Elements of Design




The element of direction offers basically three options- horizontal, vertical or oblique.
The dominant direction in an artwork has a powerful influence over the atmosphere generated by the work. It is an element that is easily overlooked, but when taken advantage of, is an extremely useful tool.

Notre Dame de Paris – Eastern Facade


The dominant vertical direction seen in Notre Dame de Paris gives a feeling of lightness, balance and elegance. The open flying buttresses and steeply pitched turrets defy the solid stone construction and make the building appear to be floating upwards.

Houses of Parliament -London, Charles Barry – 1840

The British Houses of Parliament employ the same vertical gothic thrust but, with the addition of a dominant horizontal direction, the feeling is more of power, solidity and permanence.

30 St Mary Axe – London, Foster and Partners, 2004

30 St Mary Axe in London takes sweeping diagonal lines spiralling to its apex to give the building a strong upward thrust and dynamic animated character of power and movement.


The same change in character can be seen in the following three photographs. The subject is the same in each, the change in directional emphasis creates a different atmosphere in each image.

Dominant Vertical Direction

Dominant Horizontal Direction

Dominant Diagonal Direction

The vertical emphasis in the first image gives a feeling of orderly formality the second horizontal emphasis feels calm and stable while the third diagonal emphasis feels active and animated.

Direction is an element that should be considered and controlled in a design. Emphasise the direction that reinforces the atmosphere you are trying to generate.


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John Lovett


John Lovett is an Australian artist working in oils, watercolor and mixed media. Since commencing his career John has held over thirty five solo exhibitions and taken part in many joint ones. John’s work is represented in private and corporate collections in Australia, United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and USA. John’s passion for his work and his open easy approach to teaching make his books, DVD’s and workshops thoroughly enjoyable, extremely informative and always very popular. His articles are regularly featured in “International Artist” magazine.      



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© 2017 John Lovett (all text and images unless otherwise stated)