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!
Welcome to another “How to draw…” adventure! Today we’ll explore how to draw a pumpkin! There is a lot of variety, and a pumpkin can be more than you’d think. So in this drawing tutorial, please explore and learn with me, step-by-step, how to draw pumpkins and other squash.
First, we’ll take a brief look into what a pumpkin is, so we know something about what we’re drawing, then we’ll dive into exploration and study sketch activities with reference images.
What is a pumpkin?
My interaction with pumpkins happens during the fall, the time of year when we see many a Halloween pumpkin decorating neighborhoods all over the country. But, interestingly, the word “pumpkin” covers much more than a kiddo’s Halloween pumpkin.
A pumpkin is one of many cultivated species of winter squash. Pumpkins are native to North America and are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. We tend to think of the pumpkins that are round, smooth, orange ones with a ribbed pattern on their skin and a thick shell housing seeds and pulp.
These familiar pumpkins are part of the Cucurbita pepo cultivar, just one of the five cultivar categories of squash:
Many squash varieties look wildly different from our traditional Halloween pumpkin and are still called “pumpkins,” which gives us artists so much more to work with. 👏🏽The word “pumpkin” is interchangeable with the terms “winter squash” and “squash,” including summer squash. Botanically speaking, all pumpkins (even the Halloween ones 😉) are winter squash, and all are fruits because they are seed-bearing structures from flowering plants.
The fifth cultivar category, Cucurbita ficifolia, is biochemically different from other cultivars and more closely resembles a melon. While it looks and grows similarly to pumpkins, it is visually more melon-like, so I didn’t include it in this drawing tutorial. However, the process for drawing melons isn’t much different from pumpkins and other squash, so you can still learn how to draw the more melon-like squash with this tutorial if you’d like.
The uses for pumpkins and squash are quite broad, ranging from cooking and eating every part of the pumpkin to pressing its seeds for pumpkin seed oil, decorative and medicinal uses, competitive growing, and other competitive sports such as Pumpkin chunking.
We now have a decent idea of what a pumpkin is and what family, friends, kids, and all kinds of people do with them. With our background research done, it’s time to study the shapes and forms of a pumpkin and other squash.
Exploration and study
Our first step in studying a pumpkin is to gather some references and create a reference board. Some search time on Google is the simplest approach, but feel free to use mine if you’d like. The first image on the right here is of the Cucurbita pepo cultivar group. We can see quite a variety of shapes, proportions, surface textures, tones, and colors. For example, we can see spheres, ovoids, smooth textures, bumpy textures, pear-shaped, deeply ribbed, shallow ribs, ridges, and more.
The next group, Cucurbita maxima, includes the same wide variety of features and the unique Turban squash.
In the Cucurbita moschata group, we see squash varieties having more cylindrical, long goose-necked, and super bumpy surface texture qualities. In contrast, the Cucurbita argyrosperma group includes some very tear-drop shaped varieties.
This last reference I created focuses on the stem portion of a pumpkin. When your subject has multiple “parts,” so to speak, it’s helpful to have references for your study of each.
If you have live pumpkins and squash to practice from life, use those! Drawing from life is an essential skill and one of the Art Fundamentals.
Once you’re all set with references, start drawing what you see to get familiar with the natural variety of shapes. It doesn’t matter which reference you start with, and none of your sketches need to be rendered or “finished” in this step. The exploration and study of how to draw a pumpkin are all about seeing the common natural shapes and forms, their variations, and understanding how all the different forms are put together. The best way to train your eye to see these things is to draw what you see.
It’s beneficial and encouraged to begin with the most simple shape you can see for each sketch. We build forms from shapes and lines, after all. If you’re unfamiliar with forms, my Form in Art article goes in-depth on just that.
Time to put pencil to paper! Speaking of paper, I do most of my sketches by hand with a pencil and a sketchbook to keep things simple and clear.
Here are my exploration and study sketches for how to draw a pumpkin:
Normally, I’m not this neat in my sketchbook 😜. I clean things up, so it’s nice and clear for you guys, but I rather enjoy making an unholy mess in my sketchbook 😁.
You’ll notice that I drew the flat basic shape first to get an idea of the forms I’d need to construct, and then I went about constructing them–but even during construction, I still start with a 2-D shape and build from there. Then, once I have the basic shape, I begin to understand how the form construction needs to go.
