Fundamentals of art – What you need to know as beginner artists

fundamentals of art head image

The fundamentals of art are the basic knowledge an artist need to understand and grasp no matter the type of art style they have or art mediums they use. Anime art, portraiture, hyperrealism, digital art, traditional art, etc all have these basic fundamentals applied to them. Therefore, it is important to have an in-depth understanding of them before you move on to more complicated techniques. As the saying goes, you must first learn the rules before you can bend them. By learning the fundamentals of art, you can then apply them to any kind of style and artwork as you wish.

In this post, I will go through some of the fundamentals of art that are important to master for beginners.



The value of colour represents the darkness or brightness of the colour.

Values are more important than colour for depth. It is better to get the values of an artwork right and have the colours slightly off then vice versa.

Values are like the foundations of an artwork, get them right and even if the artwork is monochrome it will still look good. If the values are wrong, no matter how good your colours look or how well you’ve planned out the colour harmonies, the artwork will still look off.

Contrast in values separate objects from one another and also shows a sense of depth. A slow change in value may represent contours. Value is also important in conveying the light and shadows on an object.

On digital drawing software, you can simply check the values of your artwork by turning your coloured image into a black and white image and see if your drawing still looks good. Another way is to draw in black and white first to make sure the values are right and then add in the colours, this should be possible on digital drawing software and in oil painting.

colour theory

Colour Theory

Colour in a drawing can evoke emotion and attract attention, different colours can mean different things and send different messages to the viewers. It can play a crucial role in telling a story in a drawing.

First, you’ll need to understand the different terminologies in colour theory. For example: saturation, value, hue etc.

Apart from that, the colour wheel is also important to learn. It will help show you the difference between warm and cool colours, colour harmonies/ schemes etc. these will help to make your artwork look and feel more composed.

It may also be useful to understand the difference between additive and subtractive colour modes. Especially if you are doing both traditional and digital artworks. I’ve made a post about it here.

Perspective and depth

Perspective and Depth

Artwork done in proper perspectives are more realistic looking and has a better sense of 3-dimensional depth and space. It tricks the brain to see depth on a 2-dimensional surface. They can be commonly seen in interior drawings, building drawings etc. It can show objects’ location in relation to each other and provide more information in your drawings.

The main types of perspectives are one point, two points and three points perspectives. Some key terms you need to know for drawing proper perspectives are horizon line, eye level, vanishing point. It is usually best to learn one point perspectives first before moving on to more points of perspectives.

Cubist painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque use perspective creatively to produce interesting masterpieces.

There are other ways to show perspective and depths. You can use values, colours, effects etc.

Shapes and form

Shapes and Form

Before you start drawing complicated things like a human face or a pineapple, it is important to familiarise yourself with the basic shaps and form.

A shape is 2Dimensional, created using lines on a flat surface, it only has length and width. A form is 3Dimensional, it has volume, length, width and depth.

Everything you draw can be simplified into basic geometric shapes and forms. Knowing them will allow you to construct your objects better, it will make complicated objects easier to draw and also give proper shapes and forms, this will make your drawings look more realistic too if that’s what you’re going for.



Proportion is important especially if you want to draw things realistically. Imagine a person with a big head, small body and extra long limbs! Wrong proportions will make an object look weird and deviate from what it’s supposed to look like. Once you’ve mastered proportion, you can start being creative and exaggerate certain parts of your objects to attract attention, give a message or just for comedic purposes.

There are art styles that exaggerate proportions creatively. One such style is caricature where someone’s facial features are exaggerated according to their personality or characteristics.



Composition is the placement and layout of objects/ elements in an artwork that guides the viewer’s eyes and attract their attention.

Some things you will need to learn are elements of design and some compositional rules and techniques.

Elements of design are: Line, shape, colour, texture, value, form and space. These are what makes up an artwork and make an artwork visually attractive. These elements may interact with and relate to each other to produce interesting effects and create a sence of unity. They are also widely used in graphic design.

Some simple composition techniques are: The golden ratio, the rule of thirds, framing, use of perspectives, use of shapes etc.

However, the rules are just guides. You can always experiment around and create your own exciting composition.


So now we know that some of the art fundamentals are: values, colour theory, perspective and depth, shapes and form, proportion and composition. By mastering these fundamentals of art, you will be able to produce eye-catching and interesting artworks with whatever medium of your choice.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learnt something new from this post. I will be individual posts on each element in more details in the future!

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12 Responses

  1. Excellent article which has been a bit of an eye-opener for myself – I’ve actually branched into Anime art over the last couple of years and have even gone as far as using animation programs for this art. 

    But, I’m completely self taught really, with the aid of YouTube, so this article has been great for me to read through. 

    I’m really taken by the value of colour – do you have any more information on this subject on your site?

    1. Thanks! I started off drawing anime characters as well! I’m self-taught as well by watching loads of youtube tutorials, art books and online courses like Udemy. I have a category called ‘colour theory’ which has more information on colours and values. Hope it’ll help!

  2. Interesting concepts of art, what makes up a brilliant piece and yet so dependent on these fundamentals. There is more to art than simply putting it on canvas or a medium. It can also be used to guide one to get the “perfect” photo to paint. Thanks for an insightful post to consider when creating or viewing art.

  3. Very intriguing article. I never thought to analyze art in it’s fundamental elements so it was a bit of an eye opener reading your blog. Most people understand art differently but even so we all have to base it on how we perceive colors and shapes so in a way even without understanding it we follow the elements you analyze here. Thank you for your information.

    1. Thankyou! I agree with you that sometimes we follow these fundamentals without even realising it! Glad you liked the post!

  4. Hi Mary! There are so many important points you have introduced me to in this post. Thank you very much!

    I’d like to learn more about color theory. How do saturation, value and hue change the message we convey with our picture.

    I’ll be looking forward to continue reading about these important points in future posts. Is there a book or material you could recommend to learn about them? I’d also appreciate such a recommendation. Keep well!

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment. I’d suggest James Gurney’s Color and Light. It talks about both theory and practical application of light and colour to produce realistic looking artworks. I personally have learnt a lot about colour and light theories from this book. Hope you will find this book helpfull too.

  5. Hello Mary,

    I find very interesting all the details that you provide on the basics of art. 

    For example, if we take the theory of color as you express each color can have different meanings and send different messages to the viewer. 

    The colors can be warm or cold and you have to know how to combine them. 

    Thanks for sharing. Claudio

  6. Thanks for your post. You have presented in a concise way the various fundamentals of art and have demonstrated their importance.  I browsed the site a bit and saw some of the work you produced and it appears you are able to practice well what you preach.  I took a couple of art courses when I was in college and somehow I don’t remember these principles presented.  Maybe I forgot quite a bit, but also, I recall the main theme during that era was to be free of any rules or fundamentals.  You show from your work how useful they are.

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