Variety in Art

Variety in Art: Definition and Examples

The principle of variety in art is the use of different elements, techniques, and design to create visual interest. Variety adds intrigue to a work of art, and can be used to establish contrast or emphasis. In this guide, we’ll explore what variety in art means as well as some examples of how it can be used in an artwork.

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Definition of Variety in Art

At its core, the principle of variety is about creating interest and contrast. It’s a way to use different elements—such as colour, line, shape, texture, value, form, and space—in an artwork to keep the viewer engaged. Variety also plays a role in the overall impact of a work of art; it can be used to add emphasis to specific elements or create focal points and reduce the repetitiveness of the piece.

Examples of Variety in Art

Vincent van Gogh: Orchard in Blossom

Vincent van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist artist who was a master at using variety in his artworks. With the use of colours, textures, flowing and jagged lines, the juxtaposition of the different elements creates interest. However, van Gogh also knew how to make these diverse elements appear unified, by using colour schemes and by simplifying shapes and details. In his painting, the Orchard in Blossom, van Gogh uses complementary colours red and green in the grasses to introduce contrast and variety to the artwork. However, the painting appears harmonious due to the simplified colour scheme and the use of only those two colours and their extended range.

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ is an interesting example of variety in art. Klimt uses a variety of shapes which contrast with one another. The flowing lines of the dress contrast with the geometric shapes and patterns in the dress details. This variety in shape creates a wonderful rhythm in the painting, where the viewer is first drawn to the woman’s face, then to take in all the details on her clothes. Gustav Klimt has painted this piece in mainly gold tones, however, variety is created with the bright primary colours in the geometric shapes. This creates variety and reduces the repetitiveness of the gold tone.

Contrast and Variety

Contrast is a principle in art, which influences and relates to the amount of variety in a piece. Contrasting elements creates variety. By using different elements of design—such as light and dark colours, thick and thin lines, or smooth and rough textures—an artist can create a sense of depth or movement. This contrast adds interest to an artwork, making it more dynamic and engaging for the viewer.

Colour Variety

Van Gogh: The Starry Night

One of the simplest ways to create variety in an artwork is by using different colours. Use different shades, tints, and tones of a single colour and combine multiple colours in unique ways to create a vivid and diverse compositions. Warm colours like red contrast with cool colours like blue. If you use warm and cool colours in the same piece, they will stand out against each other.

You can even use a colour scheme, like a complementary colour scheme, with colours that sit on opposite ends of the colour wheel. An example of complementary colours would be purple and yellow, as they are the most dissimilar from each other in hue. Complementary colours create the most colour contrast and therefore variety in the a painting. To create balance, vary saturated colours and muted colours too.

Asymmetrical balance
Vincent van Gogh: Irises

Using more different hues and colours will of course make the piece look more varied, however, with too many different types of hues, the piece can start to appear unharmonious and disjointed. To create a sense of unity in the piece, one trick is to use a limited palette of colours, but to vary the saturation and brightness of those colours.

Line Variety

Ivan Shishkin: Pines on the Beach

Lines are another element that can be used to create contrast and interest in an artwork. Artists will use different types of lines—such as curved, straight, thick, broken, flowing or jagged lines. Ivan Shishkin uses flowing, organic lines to represent tree branches and leaves, to give a sense that they are moving in the breeze. This contrasts to the jagged lines of the grass, the straight lines of the tree trunks and the thick lines of the distant tree silhouettes. Overall, this variety in the lines, makes the piece appear more immersive for the viewer.

Shape and form Variety in art

Andre Derain Untitled simple shapes cubism
Andre Derain: Untitled

Shapes can also be used to add variety to an artwork. Circles, squares, triangles, and other geometric shapes are all basic elements of design. Use different kinds of shapes, such as organic shapes, geometric forms, complex shapes and simple shapes. In the example of this painting ‘Untitled’ by Andre Derain, the shapes all appear simple and geometric. This creates unity and harmony in the piece. However, he has used colour contrast and values to create variety.

If you are drawing or painting from a reference, you will likely use a variety of shapes to represent your subject without thinking about it. However, if you’re painting in a particular art style, for example, abstract or cubism, you can consciously think and plan where you are placing different shapes.

art nouveau
Alphonse Mucha: Zodiac

The lithograph print ‘Zodiac’ by Alphonse Mucha, is a perfect example of an artwork that explores a variety of shapes. From the flowing curves of the hair, to the geometric forms of the border and astrological calendar, to the organic shapes of the leaves. Although there is a lot of variety in the types of shapes used, Mucha ties the piece together by using block colours and outlining the shapes. This makes it appear consistent. The patterns, regular spacing and repetition of elements throughout the artwork adds to the harmonious appearance.

Texture Variety

variety in art texture
Vincent van Gogh: The Mulberry Tree

Vary the amount of texture in the piece to create emphasis, or switch up the types of brushwork you are using to create variety. For example, you could use more texture to emphasise the focal point of the painting. Then use smoother textures for the background elements. Or you could use. the impasto technique with thick paint, then use short, sharp brush strokes to create rhythm in the piece and lead the viewer’s eyes around. Look close and you can see the brush work and impasto texture in van Gogh’s ‘The Mulberry Tree’. The direction of the brush strokes chop and change in this painting, with longer strokes for shadows and shorter strokes for grass. This creates variety and movement for the viewer, which makes for a dynamic viewing rhythm.

Value Variety

Caravaggio Saint Jerome Writing
Caravaggio: Saint Jerome Writing

The use of light and dark values is another way to add contrast and interest to an artwork. By using different shades and tints of a single colour, the artist can create a sense of depth. Caravaggio is famed for using the chiaroscuro technique, with dramatic contrast between shadows and highlights. The variety of different values helps create a strong focal point, of Saint Jerome and the skull.

Space Variety

The use of positive and negative space also adds visual interest to the piece. Positive space is the area that the subject occupies and negative space is the area around the subject.

Objects and subjects with less negative space between them can appear more unified. The use of regular spacing can create harmony. Variety is achieve with varied spacing between subjects and objects, or when regular and close spacing are used in conjunction with larger amounts of negative space between certain elements.

variety in art space
Christen Kobke: The Bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the Background

The closeness of the boats makes them appear unified. However, the rest of the painting by Kobke is full of negative space in the sea and sky. The variety of positive and negative space functions to tell viewer which elements are related to one another and to create balance.

Vary edges to achieve realism in art


Another way that artists can create variety in an artwork is with the use of edges. Depending on the proximity of a subject or object to the viewer and lighting of a scene, shapes will appear more or less defined. For example, the edge of a distant mountain will blur into the sky, due to atmospheric perspective. Whereas the rocks on a mountain you are standing on will appear sharp and jagged, with more hard edges. Equally, the shadows in a portrait will appear soft and blended into the midtones of the skin in a room with soft, dim light, but in a room with harsh light, the edges of the shadows will appear harder. There are three types of edges: hard, soft and lost.

Unity and Variety

The key to creating variety in art is to find a balance between unity and variety. Too much variation within a single work will make it disjointed and confusing, whereas too much unity will make the work monotonous. Try to find a balance between these two elements so that your artwork can have both cohesiveness and variation.

The importance of variety in art

Variety is a key element in art, as it can be used to create contrast and visual interest. By using different hues, lines, shapes, values and edges, an artist can create a piece that appears full of life and movement. The use of unity and variety together will ensure that the artwork is both harmonious and varied.