For example, with the “traditional” pumpkin I started with at the top left of the first page of my sketches, it was initially challenging to learn to draw the ribbed forms we all recognize pumpkins for. It took some practice to get a feel for that particular how to draw a pumpkin step. Still, after a few sketches, it became clear that I had to 1) understand the shape and form of the “rib” first, and 2) understand how the “ribs” are positioned relative to the overall shape and proportions of the pumpkin.
The “rib” forms are essentially curving upside-down triangles–kind of like a puffy pizza slice wrapped around a sphere. During construction, that translates into wedge or talon-like forms of varying thickness and length wrapped around a sphere or bowl form. Here’s an example of what I mean:
It helps to line up the top and bottom of the “ribs” using ellipses, which is why you see plenty of ellipses, bowls, and circles in my sketches. The exploration and study process is intended to help you see the “bones” of the subject. When we know the primary shapes and variations, we can begin to design and construct with less reliance on our references.
Shape breakouts and natural variations
As I studied how to draw a pumpkin, I found common shapes for drawing any pumpkin or squash are:
a rectangle with rounded corners
a rounded crescent
We can start constructing and combining forms now that we have a shape profile to work from. I like to create a quick reference guide to the primary profiles and variations that I hope you find helpful as you learn to draw a pumpkin.
It’s straightforward when you compare it to the reference images. By studying my ref boards, I’ve paid close attention to what the distinct shapes and shape variations are and then draw each one. Next, it’s time to understand the common forms and construct them.
Form construction is about beginning to put the pieces of what we studied together. The slideshows below will walk you through a few how to draw a pumpkin construction demos.
How to draw a pumpkin – Step-by-step form construction demo 1
This example features more of an elongated shape, but that’s okay. We can use whichever shapes we want 😉👍🏽. I always try to begin with a gesture line to add a sense of movement and character. Next, drawing from my reference guide, I add the basic shapes on top of the gesture.
The next step (second slide) is to connect them and then add contour lines (third slide) to add a sense of depth and volume. Lastly, I erase my construction lines and darken my drawing.
How to draw a pumpkin – Form construction demo 2
The process for the next demo is the same, and only the shapes are different. Once you understand your subject and the process, you can begin playing with the profile, silhouette, lines, angles, sizes, and proportions until you land on something you’re happy with.
I took this last form construction demo a little further to help segue into form dissection and interior forms in the next section. Like the other slideshow tutorials, the steps are the same, but I have added a couple.
You’ll find that as you add more complexity to your forms, the steps are repeated, and the only thing that changes is the size and nature of the information you’re adding.
We begin with the largest shapes to build the primary and largest forms first, and from there, we repeat the process with the next largest (or medium-sized) ones on top.
How to draw a pumpkin – Form construction demo 3
This final how-to draw a pumpkin construction demo gives you a brief look into how the process repeats. After step 3, a simple form has been built, and it’s ready to be added onto.
In steps 4 and 5, I repeat the same steps, adding simple lines and shapes on top of my initial form to add another layer of complexity and interest that gives a better visual description of the pumpkin’s form.
In step 6, I add the contour lines that give me divisions in the form that I can then cut away for step 7, drawing a rough indication of the interior.
Form dissection and interior forms
At this point, we know how to draw a pumpkin! But do we know how to draw a pumpkin on the inside? 🤔
Not to worry! We still have our trusty ref boards with images that give us an idea about what’s going on with a pumpkin’s interior. I didn’t do a super in-depth rundown of the interior, but the process is still the same as above using the seed interior body information we find in the references.
Here are my examples of form dissection and a little bit of fun with the interiors.
A word about details
All the most fun and interesting things to draw have plenty of details that give them their character and make them look really cool. But, for all that they add, details only make up about twenty percent of your drawing–and they take up about eighty percent of your time.
That’s one of the reasons they should be left for the end.
Plus, no matter whether you’re learning how to draw a pumpkin, a mushroom, or anything else, all details (smaller forms & patterns) sit on top of larger forms that must be worked out first.
I don’t count light and shadow or color as details, and they are each their own thing and deserve dedicated articles to explain and demonstrate what they entail.
For clarification, I’ve included some sketches as an illustration of the difference between primary forms and detail forms.
Pumpkin drawing tutorial: How to draw a pumpkin step-by-step
Step 1: Thumbnails & Gesture lines.
Start with some small thumbnails, and then, just as before, add a gesture line and shapes.
