Using the visual elements

The visual elements refer to the qualities which together make up the properties of a piece of art or design. Some of the terms used most often are outlined in the learning intentions below.

Understanding what the visual elements refer to can help the pupils develop their aesthetic awareness. They gain language which they can use to describe the real, imagined, visual and tactile worlds. Both you and your pupils can use this shared vocabulary to discuss features of their work and progress.

Learning intentions

  • We are learning to work with colour.
  • Colour is an attribute of objects that results from the light they reflect. Colour is all around us, both in nature and in the made world.
  • We are learning to use tone.
  • Tone refers to the graduation between light and dark. We make lighter tones or tints by adding white to a colour, and we make darker tones or shades by adding black. We can use tone to create atmosphere and mood as well as to define form.
  • We are learning to use line and shape.
  • A line is a short or continuous mark made by moving a point. It defines the edge of a contour or a shape, which usually refers to the outline of an object.
  • We are learning about form and space.
  • Shape in 3D is called form. It relates to the structure of an object and how it appears from different points of view. Forms have volume, take up space and cast shadows.
  • We are learning about texture and pattern.
  • Texture describes surface quality, for example rough, smooth, hard or soft. It is normally tactile (felt), but it can be represented visually. Pattern occurs in the made world as well as in nature. Similar shapes can form an arrangement of random or repeated patterns.

Learning Activities

Ensure that the pupils:

  • have access to a variety of colours and can name them; and
  • know the primary colours.

Allow them to explore colour further by:

  • discovering what happens when they mix two or more colours together, and describing the new colours;
  • inventing names for colours;
  • experimenting to mix, match and change colours; and/or
  • mixing colours for a purpose, e.g. to record the colours of autumn leaves.

Make sure that they:

  • know how to lighten and darken colours; and/or
  • are able to compare and contrast light and dark marks and shapes.

Encourage the pupils to:

  • use line to create shapes;
  • use different types of line in a drawing, for example:
    • straight or wavy;
    • sharp or smooth;
    • light or heavy;
    • thick or thin; and
    • smudged; and/or
  • use these different types of line to add visual texture and patterns.

Provide opportunities for the pupils to:

  • handle objects and use 3D materials to develop an awareness of space and form;
  • recognise that objects can be in front, side by side or behind each other;
  • recognise that objects have an inside and outside; and/or
  • create 3D environments to explore the concept of space.

Elicit examples of arranged and accidental pattern in the environment. These could be patterns of colour, line, shape or texture, e.g. honeycomb or a sunflower head.

You could also help the pupils to:

  • collect patterns and textures;
  • use appropriate vocabulary to categorise them;
  • record textures by making rubbings from various surfaces, e.g coins or bark;
  • make repeated patterns of regular and irregular arrangements; and/or
  • create textures in clay, collage and paint.