 in our Starting With . . .  text
Read and Respond with Sketch Notes

“Making Meaning with Holiday Crafts” by Aileen Pugliese Castro and Juan Carlos Castro, tackles the issue of holiday expectations for art in Elementary classrooms, finding ways to avoid “cookie-cutter” lessons and creating opportunities for building connections with meaningful experiences.

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