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 will define 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

Help the pupils build on their previous experiences by giving them opportunities to:

  • mix colours for a specific task, for example flesh colours for portraits;
  • know that primary colours mix to make secondary colours;
  • show control over the mixing and matching of colours;
  • know about warm and cold colours; and/or
  • appreciate that colour can express moods and feelings.

Ensure that the pupils are able to:

  • understand that we can use tone to suggest form in 2D work;
  • use a range of tones;
  • order tones of colours and monochrome (white, grey, black) from light to dark;
  • observe how tones in the foreground and background create an illusion of distance; and/or
  • use tone to create atmosphere and mood.

Provide the pupils with opportunities to:

  • use line to record observations and describe ideas;
  • use line to develop ideas and to plan work in other areas of the curriculum, e.g. diagrams and illustrations;
  • combine shapes to create patterns; and/or
  • use tones to develop shapes into forms.

Focus on helping the pupils to:

  • recognise that we can alter form by manipulating, adding or taking away, i.e. modelling, constructing or carving; and/or
  • use malleable or rigid materials to create work in 3D.

Encourage the pupils to:

  • compare regular and irregular patterns;
  • use and organise colour, line, shape and tone to create particular patterns; and/or
  • create visual texture in printmaking, drawing and painting.