Thumbnails of the simple shape combinations you want to use offer a helpful roadmap for your form construction. After that, a gesture line (also called a “line of action”) will help add a sense of movement and life.
Remember, you’ve studied pumpkins and squash, so play around and enjoy!
Feel free to follow along and copy my sketches to get started, but I encourage you to take these examples and apply them to any design you want! You’ve got this!
Step 2: Another Gesture line!
It felt necessary to add a second gesture line for the top area.
There are times it feels more dynamic to have an additional gesture armature to build on.
Step 3: Add the basic shapes.
These will be the basis for our largest form, the pumpkin’s body.
Compare what we have now to our little thumbnail in the upper lefthand corner, and you’ll see we’re quite close to the idea there.
Step 4: Shape adjustments.
Here I added another circle and ellipse to adjust the overall contour in the front and back of the form.
The green ellipse will add a “rib” bump in the rear that we can see from the front, and the orange circle in front will add more depth.
Step 5: More shape adjustments.
I jumped the gun a little bit here and started filling out the stem form😅 , but we can roll with it!
The orange ellipses show where I added the top and bottom planes, and the green lines in the middle show how I connected them to create the stem.
Step 6: Contour tweaking.
No matter how you start, you can always tweak and adjust things to suit what you want them to look like.
I decided my overall form looked a little too round and soft for my taste, so I decided to use a few divots and curves to create more interesting plane shifts.
Step 7: Clean up & darken.
At this point, my sketch felt finished, so I cleaned it up a bit and darkened the lines I wanted to keep in the design.
I didn’t erase all of the construction lines this time. Sometimes, when you’re not adding light and shadow, contour lines, or a lot of detail, leaving light indications of the construction lines can increase the sense of depth.
I decided to make this how to draw a pumpkin article a little more robust since there are so many varieties out there. More variety means more practice! So here is another how to draw a pumpkin step-by-step tutorial!
Step 1: Gesture line!
Don’t worry; I practice what I preach! The thumbnail sketch for this how to draw a pumpkin example is at the top right in the 1st one above. Take a peek; you’ll see 😉.
Step 2: You know the drill! Add those shapes!
This is still how to draw a pumpkin, and the process goes on like a good beat.
I added the ellipses for the top and bottom planes of the stem and a narrow trapezoid shape to act as an envelope for the shape I’m after.
Step 3: Motto, motto!
Next, I put in circles to continue building the form.
Step 4: Building out other forms.
We know there’s a stem, so let’s get it in there!
Step 5: Connect!
Step 6: Build more on top.
I added the “ribs” for more form complexity and interest and to bring home the “pumpkin” feel.
Step 7: Contour tweaking.
I wanted to change the overall contour, so I did that here.
Step 8: Clean up and darken.
At the risk of OD’ing you on step-by-steps, I created a few that go through the same process with the stem forms.
Don’t worry; I know you’ve got this how to draw a pumpkin stuff down by now. I’ll put the rest in as simple visuals so you can peruse them at your leisure 😉.
Another how to draw a pumpkin stem demo–this one is more fun!
One more, and then I promise I’ll be done with the how to draw a pumpkin stem stuff.
How to draw a pumpkin from Imagination
Guess what? Except for the exploration and study sketches, most of the pumpkins from my demos have been drawn from imagination!
I used my references for inspiration, but the rest came from my brain 😎. It’s an awesome feeling, and I bet you’re experiencing it, too! You’ve seen the process many times by now, so keep drawing and experimenting!
How to draw a pumpkin in Perspective
I know I’ve drilled this process into you ad nauseam at this point, so I won’t pile on with the more technical practice of Perspective. Instead, I’ve included a visual walkthrough.
Here are some 1-point perspective examples:
Here are some 2-point perspective examples:
How to draw a pumpkin from imagination: Sketching in Perspective.
I drew all these perspective sketches from my imagination. Now, for my 3-point perspective example, I decided to push things a little more fun.
Light and shadow: How to light your pumpkin
Light & shadow, like Perspective, is a whole other conversation on its own. So in my Fundamentals of Light series, I’m covering all the stuff and gubbins of light and shadow (slowly though, cuz it’s huge!)
In the meantime, here’s a lighting demo for the sketch I did above in 3-point perspective.
A word about color
I did say, “A word.” 😂
In all seriousness, I prioritize solid drawing skills before painting and using color because those things must live on a solid drawing with solid forms.
