Happy drawing, everyone! I hope you’re all doing well and ready to learn how to draw a cube with me today 😊 .
Cubes are one of the five basic forms. Drawing cubes freehand and in perspective are important skills to build on your art journey. Every form you need, for anything you want to draw, can be carved out of or built from a cube.
I’ll be demonstrating a few different methods for cube drawing here with step-by-step images and videos. I’ll show you how to draw a cube freehand, as well as cube drawing in perspective.
Learning how to draw a cube is simple and straightforward. It gets challenging when you need to turn them in perspective, but that’s a bridge to cross later 😉. For now, let’s take a look at what cubes are.
Let’s learn about cubes!
The most helpful description I found of a cube comes from a website search on Kiddle:
“A cube is a block with all right angles and whose height, width and depth are all the same. A cube is one of the simplest mathematical shapes in space.”
The main thing to understand is that a cube is a three-dimensional shape, meaning it has Volume. While a square has width and height, it has no depth–no volume. A cube, and all other three-dimensional forms, have width, height, and depth.
The sides of a cube (also called faces) are squares. Each side is connected to the others by straight lines (called edges) and by corners (called vertices). Each of a cube’s corners is at a right angle. A cube has 6 faces, 12 edges, and 8 corners.
If you’re interested in a more mathematical explanation of what a cube is, you can find it here.
You might have heard people refer to all kinds of boxes as 3D cubes, especially when they’re talking about drawing in perspective. Technically, not all boxes are cubes, but for drawing purposes, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other 😉.
Exploration and study: Natural and man-made cubes
Interestingly, there aren’t a lot of examples of naturally occurring cubes. Since it’s such a basic visual building block, I thought that was a little surprising, but 🤷🏾♀️. Naturally occurring cubes are found primarily in rock, mineral, and crystal formations, and it’s super easy to find examples of man-made cubes in almost anything.
Here are a couple of reference boards I created to illustrate both natural and man-made cubes.
Shape breakouts and natural variations
Normally, I would make a bunch of exploration and study sketches of my subject and break out all the different shape and form variations. But…cubes are pretty simple, so that’s not really a thing for this drawing tutorial 😅.
The shapes on a cube are just squares, and the variation is limited: we’re either drawing a cube or a rectangular “cube” (box). When we learn how to draw a cube, those are our base options. But simple is good, right?
Okay, let’s dig into this how to draw a cube business. I’ll go over a few freehand methods I came up with, and I’ve included a few video demonstrations about drawing cubes/boxes in perspective and showing the drawing process for the methods.
How to draw a cube step-by-step tutorials
I made up names for the freehand cube drawing methods I came up with 😁:
The basic method
The Headless stick figure
Connect the squares method
The basic method
This way of drawing a cube is one that I learned early on in my art journey. It begins with a simple square shape and builds into a cube by adding depth with additional lines.
The basic method, Step One
For the basic method of how to draw a cube, step 1 is drawing a simple square of any size you’d like.
Next, start creating depth by drawing lines out from each corner. This begins to give you the edges of the cube.
(I missed the bottom left corner here, but I’m sure you’ll rock it 😉).
Begin connecting the edges of the cube you drew in the previous step. The goal here is to create each square face of the cube, so each complete connection should give you a square face.
Connect the last edges and vertices, and you will have completed your 3D cube.
This is just a spin on the basic method that allows us to shift our thinking a little bit. Instead of starting with a familiar shape, we begin with an upside-down letter ‘L’. This way we start out thinking in terms of edges and vertices rather than shapes and faces.
Upside-down L’s, Step One
As its name suggests, step 1 is drawing two upside-down capital L’s. Their size and how far you space them apart will determine how your cube looks.
Connect the two L’s to complete the first face of your cube.
From the two bottom vertices of the square face, draw edges back in space that each run parallel to the tops of the original upside-down L’s, as shown.
Begin connecting the ends of each of the edges you added in the previous step to create additional faces for your cube.
In this example, the bottom and left faces were created.
Finish connecting the last three vertices to create the last three faces of your cube and voila! You now have a completed freehand cube!
The Headless stick figure
This how to draw a cube method is straightforward like the others. We begin with the back corners of the cube and work our way forward in space until the cube is complete, and starting with a headless stick figure gives us that back corner start as you’ll see in this next demo.
Headless stick figure, Step One
We have five edges and two vertices. If we were to add a circle at the top, we’d have a stick figure. Without the head, we get the back corner of our cube.
Connect the “arms” and “legs” of our headless stick figure to get the first two planes of our cube, as seen here.
Connect the top two outside corners with straight edges to create the top plane of the cube.
Drop an edge down from the front-most corner of the top square plane. This sets us up to complete the last three planes of the cube.
Connect the two bottom outside corners to the end of the vertical edge you dropped earlier and boom! You have a completed cube 😉.
Connect the squares method
The focus of this how to draw a cube method is connecting corresponding points (vertices) of the squares. This way of drawing cubes is a lot of fun and opens up possibilities for more interesting cubes and boxes.
Connect the squares, Step One
Drawn any size square you’d like to begin.
Draw a second square with roughly the same dimensions as the first, and consider its position in relation to your first square since you’ll be connecting them.
Here I chose to overlap them slightly to make the connection a little more intuitive.
You’ll notice my second square is a little smaller than my first, and that’s okay. The point is to understand and practice the process.
Choose a square corner to start with and connect it to its matching corner on your second square with a straight line (edge).
Continue connecting the matching edges of both squares to each other.
After connecting the last corner, you’ll have a completed freehand cube drawing!
How to draw a cube medley!
To make this how to draw a cube tutorial more clear, I created a couple of videos to demonstrate the process for each method shown above. Establishing our processes in our work is extremely important, and my goal is to make the processes I use as clear as possible to help you decide on your own.
How to draw a cube in Perspective
Perspective can get a little hairy and confusing when you try to explain it with words and images alone, so I think the best approach for this particular art fundamental is a video demonstration.
To be clear, I didn’t make this video to explain drawing in perspective point by point, but the setup and process stay the same whenever you’re drawing basic forms in perspective.
You may have noticed from the video that I did the entire demo on a 3-point perspective grid–meaning a three vanishing point setup. For practice like this, it doesn’t matter which perspective you use so long as you have each vanishing point you need. I find it helpful to work from a 3-point perspective grid even when I’m not drawing in that perspective because it gives me the option of drawing in three different perspectives without having to change my paper format.
As long as you use the appropriate vanishing point, or points, for the perspective you intend to use on your object/form, then you’re good to go! 👍🏾
How to draw a cube: Form dissection
Normally, at this point, I would go over how to draw a cube with a dissection demonstration that dives into interior forms. However, with basic cubes and boxes, which aren’t representing anything specifically, there aren’t any interior forms to explore.
