Welcome again! Here’s the next instalment in my Design How-To series – this one’s on the principle of Gradation. Hope you like it.


Gradation is simply the gradual variation in an element across a piece of work. It can be applied to all the elements – line, colour, shape, tone, size, texture and direction. And it’s become incredibly popular recently; it is at the base of the current wave of ombre (the term these days mostly referring to gradations of tone), which has been used to style everything from clothing to food.

Gradation in tone is also what is used most commonly to give fullness and roundness to a 2D image, such as a photograph. What makes a painting of a ball look like a real ball is the gradation of tone across the surface of the flat, circular shape.

It can be a bit like repetition but with variations; and it’s not always a ‘start here with the big ones and finish over there with the small ones’ kind of shift (although this is most commonly used, as it creates great ‘flow’); sometimes elements are repeated with shifts in size/shape/colour etc and are randomly scattered.


danielle gori-montanelli – stones collar – upcycled wool fabrics


This wonderful neckpiece is a good example, demonstrating shifts in size and in tone, but they are scattered throughout the piece.


Ted and Rose – Retro Pop Waves – surface design


What a fabulous pattern this is! I completely love it. It shows excellent shifts of colour, due to the translucence of the stripes – where they overlap the colours mix, creating areas of transition. There is more gradation too – smoothly flowing curves are created by gradation of direction, and there is also a subtle gradation of size within the stripes – follow a single stripe up and you will see it moves between between thick and thin.


printmakerjenn – smitten with myself – watercolour


There’s lots of different gradation going on in this one. Using the technique of wet-in-wet, watercolours are especially great for creating wonderful shifts in tone and colour. But there’s also a different gradation in this, created by the increased intensity or number of scattered darker splashes of paint towards the bottom of the image – a gradation of visual texture.


clare knox-bentham – orange skull necklace – heat-extruded EVA plastic


Gradation of size is a technique often employed by jewellers for neckpieces. How many necklaces have you seen where the elements at the back of the neck are smaller, and gradually get larger towards the front? Here, the orange skull with flowers and squiggles uses this classic approach with innovative materials and techniques to create a fabulously fun piece.


winter – jeweled garden {surface design}


Again, there is lots of gradation going on in this beautiful surface design – shifts in tone and size, as well as shape. Of course, there are several other Elements and Principles at work in this pattern as well. What else can you spot?


If you would like to see some more fabulous examples of gradation (especially of colour and size), I recommend that you check out the work of Andy Goldsworthy – an artist who collects materials direct from his environment and creates sculptures out of them in situ, (where they are often subjected to the weather and hence ephemeral). Leaves, pebbles, sticks and ice are among his favourite things to use.


As always, I hope you enjoyed this post on Gradation! You can find more about other Elements and Principles in the series of ‘Design How-To’ here.

AND if you’ve got a project that you’re proud of, that demonstrates any of these Elements and Principles, I would LOVE to hear about it! If you’ve got a pic of it up online somewhere, please add a link in the comments below, so you can show it off!!

Julie x