Playing with pumpkin drawings: Exploring shape language and style variations.
Drawing is fun! So have fun and draw some funky pumpkins!
Here are a few of mine. I gave some of them a body, a face, a mouth, a nose–oh, my! I made pumpkin characters and even a cartoon pumpkin or two 😊. See? Fun!
Now, you try! 👍🏽👊🏽
How to draw a pumpkin teacher, signing off!
Thank you so much for having the patience and intestinal fortitude to stick with me to the end! I appreciate you spending some of your time with me and my how to draw a pumpkin drawing tutorial. I know it was long, and I hope you’ve found it helpful.
If you have any questions or feedback for me, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you guys, and I hope you’ll join me for another “how to draw” adventure!
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.
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.
Welcome to my how to draw a banana drawing tutorial!
Hi everyone! 🖐🏾
Hopefully, you’re all well and ready to learn about bananas and how to draw them. This drawing tutorial is a little different from my others. We’ll still go banana banana for bananas, but I decided to try going heavier on the visuals since they’re such simple forms–until you start peeling them.
First, we’ll learn about what bananas are because it’s important to know something about what you’re drawing. Then, we’ll start getting into the process of how to draw a banana from exploration and study to how to draw a banana step by step, as well as banana drawing with light and shadow and in perspective. There will be quite a few videos in this drawing tutorial to better demonstrate the drawing process.
Most of them are only a few short minutes long and do not have sound–I didn’t think you guys needed to hear my pencil scratching or my kiddos playing in the background 😉.
Alright, let’s get started! As usual, there’s more to them than you can tell from a trip to your local market.
Banana banana! Let’s learn about bananas!
Did you know that a banana is, botanically speaking, a berry? Me either! In some countries, bananas used for cooking might be called “plantains,” which distinguishes them from the dessert variety most common here in the West from the Cavendish group.
A banana is a fruit that varies in size, color, and firmness while usually appearing elongated and curved. It has soft flesh that is abundant in starch and covered with a rind that also varies in color–green, yellow, red, purple, or brown–when ripe.
The banana is grown in 135 countries primarily for its fruit and make banana wine and beer, fiber, and for use as ornamental plants. A raw banana without its peel is 75% water, 23% carbohydrates and contains a very small amount of protein with almost no fat. They offer a modest amount of potassium, vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber, but they are most often used as a staple starch for many populations around the world.
There are as many ways to cook and eat a banana as there are people, and its plant’s flower, leaves, and trunk are used as well. The flower of a banana plant, called a banana heart, is eaten as a vegetable in South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, and its leaves are regularly used as Earth-friendly disposable plates and food containers. Foods are also cooked inside banana plant leaves during steaming or grilling.
Exploration and study: Banana drawing focused on shape and form
As with any form we draw, the first step is to explore and study the major shapes and forms. That begins with gathering references and drawing from them and from life.
Here are a few reference photos I took, along with reference boards I created. You’re welcome to use these in your study if you like.
Shape breakouts and natural variations
The banana is a super simple form, making studying it fairly easy–until you start peeling it 😉. Most of its variation comes in proportion, color, and surface texture.
From here on out, there will be several videos and a few images demonstrating each stage of how to draw a banana.
How to draw a banana: form construction
How to draw a banana: Form dissection and interior studies
How to draw a banana step-by-step tutorial
In case my video wasn’t clear enough for how to draw a banana step by step, I’ve broken out the steps here with another step by step drawing tutorial of a partially peeled banana.
How to draw a banana Step 1
Lay down your gesture line (or line of action). You’ll build your shapes on top of this.
Banana drawing Step 2
Begin building each shape you need on top of your gesture line. Lines and shapes build form, so we start there.
Banana drawing Step 3
Once you have all the shapes you need blocked in, use lines to connect them, as shown here.
Banana drawing Step 4
Start with an ellipse shape around the middle and more gesture lines to begin constructing the peel forms.
Banana drawing Step 5
The peel forms are plane shapes, so once you have laid down your gesture lines, it’s a matter of building the plane shapes on top. Next, you choose the length, width, and direction of each peel shape.
With all your forms constructed, now is a good time to clean up your sketch and darken it for clarity and finishing.
How to draw a banana peel step-by-step tutorial
Banana drawing in Perspective
For setting scenes, you need Perspective drawing practice. Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate how to set up your boxes in 1 and 2-point perspectives and how to use them to build in your forms. The process is the same; we’re just adding perspective into the mix.