Still, a demonstration on cutting into/cutting away/dissecting the cube form is still helpful and useful, so that’s what this next video shows.
More cube drawing – building other forms
As I mentioned earlier, all manner of forms can be built from or carved out of cubes and boxes. Here are a few simple examples to demonstrate what I mean:
How to light a cube
Rather than get into an entire discussion on the fundamentals of light, I decided to show a few photographic examples of lighting on a cube. With a few simple art supplies and wooden 3D shapes, I photographed some images to use as a visual tutorial for how light falls on a cube.
This first set of images were taken in my make-shift still life box. It’s an old diaper box whose inside I’ve covered with black butcher paper. I cut out a couple of holes on each of the short sides and partially cut away the top so I can control the lighting. The cube in these images was lit with white light from a spotlight.
These next set of images demonstrate the light on a cube from my overhead studio light. It’s a small ceiling fan with a light kit, which essentially functions as a large diffused light source for these examples. Once again, you’ll notice that the shadow gets longer as the cube moves further away from the light–however, the shadows (shading) are different with a different light source. There are multiple shadows because the light source is composed of 3 light bulbs.
This gives us multiple shadows that are also brighter and quite soft.
In this last set of lighting/shading reference images for how to draw a cube, I used a candle–a much smaller, but quite bright, light source–to light the wooden cube. A candle would be a point light source, and it makes for much darker and more crisp shadows.
For some of these, the candle (point light) was low and closer to the cube, while at other times it was positioned above the cube. As usual, the closer the cube is to the light source, the sharper and darker the shadows are.
Here are a couple of examples of how to light a cube and place the cast shadows using a traditional medium, graphite pencils.
How to draw a cube from Imagination!
Let’s practice how to draw a cube from imagination 😊.
There isn’t really much to explain or guide you through here. Just grab a pencil and some paper, and let your imagination fly! I chose to draw some everyday objects to keep things simple and clear, but the sky is the limit with cubes. Go for it!
Happy cube drawing!
Well, that’s everything I have on how to draw a cube for now.
Thank you so much for hanging in there with me! It’s my goal to write for beginners, students, experienced artists, and hobbyists alike on this walk of art life, so I hope you found the content of my cube drawing tutorial helpful.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to be a guide and participant in your artistic journey, and I hope I’ve helped you make your cube drawing pop! I know you have a lot of options when you search the web, so thank you for spending some time on my little side line of the internet ❤. I hope you enjoy your cube drawing!
I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any feedback or questions for me, please leave them in the comments section below!
I’m not sure many people fully appreciate the nature of what artists attempt to do each time we set out to render light and shadow in art. I know I haven’t fully understood it, let alone appreciated it, even as I am in the middle of rendering.
As I continue to really dig into what Light is, I am awestruck and sothankful to all the scientists and artists who came before me—the giants upon whose shoulders we stand—because the subject of Light is huge, and I am glad they already figured all this stuff out for us 😅.
It is difficult not to get philosophical here because what we are really doing when we render light is re-creating the properties and behaviors of light in a 2D space—and those behaviors and properties encompass several sub-branches of modern Physics, including: Quantum Physics, Modern Optics, Geometric Optics, and Physical Optics.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that different aspects of light behavior and properties come under several different categories of Physics that are each quite involved areas all their own.
That was my not-so-subtle warning that The Fundamentals of Light gets quite technical.
The understanding we gain for our art is totally worth it, and we need three things for sure: 1) Patience, 2) Plenty of visual examples, and 3) More than one post to go through the massive amounts of information.
For any of you who are much better scientists than I, please forgive any inaccuracies in my scientific understanding or explanation. I endeavor to be an expert artist, not physicist 😋 , but I do try to be as accurate and as clear as possible. If I get something wrong, please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to make corrections.
I hope you will hang in there with me as I break down the technical bits (that’s the patience part), I hope the examples and information I share help your practice, and that you’ll find it useful enough to look forward to the future posts in this series. Since this is the first, let’s start digging into to the science, shall we?
The Science—What is Light?
To understand how to render light and shadow we must grasp the concept of what light is and how it behaves.
Light is a type of energy created by the emission of photons within the electromagnetic spectrum. If that sounded like gobbledygook, fear not, I shall explain.
A photon is a “small bundle” of electromagnetic energy and the basic unit that makes up all light. Thus, photons are the building blocks of light.
Electromagnetic energy describes forms of energy that are reflected or emitted from objects as electrical and magnetic waves that can travel through space. The Electromagnetic Spectrum shown below describes these energies as frequencies and wavelengths.
The light effects we paint represent a fixed and narrow range of the Electromagnetic Spectrum called the Visible spectrum, which is a narrow group of wavelengths between approximately 380 nm (nanometers) and 730 nm.
As illustrated in the diagram above, The Electromagnetic Spectrum contains several other forms of light, however most of them are at frequencies we can feel but not “see”.
All light has both a frequency and a wavelength, and all light can behave as both a particle and a wave depending on the situation. In fact, both light and matter have particle-wave duality in their properties and behavior. It’s important for artists to understand this duality because it affects our thinking and problem solving regarding light at different stages during rendering.
When we begin to invent our images we must also invent our lighting. When we are mentally calculating the direction of our light source, its reflections, and fall off, it is helpful to think of light as particles, or rays, that travel in straight lines.
This helps us figure out how much of our object will be lit, how to place the form shadows and cast shadows, and where the bounce light will land. When objects are opaque, I have found considering light primarily as rays helps me best determine how to render the light.
When objects are translucent, transparent, or have variable reflectivity, things start to get more complex because light is not simply being absorbed and reflected but also transmitted through the object. Transmission of light through objects gives us more to consider and calculate because it gives us more to paint, like subsurface scattering, refraction, and more reflections.
Let me put your mind at ease and say it is not necessary to do any complex mathematic calculationsto paint these effects, just some additional concepts to understand and visual calculations to make.
When we think about reflection, refraction, and absorption, it helps to think of light first as a particle or ray (for determining the light’s intensity, direction, and bounce) and then as a wave—for determining which wavelengths are reflected off, absorbed by, and/or transmitted through the object and the ground.
That was a huge mouthful, I know. I will be going over all of these more nuanced areas in other posts in this series.
Understanding the particle-wave duality of light begins to give us a clear view of how light’s behavior changes as it interacts with different materials. Watching the videos below helped me gain a clearer understanding of this concept, and I hope you find them useful, too.
As we bring together the elements we need to understand, we start to define the contours of The Fundamentals of Light so that we can start filling in details and particulars—and don’t worry, there will be photographic examples and demos so all of this becomes more clear.
Properties of Light & Matter for Artists
I know this has been a little science-heavy so far, and that’s intentional. It is how I make sense of complex topics, and I hope you find it helpful. Now that we’ve covered the basics of what light is, I’ll change things up a bit to keep everything digestible. I’ll cover a little science and do some explaining, and then use photographic examples or demos to clarify how the information helps in creating art.
