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What are the 9 Principles of Design and How do I Teach them?

You might be asking, What are the 9 Principles of Art and Design and How Do I Teach Them? The 9 Principles of Design Are: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, Balance, Unity, and Variety and they are the foundations of creating art and are the rules for how Artists arrange elements or the Elements of Art to create an Artwork. Let’s dive in and learn about the 9 Principles of Design, Which You Should Teach First, and How to Teach them.


What are the 9 Principles of Design and How do I Teach them?

The Principles of Design are the foundations of creating a strong, cohesive artwork and are the means of how artists arrange the Elements of Art in their compositions. The Principles of Design are used in Visual Art, in Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Photography, Sculpture, Fashion, and more. The Principles of Art and Design are essential for your students to know and learn how to use in order to make effective, cohesive artworks that stand out and feel right to their audience. Let’s learn about the 9 Principles of Design and How to Teach them.


What are the 9 Principles of Design?

The 9 Principles of Design are: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, Balance, Unity, and Variety.

Contrast: Contrast is showing large differences between objects or elements in an artwork and it can be created using size, value, texture, color and more. Example: Big vs Small or Light vs Dark.


Emphasis: Emphasis is the part of the design that stands out and is the focal point of an artwork. Emphasis is created with contrast to help a focal point or subject noticeable in an artwork.


Movement: Movement is the Principle of Design in which the illusion of movement is created in an artwork. Elements such as line, shape, and color, direct the viewer’s eye around a composition.


Repetition: Repetition is the Principle of Design where you repeat Elements of Art, such as Shape, Color, and Line, to create rhythm or pattern.


Proportion: Proportion is the comparison and relationship of objects in an artwork or composition; how elements compare to each other.


Rhythm: Rhythm is created though repeating the Elements of Art such as Line, Shape, or Color, multiple times to create Rhythm or Pattern.


Balance: Balance is the visual distribution of weight in an artwork using color, texture and space to achieve a visual stability or balance in a composition.

Unity: is the Principle of Design that unifies all elements in an artwork to allow a cohesive design and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Variety: Including variety in an artwork means you’re using a varying elements or different versions of elements in one composition or artwork.


What Principles of Design Should I Teach First?

I am quite often asked this question. What Principles of Design should I Teach first? Everyone has their own opinion. Teaching the Principles of Design is a little different from teaching the Elements of Art (which I feel build on one another). For instance, you can learn about Proportion before learning Repetition and vice versa without kids being confused or feeling like they’re missing out on some details. So when in doubt, just pick one and teach it because it is better than nothing That being said, I think some are easier for kids to understand than others.

The order I Teach the Principles of Design is: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, Balance, Unity, and Variety. In my opinion, this order is easiest for children to understand and provides a natural progression of building blocks.


What is the Easiest Element of Art to Teach?

I also get this question asked often and it really ties into the order I teach the Principles of Design. I teach easiest to hardest because it not only makes sense and provides scaffolding for the Principles of Design, but also I believe in building student’s confidence rather than crushing them at the starting line. For this reason, I start with Contrast because it is playing with opposites which is easy to understand. Then Emphasis is created a lot using contrast so I go there next. Third, I play and show them Movement because it will make their artworks more visually interesting right away, and then I go from there.


Embed the Principles of Design into All Art Lessons

Any time you’re teaching drawing or art, no matter what, it is an opportunity to teach or reinforce the Principles of Design and show it in action. Outside of teaching art lessons that focus on a Principle of Design or teaching a full unit, I believe in talking about the Principles of Design and make my thinking VISIBLE as I use them in any art project.

If I am creating a winter artwork but am only using cool colors in my background with a silhouette figure as my focal point, I will point that out during my demonstration and talk about color and cool color schemes and how the Dark vs Light creates CONTRAST in the artwork and helps place emphasis on the focal point (the silhouette) so the viewers eye is drawn to the thing that is different, etc. I don’t have to go crazy on it, but you can definitely do a think-pair-share or do a 5 minute classroom discussion or just mention it to reinforce it to your students. It is like test prep but all the time so that is solidified in your student’s minds and they can see it in action and then eventually, by making your thinking visible, they will be more aware wen they do self-directed artworks and apply it themselves.

Essentially, you’re making your thinking visible to your students and are showing them intentions behind what your doing and showing them how the Principles of Design are used as building blocks in ANY artwork.

Another way to do this is to view historical artworks and ask students: “What Principles of Design do you see? Let’s do a think-pair-share (think to self, whisper to buddy beside you, share out to whole class)”.

Dish of Apples, ca. 1876–77, Paul Cézanne, French
Dish of Apples, ca. 1876–77, Paul Cézanne, French
3 Free Ms Artastic Art Lessons for your Classroom!

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Where to Find Principles of Design Lessons, Projects, and Resources

You can find ready-to-use Principles of Design Lessons in a couple places, all of which will allow you go go breadth and in depth on the Principles of Design so that you can teach them confidently and stress-free .

1) Find Principles of Design Art Projects, Lessons, and Resources: You can find easy-to-use Principles of Design Art Resources in the Ms Artastic TeachersPayTeachers store. I highly recommend looking at the Principles of Design category for all my Principles of Design resources that includes everything from workbooks, task cards, art lessons, and full art units on each of the Principles of Design.

2) Find them in the Artastic Collective Art Curriculum: If you’re looking for a more complete solution, you can get a fully planned Art Curriculum that includes my Principles of Design resources at the Artastic Collective. Enrollment only opens twice a year so it is essential that you get on the waitlist so you’re ready to join when it is open. Make sure you click here to learn more about this life-changing Art Curriculum designed for Art Education.


What are the 9 Principles of Design and How do I Teach them?

The 9 Principles of Design are: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, Balance, Unity, and Variety. Remember that these are essential for your students to know and learn how to use because they will provide a solid strategy for your students for how to arrange the Elements of Art in their artworks. Remember to teach What the 9 Principles of Design Are, Teach the Principle of Designs Contrast & Emphasis first, Embed the Principles of Design into ALL your art lessons, then grab some Principles of Design resources to teach confidently in your classroom.

Principles of Design Workbooks K-12

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You might be asking, What are the 9 Principles of Art and Design and How Do I Teach Them? The 9 Principles of Design Are: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, Balance, Unity, and Variety and they are the foundations of creating art and are the rules for how Artists arrange elements or the Elements of Art to create an Artwork. Let's dive in and learn about the 9 Principles of Design, Which You Should Teach First, and How to Teach them.

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