How to draw a banana with Light and Shadow
Next, in this how to draw a banana drawing tutorial, I’ll cover how to approach basic lighting for the banana bunch I drew earlier. Additionally, I’ve started a series on The Fundamentals of Light if you’d like more in-depth information.
How to draw a banana with Light & Shadow, Step 1.
The first step is always a solid drawing–no one wants to waste time polishing a turd 😉.
Step 2 – Local tone.
Next, we need to add the local tones. Local tones are your subject’s areas of native lightness or darkness–where each part of the subject lives on the value scale.
Step 3 – Light source.
Now, decide on your light source’s direction and intensity (exposure). I’ve kept it simple here, having the light come from the upper right-hand corner with intensity similar to sunlight. If we were tackling color, this would be the time to decide on the light source’s color and temperature.
Step 4 – First shadow pass.
Using your light direction and form construction as guides, do a rough pass with a darker tone to block in the basic shadows.
Step 5 – First light pass.
Here is the same idea as the previous step, only now you’re blocking in where the light lands on the bananas.
Step 6 – Deepen & refine shadows.
With the basic scheme in place, it’s time to deepen the shadows and refine them through blending. There are nearly always places where the light won’t reach, so we need to include occlusion shadows to demonstrate that.
Step 7 – More light & finish.
Now the lighting for our how to draw a banana light and shadow demo is nearly complete.
All we need to do now is refine the lights through blending, adding highlights, and adding any necessary bounce or reflected light. Then we’re done!
I didn’t go full-tilt high render here, but it’s enough to illustrate the basics of how to light your own banana drawings.
The fruits of your labor: A bit about details and colors
If you’ve spent any time with me in previous how-to-draw articles, like for mushrooms or pumpkins, you know that I prefer to keep color and surface details separate from the drawing stage. Drawing tutorials are about drawing. When drawing tutorials start trying to cover color and surface textures, things can start to get confusing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all connected, and everything needs to be addressed and explained. I will do that; I promise–just not here.
My goal here is to give you a solid foundation for drawing a banana without a reference. From a solid drawing foundation, you can build whatever other mood or story elements you want.
Fun with fruit: Let’s draw a banana from Imagination!
I’m not gonna lie; I had a hard time with this. Bananas are so simple that I found it difficult to come up with more than a few funky ideas for imaginative drawings. I’m sure you’ll do better than I did 😉.
It has been my pleasure to create this how to draw a banana drawing lesson 😊. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it helpful.
If you have any questions or feedback for me, please leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and learn a lesson myself in what you found helpful and what you think could be improved. If any of you have kids, please let me know how well you’re able to go through this with them in the comments! I don’t usually write with kids in mind because of the advanced nature of the drawing process, but I’d love to make my process work for kids, too. Happy drawing, everyone, and take care!
Thank you for visiting this article on my site to learn how to draw a sphere!
I’ll go step-by-step through a few methods for sphere drawing, and most of them focus on drawing spheres not lighting spheres. There’s a distinct difference between drawing forms and adding light and shadow to them.
Drawing solid forms should always come first, then light source, shadows, highlights, etc can come into your picture plane. The goal is to have a solid drawing first, with form space you understand. This makes adding light and shadow so much easier.
I don’t shoot for perfect spheres in all of my examples because there are lots of sphere-like or ovoid forms whose drawing process is nearly identical to spheres. These sphere-like forms are basically variations of a sphere, and it helps to know how to construct those as well.
Let’s dig in! We’ll start by looking at what defines a sphere.
Learning about spheres: The technical stuff and gubbins
Don’t worry, I won’t get too mathematical on you, I promise 😉.
Just as every point on a circle is equidistant from its center, so it is with a sphere. The major difference is a sphere is a three-dimensional form, while a circle is a two-dimensional shape. Shapes, edges, and vertices, and depth create forms, which we also call objects.
Exploration and study: Natural and man-made spheres
We need reference photo materials! We all know what a ball, sphere, sphere-like, and ovoid forms look like, so the value of a reference photo here isn’t really for learning how to draw a sphere. Its value is as a source of inspiration. After learning how to draw a sphere, we’ll want to add surface texture and light–which is where the reference photos come in handy.