Next, let’s dig into the properties of light, but first I want to give you a list of all the properties to keep in mind whenever it’s time to render light. This is a list according to me, and they’re based on my experience rendering light in both 2D (Photoshop) and 3D (Maya).
Number of Sources
Type of Light(s)
Size of Source(s)
Distance from object/picture plane
Angle/Height of Source(s)
Some of these are straightforward, so let’s talk about those briefly. The number of light sources is an important consideration because we need to know how much light information we’re working with. More light sources in a scene makes for a brighter image, but how each source affects the picture plane depends on all the other properties on the list.
The size and angle/height of each source are also straightforward properties and they ask questions like: Is a light source large, small, or medium? Do several small lights make up one larger source because of how closely grouped they are? Do these sources sit high or low on the picture plane? Are they even visible in the image, or are they shining from somewhere out of frame?
Under properties of matter, shape, form, local color, and material type are the most straightforward. We must know what shapes and forms make up the volume of the objects we’re rendering, and we need to know what color and material type they are. After all, there is quite a difference between painting a shiny chrome ball and painting a shiny colored plastic ball. Sure, they’re both shiny; but one is metal and ridiculously reflective while the other is plastic, softer, and much less reflective.
The Two Ways Our World is Lit
Despite all the science, properties, and moving parts involved with understanding how objects are lit, there really are only two ways anything receives light in our world: directly or indirectly.
Objects are either lit directly by a light source or indirectly by reflected light when the rays from the source bounce off some surfaces and objects to illuminate others. This kind of indirect lighting is also called Ambient Light and it is much weaker in comparison to direct light. Most lighting schemes will involve both direct and indirect lighting.
Next, we’ll go over the categories that light sources fall into.
Properties of Light – Types of Light Sources
There are 3 types of light sources:
A key light is the strongest light source in your scene. It defines the emotional impact of the scene and is the primary descriptor of forms and drama. When you decide how to “key” your scene, you are choosing the overall mood and tonal range that will define it.
A fill light is not as bright as a key light and is often softer and a lot darker. Fill lights support your scene and subjects by adding light and color information in the shadows, which can illuminate an area of interest you wish the viewer to see or just provide added interest or balance to your scene. Fill light can be ambient (reflected) light, as I’ve done in my examples below, or it can come from an additional light source(s).
A rim light travels the outer edges of objects. Rim light helps define shapes, add dramatic appeal, and can be a helpful tool for adding compositional information and/or emotional impact.
No matter what kind of mood a story or scene calls for, any lighting scheme will have at least a key light and, likely, some combination of all three light source types.
Okie dokie, how’re you doing? I know this has been a lot to get through, and I hope you’re still hanging in there with me. Deep breaths, we’ve got this!
Now, it’s time to go over some terminology to help keep things clear as we continue to move through the Fundamentals of Light.
Defining Terminology + Sphere Tests
Think of this as the glossary section of this post. Here I’ll define the frequently used terms that will show up quite often from now on in both my writing and the call-outs in demos and examples.
Anything that creates and emits light. Light sources can be natural, like the sun, moon, and fire, or artificial, like lamp posts, flashlights, and device screens.
Light Direction & Angle
The orientation of a light source relative to the picture plane. For example, low and out of frame on the left, or mid-level and in frame on the right.
The intensity or strength of a light source. A high exposure light source makes for a brighter, “high key” scene, while a lower exposure light will make a scene appear less bright. I tend to use exposure and intensity interchangeably.
The area of a form receiving most of the light; the lit side of a form.
The brightest area on a form. This is usually a small area that is receiving the most direct light and reflecting a bit of it back.
The area on a form that has begun to turn away from the light source, resulting in a transition area of light to shadow. This area is receiving some light, but not nearly as much as the parts of the form facing the light source more directly.
Light that bounces off a surface and then lands on another form or surface is Reflected or “bounce” light. Reflected light is much weaker than direct light and can occur on any part of a form, except occluded areas.
The point at which light cannot land on a surface. This is where the shadow side of the form begins.
The darkest part of the form shadow. The shadow core on a sphere typically looks like a dark band right next to the terminus, a clear separator between the light and shadow. The core shadow is also the part of the form shadow least affected by reflected light.
The areas of a form that are in complete shadow and receive no direct light.
Occlusion shadows are the darkest areas in shadows and on/within forms where absolutely no light can reach. When something is occluded it is completely obstructed or blocked, so when light is occluded you have complete darkness.
We see occlusion most often in narrow areas right beneath forms before the cast shadow begins, and with narrow openings, cracks, and crevices of surfaces/forms. Occluded areas are not sufficiently open enough to the environment to receive any light, so there is only shadow.
Cast shadows is created when an object’s form blocks light. Objects block light adjacent to themselves and in the shape of their contours. There are three distinct parts to a cast shadow, the Umbra, Penumbra, and Antumbra. Much of the time, in art, we are only painting an umbra and penumbra. When multiple light sources of different intensity and direction/angle are involved, we begin to see examples of all three parts of a cast shadow.
Umbra: Umbra is Latin for “shadow”. The umbra is the innermost and darkest part of a cast shadow, where the light source is completely blocked by the form creating the shadow. [i]
Penumbra: Penumbra is Latin for “nearly” and “almost”. The penumbra is further from the object and lighter than the umbra. Further away from the object light from the source and the environment can influence and brighten the shadows.
Antumbra: The antumbra is the lightest and softest part of a cast shadow. The technical definition is confusing and unnecessary for our purposes, but if you’re curious click here.
Now, I’m going to show a few sphere test examples to visually illustrate the terms above so we can make practical sense of all you’ve been reading.
The Distance of Light Sources & Why It Matters
Each property of light plays a role in affecting the mood of our scene and the light effects we paint, including shadows. The appearance and quality of shadows is determined by the light and forms that cast them. How near or distant a light source is to an object has a significant impact on the appearance of an object’s form shadows and cast shadows, so let’s get into that next.
We can group lights into categories based on their characteristics, like size, distance, and how intense they are to get a starting place for how those lights would interact with the objects in our scenes.
Distant light sources are things like sunlight, moonlight, and powerful spotlights like those in stadiums and theaters. Distant lights tend to:
Be neutral lights.
Cause soft-edged form shadows.
Create cast shadows that are the same size and shape as the object because their light rays are parallel.
As one example, we know the sun is a huge, very distant, powerful light source, and from observation we know that light from the sun strongly illuminates everything it reaches. That means light is bouncing around everywhere in our atmosphere and reflecting a lot of light, so we can expect brighter and more colorful shadows when the sun is involved.
