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Variety in Art: The Principles of Design Explained

A Guide for Teachers



Have you ever looked at a painting and thought that it looked a bit boring? That everything in it looked the same and there could’ve been more colours or shapes to grab your attention? That’s because it was missing one of the key principles of design: variety! Variety is very important to think about while making art, but it’s actually quite easy to add it to your own artwork!


Not a big reader? No worries! You can watch our YouTube video that breaks down variety and how it can be used!



What is the Meaning of Variety in Art?


Waterloo Bridge, Effect of Fog by Claude Monet (left), The Jack Pine by Tom Thomson (right)

Variety is the principle of design that adds interest to a piece by combining contrasting elements of art. Artwork with variety doesn’t feel repetitive, meaning that there is visual interest throughout the whole piece. There are different colours, textures, lines, values, forms, spaces, and shapes that make the work feel complete.


Take a look at the paintings above. Can you tell which landscape painting has more variety than the other? Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge is an example of a low variety painting because there is only one texture and colour throughout most of the piece, while Tom Thompson’s The Jack Pine has high variety with different colours, shapes, and textures.



Balancing Unity and Variety



One problem that some people come by when using variety is that they get a little bit carried away, and end up losing unity. Unity is what makes an artwork feel cohesive and whole, and if there is too much variety, your art might become overwhelmed by the different elements. You’ll need to have enough variety so that the artwork is interesting, but also enough unity in order for the piece to feel like all the elements belong to one piece.


How Variety Relates to the Elements of Art

Line/Texture


Crying Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

In this pop artwork titled Crying Girl, the artist - Roy Lichtenstein - uses texture and lines to create variety. Lichtenstein uses pointillism, or Ben Day Dots (dots that are placed close together), to break up the flat surface that we see in most pop art, adding an element of texture. He also includes a variety of lines that differ in length, width, and direction, creating a piece that is visually interesting.


Variety with Colour


Grace Kelly III by Imi Knoebel

In this contemporary artwork by Imi Knoebel, you might wonder how this piece has variety when the rectangular shape is repeated throughout the entire piece. Well, that’s because of the element of art: colour! The shifting colours add interest to this piece. Imagine this same painting without any colour, only repetition with shapes. It loses visual interest, doesn’t it? By adding different colours throughout each individual rectangle, Knoebel takes something as simple as a rectangle and makes it interesting with colour.


This painting below is called The House Seen from the Rose Garden by Claude Monet. Monet was an impressionist painter, which meant that he focused on capturing the essence, or the “impression” of an image with lighting and colour more than outlines or harsh forms. In this artwork, Monet worked with an analogous colour palette. An analogous colour palette uses colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. In this painting, Monet used red, orange, and yellow. Although analogous colour palettes are beautiful, they often lack variety. To fix this, Monet added in green - the complementary colour to red - to add in variety, making the piece stronger and more interesting.


The House Seen from the Rose Garden by Claude Monet

Variety with Form and Shape



Kirby is a popular pink alien from Nintendo. In this game, all characters have very rounded forms -- another element of art! There aren’t any characters that have purely sharp edges. This style choice brings a lot of harmony and unity to Kirby games because of their rounded shape, however they add variety because of their different features. Kirby’s shape is made up of mostly circles, but if we look at characters in the back, some have wings, springs, and different clothes, These small variations in characters make it interesting to look at. If every character looked exactly like Kirby, the game would get boring quickly.



Variety Art Examples by Famous Artists


Harriet Tubman Series (Panel 4) by Jacob Lawrence

In this work, artist Jacob Lawrence uses several of the elements of art to create an interesting painting. First, we can look at texture, since his paint application changes from the figures to the background. The figures are opaque, while there is still some transparency in the background so that we can see the texture of the layers of paint. Although the general shapes of the bodies are similar, Lawrence uses variety in the movements of each figure to move our eyes from one figure to the next. He even adds in a triadic colour scheme (meaning three colours that are equally spaced apart on the colour wheel) with his use of primary colours on the figures.


Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is known for his blue and yellow-orange colour palette. Café Terrace at Night is an example of how these contrasting colours work together to add variety to an artwork. Imagine if it were painted only using blue. It’d feel more dull, don’t you think? In this painting, van Gogh also uses brush strokes to create different textures throughout the piece; from the cobblestone ground to the tree that hangs in the picture on the right. This artwork features different elements of art including colours, textures, and shapes, but still feels unified.


Blast Off by Alma Thomas

Similar to Roy Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl, Blast Off by Alma Thomas focuses on bringing texture by using pointillism throughout her artwork. These small brush marks create a contrast between the small areas of the white surface against the vibrant colours, adding a variety of textures to the piece. Thomas also includes a variety of colours, some of which are close to each other on the colour wheel, like the red, yellow, and peach tone, but contrasts it with blues and greens that sit opposite them.



How to Create Variety in your Artwork



The design principle of variety extends beyond artwork to enhance all the things we love – from entertainment to fashion to cooking. A fashion example would be someone wearing custom pins on their bag or lapel to express themselves with flair. 


Now that you know what variety it is, it’s time to bring variety into your own artwork! You can do this by thinking of the elements of art - shape, line, colour, form, texture, space, and value - and looking for opportunities to incorporate variety within different elements. For example, you could try:

  • Focusing on adding in a variety of different shapes

  • Using a variety of textures, or using both hard edges and soft edges so that it doesn’t feel too repetitive.

  • Adding in complementary or accent colours to create visual interest.

  • Repeat this with each of the elements until you feel like your work meets that perfect place of unity and harmony.

Another easy way to practice using variety is by drawing or painting things that you see in nature, just like many famous artists have. Usually, nature has many different colours, textures, and shapes. It has unexpected features that would trigger an idea to make your art more interesting. The next time you’re outside, look around for a spot where you can find variety, and try recreating it on your own!



Teacher Art Resources:


If you’re a teacher that’s looking for classroom content on the Elements and Principles of Design, visit these quick and easy resources!





If you’d like more worksheets related to art, check out our teachers pay teachers page where you can get worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom! More classroom resources like this can be found on our art resources for teachers page, where we break down the elements of art and more!




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