Shape breakouts and natural variations
Most objects we see in day-to-day life are spherical or spheroid. That means things like apples, oranges, grapes, water droplets, the human skull, etc are three-dimensional forms that are round, or more or less round. They are not perfect spheres, but they’re visually close enough to be referred to as spheres or spherical.
Here’s a reference board for spherical/spheroid and ovoid objects:
How to draw a sphere step-by-step tutorials
There are three methods I’ll cover here that are strictly drawing only–meaning no tonal value, or light and shade, is used to create the spheres. The first two methods demonstrate how to draw freehand spheres, while the third covers sphere drawing in perspective.
The fourth method I’ll cover here goes step-by-step through how to draw a sphere using light and shadow, both digitally and using graphite. I will demonstrate how to add a light source, form shadow, mid-tone (or half tone), a core shadow, a cast shadow, and a highlight to a flat circle shape to model a sphere. I’ll also demonstrate cast shadow placement using the angle of the light rays from the light source.
In this first method, we’ll draw a sphere by using ellipses to add the illusion of depth to a flat circle shape.
Draw a circle of any size you like, and try to make it as round as you can.
Draw horizontal ellipses within your circle. The band of each ellipse should look and feel like it’s wrapping around the surface of the sphere you’re creating.
This feeling of a contour line wrapping around a form is what ultimately gives our sphere drawing a sense of three-dimensional depth on our picture plane (paper).
Next, repeat the same process from step 2 with vertical ellipses wrapping around the sphere from top to bottom.
The way your ellipses wrap around the edges, or outline, of the circle you started with, is very important.
The illusion of depth is created by giving the viewer the feeling the contour lines are wrapping around the form. This creates a sense of depth because it shows plane changes/turns on the form.
2D forms have no depth, so they have no plane changes to indicate a presence in 3D space. Plane changes are the realm of three dimensions.
Once you’re happy with the sense of depth created by your ellipses, begin darkening the contour lines on the front-facing side of your sphere.
Darkening the contours on the front side, while leaving those in the back lighter, will add a greater sense of depth through value. Darker tones appear to come forward, while lighter tones appear to recede into the background.
To make this process as clear as possible, I created a video to demo the sphere drawing process for this method.
Another method for how to draw a sphere more or less does away with using a circle shape as a starting guide. I don’t find this next method as intuitive or helpful as the method above, but it is another option to consider. It begins with ellipses instead of a circle.
How to draw a sphere: Form dissection
I created the next few videos to demonstrate the form dissection part of how to draw a sphere. When we need to draw something broken, split open, cut up, etc., visual dissection drawing skills come in handy. It’s also useful for investigating and drawing internal shapes and forms, like the juicy insides of a sliced orange or the bloody bits of a battle wound or a sliced-off limb.
The most important thing to remember about the dissection of any form is to do it along believable contour lines, even if you’re not going for a clean look.
Sphere drawing in Perspective
If you’ve visited any of my other how-to-draw articles, first of all, Thank you!
Next, I’ve created a video to demonstrate how some of the process for how to draw a sphere in perspective. As you’ll see in the video, the process is simple but requires quite a bit of repetition.
Below are some images from the video to act as another reference for how to draw a sphere in perspective.
How to draw a sphere with Light and shadow
The first thing to know about how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is that there isn’t a lot of drawing involved, per se.
I consider drawing to be the use of line marks and segments, shapes, forms, etc., which is a bit different than adding value/tones through shading. I think of light and shadow more like painting and coloring, which is why I’m not terribly fond of covering them in how to draw articles. I’m always concerned that it will cause confusion, but it is all connected so we gotta get into it at least a little.
Please try to bear in mind, for how to draw a sphere and anything else you draw, that you always want a solid drawing with solid formsfirst. Light and shadow, tones and shade, and color and paint all come after you have solid forms.
Okay, I promise I’m done ranting about it. For now 😜.
Know your light source
When you’re comfortable with how to draw a sphere, the next step is to add a light source to create light, shade, shadows, and the other values and tones.
First things first, you must know a few things about your light source.
Without diving into the Fundamentals of Light, the four things you must know (or invent and decide on) about your light source are its angle in relation to your object, its height, its color/temperature, and its intensity.
To help you practice, I recommend keeping it simple so there are fewer variables to juggle. I suggest sticking to black and white for now and using a simple light of average intensity. That leaves the height and angle of your light source to play and experiment with.
Here are a few references to help with visualizing your light source.