Playing with exposure also makes a big difference, so an overcast grey sky lowers the exposure, diffuses the light, and makes the sunlight seem much less energetic than a clear and cloudless sky, and creates lighter, softer, and less colorful shadows.
The Sun is also larger than our Earth, and any object we would light with it, so we must also consider the sun as an “oversized” light, which we’ll get into in a minute.
Nearby Light Sources
Nearby light sources are things like lamps, candles, device screens and monitors, lighters, matches, lanterns, etc. Nearby light sources tend to create:
Larger cast shadows because the light rays are no longer parallel.
Shorter and sharper (harder edged) cast shadows the closer they are to objects, longer and softer cast shadows the further they are from objects.
A higher terminus and a larger form shadow.
A more active or energetic feel and added tension to a scene.
When nearby light sources are also quite small (like candlelight or a lighter), they tend to cast hard edged cast shadows. They present an additional composition challenge because they can become distracting if not handled carefully. Nearby light sources tend to become a focal point in a scene, so it’s important to be mindful of that and use it to your advantage for your chosen lighting scheme and compositional design.
Oversized or Diffuse Light Sources
Examples of oversized or diffuse light sources are the entire sky on an overcast day (sky light), light coming through large windows, and any light that is scattered by being translucently covered or blocked (like a paper lantern, a light sheet or cloth, an umbrella, or frosted glass covering for light bulbs). Oversize or diffuse light sources tend to:
Cause an object’s terminus to move further away from the light source (the larger the light source is larger relative to the object).
Create softer edged shadows.
Make environments and characters feel softer, warmer, and more friendly.
In the case of light sources that are larger than the objects they illuminate, the light rays are travelling out in random directions, reflecting off the atmosphere and other objects and surfaces, and filling in the shadows, which softens them. Shadows become softer edged because light does not reach each part of the shadow area equally, and because the object blocks (occludes) part of the light area behind it.
Ambient light is created when light from a source is reflected off the ground, other objects, and the environment. It is possible for objects to be exclusively lit by ambient light, but a key light (which is usually a direct kind of light) is still needed to emit the light that will be reflected.
Terms like indirect light, reflected light, and bounce light all mean the same thing: they are all ambient light. Ambient light is most noticeable in shadows because of the contrast, but it is present whenever and wherever reflected light lands on an object or surface.
Light rays lose most of their strength and brightness (90%) with each bounce, and they are bouncing around multiple times. This loss of strength is why ambient light is generally weak and cannot reach into occluded areas.
You may have come across the term ambient occlusion, especially as it relates to lighting in 3D modeling apps like Maya and Zbrush. In drawing and painting, if zero light can reach an area, I simply refer to this as an occlusion shadow or an occluded area.
For a bit more on ambient light and ambient occlusion, here’s a video by Marco Bucci (awesome artist!) that I found helpful.
Light Direction & Angle: How They Affect A Scene
In any lighting scheme, cast shadows are a compositional and mood element that should be considered and planned. Choosing the light’s direction and angle is an important step in setting the emotional tone of a scene as well as defining forms and helping viewers to understand how to react to what they are seeing. Cast shadows can add drama and mystery to a scene, particularly when the object or character casting the shadow is off camera.
Different light directions and angles offer a variety of mood options, and I’ve listed a few here:
Direct Overhead Lights:
Tend to read as unnatural.
Can help create tension and drama, and how much depends on the light’s exposure and temperature.
Angled Light from the side:
Reads as active and energetic.
Adds dramatic tension.
Frontal light (slightly to the side and above, not directly in front):
Comfortable way of positioning light.
Keeps an object/character from being in too much shadow.
Good at defining form.
Reads as soft and friendly.
Is the most unnatural of all the lighting directions.
Feels dramatic in spooky, creepy, threatening, and unnatural ways.
How you choose to render your light will always depend on the position and point of view of the audience, and the message that needs to be conveyed.
The Fundamentals of Light—Breaking Down The Parts
Even though we learn in steps and stages, I find it helpful to get the “lay of the land” because it provides a road map, and it’s nice to at least have some idea of what we’re doing, right? With that in mind, I have listed the major headings that are part of studying The Fundamentals of Light and broken out some detail for the area we’ve covered today.
Properties of Light
Types of Light
Terminology & Sphere Tests
Fall Off & Form Changes
Light & Surface Color
Translucence & Transparency (Transmission)
Light & Materials
Atmospheric Effects & Atmospheric Perspective
The Human Experience of Light
Next Time: The Fundamentals of Light, Part 2!
Take a moment to think of your absolute favorite treat for relaxing and pampering yourself. See it, visualize it in your mind’s eye. Now…get yourself that treat! You have just made it through a massive amount of information in a relatively short(ish) amount of time.
Thank you for hanging in there with me. I’ve tried to keep things clear and concise, but I know this was a lot to take in. I commend you, I thank you, and I am sending you virtual high fives and fist bumps!
We need some forms before we render light, so if you need guidance in that area I have some posts covering Form and The Fundamentals of Art to help.
The next couple of posts in my Fundamentals of Light series will cover exposure and fall off, and then absorption, reflection, and refraction of light wavelengths.
If I’ve confused you, if you have questions, or if I’ve gotten anything wrong, please message me in the comments and I’ll do my best to clear things up.
Welcome fellow artists! Thank you for sharing part of your day with me to talk about art fundamentals 😊.
Since you’re here it means you are looking for answers regarding the fundamentals of art and other art concepts like painting, color, composition, anatomy, value, and many others I’m sure. When we start our art journey, we have tons of questions about art and its elements. I’m happy to share everything I have learned as an artist because I remember the struggle of becoming.
There are almost always pre-established paths, curriculum, video courses, books, and other avenues for getting whatever knowledge we seek. These avenues lay out what the essential or fundamental parts are for any discipline and stress the importance of learning those fundamentals to achieve success—and for good reason, as our work and understanding tend to fall flat without them. Everything there is to learn has fundamentals intended to serve as our foundation.
A foundation is our primary source of essential knowledge and skills, and once completely established it supports us as we grow from it and built on it. Have you ever heard the phrase “We stand on the shoulders of giants”? The artists that came before us, from masters to hobbyists, have already laid the groundwork for us. We don’t need to reinvent anything, all we must do is learn the basics, each art concept, and do the work to make our art.
Yes, it is a process. Yes, it does take years. That’s okay! It’s worth it, and so is your art dream.
What are the Fundamentals of Art?
Search for “art fundamentals” or “what are the fundamentals of art?” online and you quickly get a cornucopia of mish-mashed information about art and design.
There is a difference between a fundamental, a principle, and an element. A fundamental is something you start with and then build on. A principal is similar to a fundamental, but it can also be a set or list of things that make up one encompassing fundamental. I think about it this way: if there are multiple principles, then whatever heading they’re all listed under is the actual fundamental.
