Visual Rhythm

We commonly associate rhythm with sound, but it can also be visual.

  • Rhythm is a design principle that is based on repetition.
  • It is based on the repetition of elements that are the same or only slightly different.
  • Rhythm is a beat or flow that gives a feeling of a pattern.

Visual Rhythm & Music

  • Many people in the visual arts are also interested in music.
  • We listen to different types of music reflecting our many different moods.
  •   Visual art also reflects a multitude of different moods. Rhythm is one way to tap into visual moods.

Rhythm, Motion, Shapes & Repetition

Most often we talk about rhythm in terms of repeating shape and their arrangement, but we can also talk about rhythm in terms of colors and textures.

In music, some rhythms are called legato (a connecting and flowing rhythm).

You could also use this term to talk about art.

The word legato could easily be applied to the visual effect in this photo of Death Valley shows the sand dune ridges in undulating, flowing, horizontal curves.

The dark and light contrast is quite dramatic, but in several places, the changes are soft with smooth transitions. The feeling is relaxed and calm.


A similar rhythm occurs in the 16th century illuminated manuscript by Hoefnagel. The rhythm is faster, has more repetition, and is consistent in its repeated curves. The fluid strokes carry our eyes across the text and mark both the beginning and end of the passage with a flourish.

The next couple of slides are posters for a jazz festival created by the same artist.

  1. What is creating the rhythm?
  2. What word(s) would you use to describe the rhythm?
  3. What type of Jazz might this represent?


The poster shown on top is well suited to conveying a jittery jazz rift. But, not all jazz can be summarized in one such pattern. The poster below expresses a kind of jazz that feels more synthetic in expression.

Some other posters and album covers for Fusion, Latin, Smooth & Acid Jazz.

Let’s look at some other types of design. In the next three pieces:

  1. What is creating the rhythm?
  2. What word(s) would you use to describe the rhythm?

Credits: Some of the information in this presentation comes fromorm the book, Design Basics, Seventh Edition by David Lauer

1 thought on “Visual Rhythm”

  1. Usually I don’t learn article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.