Form shadow and cast shadows
When lit, all forms will have at least three shadows: a form shadow, a cast shadow, and an occlusion shadow. Of course, in reality, the tones/values are much more involved than that.
Here are a few diagrams to illustrate most, if not all, of the areas and terminology involved in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow.
Lighting your sphere drawing step-by-step (digital)
Now that we’ve very roughly covered a few lighting basics, let’s dive into some demonstration. From experience, I believe the fundamentals of light are more easily practiced with digital tools–they’re much more forgiving. So, this example has been created in Photoshop.
Start with a medium-size flat circle. It helps to use one with some tone rather than a white circle. Here I’ve used a mid-tone gray circle.
In the case of how to draw a sphere with light and shadow, we need to start with a toned flat circle and build the depth with light and shade. Normally, I would not start lighting without a form.
We have a shape to add depth to, now it’s time to decide on the light source.
I chose to emulate the sun here, keeping the source up high, at about a 45-degree angle to the object, far away, and intense.
With the light source set, let’s make the first rough light pass on the object.
The focus here is on determining where your sphere’s terminus/terminator will be by judging where the plane change happens–where the sphere would begin to turn away from the light.
Now it’s time to get into the shade and shading part.
Light helps us see forms, while shade and shadow give us form definition.
In this step, select a dark grey (about 80-85%, or a 2b pencil to 4b pencil if you’re working traditionally) and begin blocking in the form shadow.
The form shadow will begin at the terminus/terminator and cover all parts of the form facing away from the light.
This is also a good time to start blending in your halftone/mid-tone. The halftone/mid-tone area is where the form has started to turn away from the light but hasn’t turned enough to be in shadow. So, this area is roughly half the value of both the center light and form shadow combined.
It helps to remember these are all first passes. It will be necessary to go back over each area to darken, lighten, blend, and adjust as needed.
With your form shadow roughed in, it’s time to add your cast shadow.
The shape and angle of your cast shadow are determined by the shape of your form and the angle of your light source.
It’s okay you’re a little off at first. I’m pretty sure my example here is slightly off, but it works.
A written explanation gets confusing, so I’ll include a diagram for placing cast shadows after this step-by-step tutorial.
Learning how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is a really good exercise for learning about the other important shadows, like the core and occlusion shadows.
You’ll see in the diagrams from steps four and five that I’ve labeled the core shadow. The terminus/terminator is where the light no longer reaches and the form shadow begins. Right next to that is the core shadow, the darkest part of the form shadow.
Occlusion shadow areas are places where the light cannot reach at all–they are occluded, obstructed. Occlusion shadows can be present on or inside of forms as well as part of cast shadows. Wherever the light does not reach, you should have occlusion level darkness of tone/value.
The last step in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is to add the reflected or “bounce” light.
Reflected light happens when light from the source bounces off other surfaces and is reflected back onto the object–in this case on its form shadow area.
How to determine cast shadow placement
Next, I’ve included a few images to demonstrate how to locate and place the cast shadow for a sphere. Here we’re looking for where the light rays meet the outer contours of the sphere and intersect the ground plane.
How to draw a sphere with light and shadow using pencils (traditional)
Not everyone is interested in working digitally, so I thought it would be helpful to demonstrate how to draw a sphere with light and shadow traditionally as well.
If you’d like to follow along with this demonstration, you’ll need a few pencils. I recommend a blend of the soft and hard leads: 4h, 2h, and h pencils; as well as an hb pencil and a 2b pencil. 4b and 6b pencils will help in the shadow areas. I like to go all the way up to 8b because I love velvety shadows, but usually, 6b is dark enough. I have articles about graphite pencils and drawing tools if you need more information in those areas.
As a rule, I don’t use a blending stump, cotton swab, or cotton ball for this kind of exercise. They smudge more than they blend, so I avoid them.
How to draw a sphere from Imagination!
Here is where those lovely references from the beginning of this article come in handy! While important, sphere drawing on its own isn’t the most exciting exercise. With some imagination and reference, you can create some fun and awesome things from spheres.
How to draw a Sphere, signing off!
Well, this one was quite a few mouthfuls, wasn’t it?
Thank you so much for reading how to draw a sphere and spending some time with me here. I appreciate you hanging in there and I hope you found this helpful and valuable to your artist journey.
I’m always trying to improve and come up with more useful articles to write, so if you have any feedback or questions for me, please reach out to me in the comments below.