Take the Principles of Design, for example. There are at least seven of those, but Design is the fundamental. Make sense? An element is literally a component, one part, of a whole. All fundamentals have elements, but no single element is a fundamental on its own.
Why Learn the Fundamentals of Art?
Because you want to draw and paint awesome stuff without tearing out your hair, that’s why.
Making quality art requires us to understand all the fundamentals of art as well as their elements, including painting, color theory, composition, color mixing, anatomy, perspective, design, etc. Understanding each of the fundamentals, each concept, in depth is a process and an investment in ourselves as artists. You have goals as an artist that you dream of meeting, and your journey is about equipping yourself to get where you want to be and rocking it when you arrive. So let’s gear up by going over this list.
My Top 5 Art Fundamentals for Beginners
To be completely honest and transparent, this list represents the top 5 art fundamentals according to me. Others may disagree, but I have been working at this long enough—and I have classically trained enough—to present this list with confidence. The order I list them in is based off years of study, practice, and wall smacking.
Proportion (Illusion of Mass and Dimension)
The Fundamentals of Light (Tones/Values,includes basic Color Theory & Mixing)
Drawing from Life
Gesture Drawing & Anatomy
My key reasoning for the order of this art fundamentals list is quite simple: Historically and to this day, most times when I hit a wall it’s in one or more of these five areas that I find the solutions I need. Had I built a stronger background in these earlier on, I would’ve hit fewer snags. The strength of our foundation plays an important role in how we navigate our way through any challenge, and no matter how experienced we become, problem solving and corrections will always be part of our creation process.
It’s good to get different perspectives on things, so here’s the awesome Bobby Chiu on what the fundamentals of art are:
With all that in mind, let’s start digging into these top five fundamentals and help you on your way.
When we talk about Form in art, we’re referring to an object’s overall shape, volume, and contours which include line, depth, and mass. Seeing and constructing Forms are the first and most vital skills we must develop as artists. Practicing the analysis, understanding, and building of Forms creates a strong foundation for developing and growing all other fundamental art skills. Line, shape, structure, and proportion are essential building blocks for anything you draw or paint.
The process of practicing each of these skills builds our visual library and the muscle memory needed to allow us to create whatever artwork we want. As artists we are in the business of communicating feelings, thoughts, impressions, messages, and stories, so let’s look at how developing our skill with Forms helps us.
Benefitsof developing skill with Forms
1. We Learn to See
Practicing seeing and creating Forms helps us become familiar with the physical make-up of all the things that surround us and how all their parts come together to shape part of our experience.
2. We Learn to Analyze, Explore, and TakeRisks
We begin to see connections, relationships, repetition, and similarities between and across forms and objects. This readies us to look more closely at each subject and better understand the fundamentals beyond the basics.
When you feel ready for more on Forms, I take a deeper dive into the topic in my UnderstandingForm post.
2. The Fundamentals of Light: A Few Words on a Massive Topic
The study and practice of The Fundamentals of Light allows us to create Tones/Values in our work. Where Forms add the illusion of volume and dimension, light and shadow give objects a sense of mass, help further clarify surface texture and plane changes, explain the objects’ local tone and color, indicate mood, and show objects’ context within the picture plane.
Studying Light teaches us how it interacts with everything in the real world and helps us reproduce an illusion of its effects in two-dimensions. This practice helps us illustrate the properties, mood, and the character of the objects and people we draw and paint. With these two art fundamentals in our toolbox, we can create the illusion of any type of material, choose any level of detail, and guide the story to wherever it needs to be.
The process of practicing with light and shadow in art begins to bring us into other areas, such as color theory, color mixing, color key, light key, and painting. During this learning process, I recommend you to try to keep color simple. While color theory is relatively simple, a deft use of color takes years of practice and there are several elements involved when dealing with it. I also recommend using digital painting tools in addition to traditional painting to help with the study of color.
Digital tools are much more forgiving and are great for practicing and experimenting with value and color. My favorite thing about playing with color and value in a digital painting app, like ProCreate or Photoshop, is that they allow you to learn all the elements of color without having to mix color.
Mixing is its own thing–not a big thing, but still. Painting traditionally involves understanding the characteristics of each product (whether those are painting colors or mediums) and paint colors can vary wildly within a single color range and from brand to brand. Since traditional color mixing is so involved, it is best practiced separately from these five fundamentals.
Practicing each of these art fundamentals requires us to also practice Drawing from Life, which is the next area of fundamental practice I recommend for beginning artists.
3. Drawing from Life: Growing Your Skills & Visual Library
Every time we make art from life, we are doing something very important for our art and for ourselves as artists. We are taking into ourselves the life around us and engaging with it. Sketching and Drawing from Life are how we have a dialogue with the object we are re-creating. The relationship we have with the world through this process develops and maintains our visual libraries.
To begin, I suggest starting small and simple.
Think of the different types of shapes and find objects from your daily life, and from nature, that include many of those shapes. Then, draw them a lot. Start with the basic shapes you see—i.e., circles, squares, triangles, etc.—to practice seeing the elements that come together to construct the forms, such as cylinders, spheres, cubes, boxes, pyramids, cones. Leave out details like the surface designs, textures, and colors for now, focusing only on the forms, local tone, and basic light and shadows.
Draw the objects from different viewpoints, at different times of day, in different positions, under different lighting conditions, on their own, and grouped with other objects. Some printer paper or a simple sketchbook and pencil are really all you need to get started.
Once you feel comfortable with the simple forms, take yourself to the next level of form complexity and alternate between organic and inorganic forms to help to keep things varied, fun, and to keep expanding your visual library. As you become comfortable with more and more complex forms, you will find yourself ready to begin tackling the most challenging ones: Humans and animals.
For an artist, gesture drawing is essential for infusing a sense of motion, energy, and life into our artwork. As artists, we want to share art that feels alive, and gesture drawing and anatomy help achieve that. Gesture helps us add to the observation skills we build when creating from life by teaching us to see, accentuate, and exaggerate the motion in the poses of our subjects.
Every subject has gesture and motion; they are not exclusive only to humans and animals. Even when an object is static, like the trunk of a tree, it still has a gesture—it just doesn’t convey motion because it is not moving. Gesture is an area of study unto itself because creating the illusion of dynamic motion has its own set of terminology and guiding principles.
However, as with the other art fundamentals, gesture drawing builds on the other skills that were listed before it. Just as we construct our objects from lines and shapes, so too do we build our gestures. In a traditional gesture class (usually called Figure Drawing), we learn to identify the line of action for each pose and then build the forms around it. This also involves much practice in seeing, and accurately placing, the angles, proportions and distances between shapes and forms.
It is another form of drawing from life, with the specific life form being a human model.
Figure Drawing for Gesture Practice
At first, working with the figure feels quite daunting and challenging (and hilarious cuz there’s a naked stranger in front of you). I put it this far down on my list because it is a much more demanding skill. Even so, when you feel ready, I strongly encourage you begin adding gesture/figure drawing to your practice routine. It’s as fun as it is challenging, and it will help your hand and eye mature.
When I first started waaaay, back in 2001—OMG I’m totally aging myself—I was like all the rest of my first-time figure drawing artist classmates: giggly and terrible at drawing naked humans. I had no idea what I was doing, and that was fine. At first it’s quite humbling, but with a good instructor (Thank you, Professor Tacang!) I improved. If I can do it, so can you—with all the art fundamentals.
Remember, this is your journey so make it work for you and your art. I am here to act as a helpful guide and faithfully pass on what I learn.
The last skill in this first round of art fundamentals is one that helps pull everything together and adds an extra kick of believability to our creations.
5. Perspective: Exciting and Technical…mostly.
The first four art fundamentals are all about building the solid drawing foundation we need to support us as we work to communicate through our art. Perspective is another powerful tool for our visual storytelling, and it is a bit different from the others. Whereas the other areas of fundamental study are focused on constructing, lighting and enlivening objects, Perspective focuses on the space the objects occupy.
It deals with how the orientation of each object changes depending on its position within that space, and where our point of view is set (POV). Perspective allows us to understand the spaces our objects and stories occupy, and to examine each from different points of view.
Access to any point of view in the story is the gift we gain by developing our skills with Perspective, and the impact of a story can change dramatically depending on the viewpoint from which it is told.
As with the other fundamentals of art, Perspective is an area of study unto itself and has its own set of terminology, rules, and ways of practicing. It is certainly one of the more technical areas of study in art.
Creating objects in perspective is a more guided way of working that calls for a lot of lines and points: horizon line, vanishing points, and construction lines. I think it can be exciting when it helps an idea come to life—but it can also feel dry and ass numbingly dull (or painfully frustrating) depending on where you are with it. Perspective is important to learn, important to understand, and, unfortunately, is also a skill many artists avoid early on. I know I did.
It made my head hurt, so I said “no, thank you”…to the detriment of my artwork. Eventually, I sucked it up and learned better (plus it really, really helps with composition!).
So…What About the Other Art Fundamentals?
Believe me, there is no rush and the five we’ve just gone over will do the vital work of helping you build the foundation all your work rests on. The other art fundamentals: Color & Light, Principles of Design, Composition, and Line & Brushwork…they’re not going anywhere, and I’ll be here to help you make sense of them.
Thank you for hanging in there with me! I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions, feedback, or if I have confused you at all, please let me know in the comments so I can help.
I appreciate the opportunity to share what I know with you and contribute to your art journey. Since you’re here it means you want to understand more about form, so let’s dig in.
Line, shape, silhouette, and form are just a few elements of The Fundamentals of Art. As visual artists, our goal is to tell a story through our work, so a firm understanding of how to use and express forms is essential. The use of form is primarily a tool of representational art. If you are leaving your message up to broad interpretation, you don’t really need to concern yourself with creating the illusion of three-dimensional form.
For visual storytelling our forms need to be on point so the story is felt and understood. Nearly all our sensory experiences connect us to forms and light, and heavily inform our understanding of the people and world around us. The ability to express these experiences visually is what helps us connect the stories in our art with our audience.
What is Form in Art?
Simply stated, form is anything whose physical nature includes length, width and depth. Everything we interact with and manipulate in the physical world has, or originates from, form. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the vehicles and tech we operate, tools, nature, and more all have physical form.
Some of our sensory experiences, like smell and sound, are not visual things. We don’t “see” the way a pizza smells or the way a bell sounds. However, we can draw the source of these sounds and then use our understanding of expressing form to connect with our audience’s remembered experiences visually.
Shared sensory experiences connect us all. As artists, we can harness the power of our shared experiences to create even more powerful, meaningful, and inclusive connections. Lines, shapes, and silhouettes help us build and “sculpt” our forms visually, connecting us, through our work, to our audience. Of course, forms also need the application of light to complete the expression and illusion of depth, but let’s tackle one thing at a time. We must first construct Forms before lighting them.
Drawing Comparisons: How I Like to Explain the Elements of Art vs. YouTube or Other Websites You See
At this point, you may have noticed that I have a rather nuanced way of explaining things. That is not only genuinely a reflection of my personality but also intentional. In the searches I have done throughout the years, I have encountered a lot of frustration with surface-level information. A general, top-down overview may be enough to get started, but as we dive deeper into our craft, we need more.
Sometimes we need the nuances of our discipline to help us grow past the walls and challenges we encounter. Some of these reveal themselves to us in the doing, and that is awesome. Other times, we could use a little more help. Finding awesome-looking YouTube videos that explain nothing, while showing off nice painting skills with pleasant background music, has not been something I’ve ever found terribly helpful.
I don’t particularly appreciate putting in the time and effort to search for knowledge and come up short on details or come away with information I cannot use in my work. It feels like a waste of time, and who wants that? I like to have a window into the process to help me understand what I am seeing the artist do on screen. Understanding aids our practice and helps us build our own processes—which is one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist.
My goal here on my site is to share what I have learned with a good balance of the academic, the practical, the nuanced, and the fun. I want to share knowledge you can use.
Shape and Form in Art
To understand form, it’s important to grasp its building blocks: lines, shape, and silhouette.
Silhouettes are combined solid, monotone shapes (most often in black) whose edges match the outline (outside contour) of the form(s) they represent.
Shapes are simplified, flat versions of form that are created using lines. Shapes are created when lines connect to enclose space. Often the space contained within the line(s) is referred to as “positive” space, while the space outside the shape itself is called “negative” space. “Negative” space can also create shapes and interesting contours. These spaces are referred to as “negative” because they don’t contain form descriptors such as value, patterns, texture, etc.
Lines define the edges of shapes and silhouettes, as well as the contours and edges of forms. Contour and cross contour lines are useful for giving additional information about the surface volume and plane changes, which helps guide us when adding values. Variations of line type and line quality can be used to describe texture and weight. Lines are extraordinarily versatile vehicles for communication across art, language, mathematics, and science.
For our purposes, a line is generally defined as a discernible, one-dimensional path created by a point moving in space. Lines vary in length, width, direction, and texture (smooth, rough, broken, dotted, etc.). They can be solid and visible or implied and invisible. If you can “see” or discern a connection/progression between points or objects, then a line is present.
The Five Main Types of Lines in Art
There are five main types of lines in art:
A line’s directionality affects the “feel,” impact, and energy of a composition, as well as the language of the shapes you use. Lines are a powerful tool for guiding our viewer’s eye through the story of our image and infusing a sense of movement within our work. I spoke of the versatility of lines earlier, and there are tons of different ways to draw lines and combine line types. It is a fun doodle adventure to see how many combinations you can come up with. Here are a few of my own continuous line doodles:
In these examples, I use a continuous two-dimensional line to see how far I can push the organic and geometric possibilities of a line. I used black on a toned background and focused on creating as many variations of line direction and weight as I could think of at the moment.
As you can see, the variety of the directionality and weight of the lines makes the “feeling” of the lines change: Some feel heavier or darker than others, and some feel more dynamic and energetic. Line quality affects mood and form in art.
Drawing with constant direction changes, as in the zigzagging and wavy lines you can see here, makes these patterns and open shapes feel more energetic and chaotic, or like they are “buzzing.”
By combining the five main types of lines in continuous line drawing, you will see how far you can use lines to explore two-dimensional geometric and organic shapes and patterns in your work. Practice like this also gives you a sense of the kind of shape language and line quality you like, which will inform how you create forms and objects in your drawings.
For another viewpoint on Line in art, here is a video from KQED Art School:
I know some of you may be thinking this all sounds terribly remedial and obvious, but please bear with me. I am a thorough person by nature, and it’s important to me that I not make assumptions about anyone’s level of knowledge or understanding. Plus, art is HUGE, and I would like to help as many people in their artistic endeavors as I can.
Quick side note: In my Journeys series, I’m documenting my progress toward mastery of line, silhouette, and form as I go through Peter Han’s Dynamic Sketching courses & Dynamic Bible. I cannot enroll in Peter Han’s awesome online Dynamic Sketching courses, what with the Coronavirus pandemic, managing virtual learning for my tiny humans, a day job, and carving out studio time. You know, life these days 😅.
I’ve done the next best thing and cobbled together my own self-guided version by looking at the courses’ syllabuses and examples past students have posted online. Once I can sign up and actually take those courses, I’ll document everything and review the courses here in my blog.
Exploring Shapes: An Important Element of Art
Let’s talk more about shapes. As far as I can tell, there are at least 21 distinct basic shapes and dozens of shape combinations classified as mathematical 2D shapes. I did not think there were that many until I started researching it, but, helpfully, they all fall into two categories: Polygonal or Curved. The list below contains the names and examples of sufficiently visually distinctive shapes—rather than shape combinations.
This list merely represents my opinion. There are multiple lists of different things defined as shapes beyond curves and polygons, including symbols, surfaces, polytopes (what these are, I do not know), mathematical shapes, etc. I compiled my own list into the table below and added a sketch of each for visual reference. Having a robust shape library helps us define form in art.
Figure eight (lemniscates)
Pentagon (5 sides)
Hexagon (6 sides)
Heptagon (7 sides)
Octagon (8 sides)
Most, if not all, of the shapes above are likely familiar to you. Lines help us make these shapes, and adding depth to each helps us create forms in art. When not being used to construct forms, shapes are often used for patterns, details, and/or to add or imply texture.
For example, the pattern on a character’s costume or the design of a tattoo or tribal face paint is left as “flat,” two-dimensional shapes that are being used to describe the three-dimensional form on whose surface they live.
In contrast, in graphic design, shapes seem to be the focus rather than form. When you Google “graphic design” and click on “images,” you’ll see a lot of lines, shapes, and colors used in conjunction with the principles of design to create compelling, vivid “graphic” images. I’ve found that when the term “graphic quality” is used in art, it usually means the emphasis is on crisp shapes and line quality.
In this next video, KQED Art School does a good job of further illustrating what shape in art is:
I have some visual examples coming up later in this post that should help clarify everything I’ve been discussing, so now let’s dig into a bit of the nuance of form.
The Five Basic Forms in Art
There are 5 Basic Forms: The Cube, Sphere, Cylinder, Cone & Pyramid.
Shapesbecome forms when depth is added.
A circle can become a sphere or a cylinder.
A square can become a cube or a pyramid.
A triangle can become a cone or a prism.
A rectangle can become a cube or a cylinder.
Which form each shape becomes depends on your intent, and its proportions will depend on which perspective you use and where the form sits concerning the horizon line.
Here are a few examples I created in one- and two-point perspective:
In two-point perspective, all the forms you create begin with cubes/boxes. In one-point perspective, you can begin with any shape you like.
Here’s one more video from KQED Art School that has more great examples of what form in art can look like:
The Five Basic Forms in Nature
The five basic forms are geometric and mathematical, and geometric forms are frequently described as “man-made.” Regarding objects we typically draw as artists, this is probably accurate. However, I don’t want to leave it because it limits our thinking as makers and creators. Geometric forms are found in nature in a variety of areas. So far, I have found that all but one of the five basic forms, the pyramid, frequently occur in nature.
I have only found one example of the pyramid in mineral/gem/crystal formations, and even then, it’s rare. Shapes, silhouettes, and forms are all naturally occurring things observed every day in our world. Given how much knowledge and inspiration we have always drawn from the natural world, I’m afraid I have to disagree with the idea that geometric shapes/forms are somehow inherently “man-made.”
If I might briefly digress: Technically, humans cannot create anything entirely on our own because we’re unable to create something from nothing. We must always rely upon our Earth’s resources as a springboard for anything we make, and those resources have been here far longer than we have. Just sayin’.
Let’s take a look at some examples of the five basic forms as they occur in nature.
Organic Forms and Geometric Forms
Forms in nature are organic and tend to be curvy, free-flowing, and have much more variation in their forms, patterns, and textures. They are also less easily measurable than geometric forms. My own preference is for organic forms. I find organic forms to be the most unique, dynamic, and extremely fun and challenging to draw. Geometric forms can be just as fun and interesting, though I think their mathematically defined natures lend them more to stabilizing and structural uses than dynamism.
First, we need something to draw! I have tried to go about this in an orderly way–going from quite simple to complex forms from one example to the next. I have tried to use easy to find everyday objects for each. For this type of demonstration, I’ve included the unedited reference, then the silhouette, a breakdown of the basic flat shapes, and finally, a form drawing with contour lines.
If anything seems unclear or confusing, please let me know by messaging me through my Contact page or in the comments section.
Breaking down forms into simple shapes for the start of your drawing helps you better handle what you are trying to do—especially when the forms are especially complex. Trains have a lot of parts, and each is a form. Some parts have parts, and those are all forms to break down and understand. I haven’t broken down every single form visible in the reference for the sake of time, but there should be enough here to be clear.
Subjects Without Form: Those Tricky Elements and their Form Changes
Things like water, air, smoke, and fire are not your standard forms. Due to their varied and shifting natures, all the elements are a little more challenging to depict. Being without solid, static forms, they change depending on circumstances and external influences and conditions.
Water, for example, conforms to whatever container it’s in—whether that’s an inorganic glass or a natural container like the Earth (like a lake or a pond). It is also somewhat self-containing in that it sticks to itself—which how we get water drops and puddles.
Smoke or gas (the types we can see) can technically “fit” into containers, but that is not how they usually occur or how we end up seeing them. Smoke and gases have volume (which varies), but their most defining features are scent (which we cannot draw) and motion. The forms smoke and gases take also depend on what their origins are. Smoke from an explosion or a fireplace has completely different forms, motion, color, opacity, and value than smoke from a cigarette or a candle.
Fire is another subject we draw that does not have a static form. The shapes and forms of fire depend very much on whatever is being burned. A wildfire has a much larger, more energetic form than that of a campfire or the fire from a lighter. All of these are types of fires, but they would each be drawn a bit differently.
Finally, we have Air. We cannot draw or paint air—it is an invisible messenger. We can only draw its effects and some of what it carries. Air affects how we draw all the other elements and objects present in a scene or design. For example, we can draw the dust, leaves, and other debris that can be carried on or blown around by the wind.
Air carries scents all the time, but we cannot really draw those so much as indicate them with other techniques—like a green, stinky-looking whiff of smoke passing under a character’s upturned and offended nose. How we draw the things carried in the air determines the quality and mood of the atmosphere we are depicting. A scene with a gentle spring breeze has quite a different impact than a howling storm.
Drawing more elemental things in nature requires a bit more thought and analysis, plenty of research and reference, a clear understanding of your intent, and a firm grasp of gesture and light.
Adding Depth to Create Form: A Brief Word on Light & Perspective
Since I just mentioned it, now is a good time to go over some basics of The Fundamentals of Light. To successfully draw form does not require color, but it does require a basic understanding of how light and perspective work. The study of light and perspective are both quite involved. There is a wide range of effects possible in each area, and they require at least a small mountain’s worth of practice to grasp adequately.
The basics are simple enough to explain, which I will do here with light. Having read books and taken classes on perspective, I know it is best explained visually so I will leave that for another time.
When it comes to the physical world, the only reason our eyes see anything at all is because of light. As light interacts with the different forms and elements in our world, it creates shadows, reflections and refraction, bounce lights, rim lights, and color shifts. Until we add the elements of space and light to shapes, they appear flat on our page. Even without using a horizon line and vanishing points, you can begin to add depth to any shape by extending it further into space, in any direction, and adding contour lines.
Add more depth by lighting your object, which means adding values (light and shadow). The same process can be applied when you use traditional perspective with horizon lines and vanishing points. The range of values given by light goes much further in describing the forms by giving the object a sense of weight and context within the space it occupies.
Light and shadow help objects feel “grounded” in the picture plane, so they don’t appear to be “floating in space.”
Adding Depth with Light & Shadow: A Simple Demo
Lines and shapes serve as early starting points to begin drawing and orienting the position of the forms they will become with the addition of depth. In the examples I created, I have shown the process of going from two-dimensional shape to the illusion of three-dimensional form and lighting a circle to transform it into a sphere.
This is a completed basic light demo with a sphere. Sometimes it helps to begin at the end, so you know where you want to end up. Next, I’ll break out the steps I used to arrive here.
Create a solid circle shape.
I used a toned background because it helps me see the contrasts of light and shadow much more easily than a white background.
Decide on your light’s source, direction, and angle.
There are several properties involved with light, and that means quite a few decisions need to be made about your light source that will depend on your image goals.
To keep this simple and digestible, I’ve chosen a light source similar to the sun but much less intense and yellow.
Add light to the shape’s surface.
This begins to give the first indication of depth by putting one side in light and the other in the darker mid-tone of the shape’s local tone.
Begin adding the half tone and form shadows.
Form shadows include the terminus/terminator and core shadow. The characteristics of form shadows depend on the number of light sources and their properties.
Add the cast and occlusion shadows.
The cast shadow is the shadow created by the object blocking the light, and the occlusion shadow is the darkest area of shadow where no light can reach.
Add the highlight and reflected (bounce) light to your object.
The highlight is a small area on the object that receives the most direct light from the light source, and the reflected light is an area that is receiving a small amount of illumination from the reflection of the light source when it bounces off the ground plane and/or other objects that may be present in your scene.
Laid out next to each other, it is easier to see the progression from a flat 2D shape to a 3D sphere with light and depth.
Adding Depth with Space: Another Simple Demo
Another way to begin adding depth to your shapes is to use space and perspective. Drawing into space can add depth to a shape without using “proper” perspective. How you choose to add a sense of depth to your drawings really depends on your goals. For representational art, accurate perspective is a must for your finished product—but not when you’re just sketching to get ideas out.
When you are sketching for fun, or just trying to flesh out your understanding of an object’s forms, adhering to rules of perspective is not necessary. I shared some form breakdowns earlier, and now I would like to share some examples of how to turn shapes into forms using space. These are simple, quick, and sketchy examples that are not highly rendered.
I focused on turning each shape into a form by extending them out in space, adding planes and contour lines, and adding some simple values.
A quick note here: While I kept this simple, dealing with the human figure requires a little familiarity with human anatomy. My goal in including a human form for this “shapes to forms” example is to demonstrate that the level of complexity does not really matter because the process remains consistent.
Adding Depth with Perspective: Yet Another Simple Demo (last one, I promise!)
To turn shapes into forms using perspective, I started with a horizon line, one vanishing point (for 1-Point Perspective), and a few basic shapes. The next steps are essentially the same as in the earlier examples, except that when I extend the corners or contours of the shapes back in space, I am extending them toward the vanishing point.
The process does change a little for 2-Point Perspective in that you do not start with shapes but with simple lines. To achieve depth in perspective, you extend lines from each end of the lines to each of the two vanishing points.
If you try to begin with shapes in two-point perspective, things go wonky quickly. I encourage you to give it a try to see what I mean. Sketching in perspective makes sense when you are working out a scene, but if you are having fun or getting ideas out, trying to use perspective right away ends up bogging down your efforts. The idea must come first, and then perspective can help bring it together.
Show Yourself Some Love! You Made it!
Okay, so do me a favor, would you? Kiss your hand and touch your forehead. It will feel silly but try it anyway. That is how you kiss your brain! Congratulations, you made it through all that information! It was a lot! I learned the “kiss your brain” thing from my kiddo’s teacher. Isn’t it cute?
In all seriousness, when you hang in there and gain new knowledge, it is super important to acknowledge your effort, work, and growth. It helps boost your morale and confidence. You are awesome, and I am glad you hung in there with me 😊
My goal here has been to give a thorough and clear overview without confusing anyone or diving too deeply into other related areas. I am also trying to make my posts, and my entire website reflect my voice. I am an open and expressive person, and I want my posts to feel conversational, pleasant, and informative. I hope I’ve achieved that here.
Please let me know if you have any questions—or need help if I have confused you—in the comments section below.