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 the first of my “How to draw…” drawing tutorials!
In today’s “How to draw…”, we’ll talk about how to draw a mushroom! I’ll cover everything you need to create your own mushroom drawing and explain the different kinds of forms your mushroom drawing will need, like mushroom caps, stems, and rings.
I’ll cover how to draw a mushroom from basic shapes to form construction, from imagination, in Perspective, how to light your mushroom, and more.
Just a heads up, this is not an easy drawing tutorial. It’s not difficult, but it is technical. I’m a professionally trained Designer, Illustrator, and Concept Artist, and my explanations tend to be technical and thorough. There is more than one step-by-step guide here. My goal is to teach you to create a different kind of mushroom drawing–your own! I want to teach you to draw every different kind of mushroom you want, in various sizes, so your mushroom drawing looks like whatever you want it to.
I’d rather not give you a static template to copy. Where’s the fun in that? Also, I don’t think it counts as teaching if I say “copy this,” you know? After this drawing tutorial, you won’t need another step-by-step guide.
If you want easy drawing tutorials, this may not be the article you’re looking for. If you like a thorough step-by-step guide and drawing tutorials that teach you to draw whatever you want, I got you! It’s a different kind of drawing tutorial, and I hope it works for you. 😉
There’s a lot to get into, so let’s get started!
What is a mushroom exactly?
It may not seem obvious, but it’s important to know what you’re drawing, and that means learning a bit about your subject. After all, it’s impossible to draw something you know nothing about. So, let’s talk about what mushrooms are.
A mushroom is “the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground, on soil, or its food source” (from Wikipedia). When we refer to mushrooms, we’re usually referring to those with a stem (or stipe), a cap (pileus), and gills (lamellae) on the underside of the cap. The gills produce spores that help the fungus spread.
There are over 50,000 mushroom species globally, and they tend to be grouped into four general categories: edible mushrooms, toxic mushrooms, psychoactive “magic” mushrooms, and medicinal mushrooms.
Mushrooms represent food, a hobby (mushroom hunting), or fantasy entertainment as part of stories like Alice in Wonderland, characters like Toad from Nintendo’s Super Mario, or part of the deliciously drawn food in anime series’ such as Food Wars!: Shokugeki No Soma. Fantasy allows us to play with what a mushroom could be.
Before we play in possibilities, let’s explore and study the structures that give mushrooms their character.
Mushroom drawing: Understanding the structures.
To draw a mushroom from imagination, we must first study the shapes and forms that create its structures. Once we understand the basic anatomical structures, we can draw mushrooms in any way we choose. Let’s begin by gathering references to study.
Exploration & study
The first step in exploring and studying a subject is to find or create references to study from. For this step, I recommend creating a reference board.
Here is the reference board I created:
I create my reference boards in Photoshop, but I imagine it works in any digital painting application. A reference board is essentially a collage of images. It can also be created with a Google image search (or books), a printer (or copy machine), scissors, poster board, glue, and plenty of patience.
As you follow along here to practice how to draw a mushroom, please feel free to use my reference board.
To learn how to draw a mushroom, we need to really observe what mushrooms look like naturally. First, look for repeating shapes and consistent characteristics, like how a mushroom’s cap is always on top of the stem. Then, look for naturally occurring variations in the shapes, like how a mushroom stem can be long and thin or short and thick, etc.
Step 2 for learning how to draw a mushroom is to draw several from reference (or from life) to understand the shapes and forms that make up its anatomical structures and how they are put together. Again, it helps to keep your earlier observations in mind as you draw.
Here are my exploration and study sketches for how to draw a mushroom:
It’s helpful to draw the flat shape combinations you see literally. As you can see in my sketches, I drew small flat versions next to each study. This helps me get an overall grasp of which shapes are present in the subject.
The major structures of a mushroom are:
There are other areas to note, such as the margin and scales on the mushroom cap, but it’s easy to tell that these are much smaller shapes–which makes them details, and we leave those alone until we get toward the end of our process.
Two more forms grow underground, the Cup (Volva) and Mycelial threads, and they look cool–but if it grows underground, it’s less likely to be visible. If it grows underground, we don’t often see it and are less familiar with it–so it’s less likely to make it into your design. If you’d like to study these forms, you can find references here.
Here are a few more of my mushroom studies:
Remember, these are studies to help you understand mushroom shapes and forms. So I encourage you to let loose! I mean that literally–draw loosely! These are for your learning, so they should be whatever you need them to be. I make a hideous mess in my sketchbook when I’m trying to understand something, and that’s fine.
I had to clean things up to make them clear for this tutorial, but otherwise, my sketchbook looks like a messy sanctuary of notes and funky drawings. I love it 😋
Your sketchbook is where you can think out loud on paper and be yourself. There is no need to censor yourself. ❤
Shape breakouts and natural variations
After drawing several mushroom studies, you’ll understand how to draw a mushroom well enough to begin breaking out the shapes and natural variations of major mushroom structures. I like to think of it as visual tinkering. 😊
Let’s ask ourselves: what are the basic shapes and shape variations for those structures? Let’s have a look:
Each mushroom structure has a limited variety of shapes. For example, a mushroom cap appears most often as either a lima bean, a half oval or ellipse, a fat crescent, cone-like, or an upside-down and rounded trapezoid shape.
A stem, the second mushroom form of import, has a box or rectangular shape (which makes a cylindrical form) and can vary in length, width, and proportion. A mushroom ring (annulus) is usually a conical skirt shape, and in some cases, can look like a tube wrapped around the stem near the base of the cap. Lastly, mushroom gills resemble exposed fish gills, but it’s simpler to see them as a pattern of lines or skinny wedge shapes for drawing purposes.
I know this sounds technical and nuanced. That’s intentional. My goal is to help you draw mushrooms any way you want. I’d rather offer you wings than limit you to a static template to replicate.
Our next step is to construct mushroom forms using the shapes we observed from our studies.
Form construction is essentially the process of connecting shapes with lines and other shapes. Beyond that, advancing your drawing involves adding movement and volume with contour and cross-contour lines, gesture, and light & shadow. It sounds like a lot, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it! 👍🏽
Let’s build some mushroom forms!
Below I’ve demonstrated the form construction process using the knowledge and shape information from my study sketches. Now I can create mushrooms that look any way I want, and so can you!
I started with the standard white mushroom you can find easily in a grocery store and constructed a cap slice.
Step 1 was to draw the shapes that help define the overall form.
In step 2, to create the lima bean form with depth and volume, I drew another set of the same shapes on top but slightly shifted down and to the right. This creates the space between the shapes that give us the illusion of depth and volume once we connect everything.
Adding contour and/or cross-contour lines helps reinforce the sense of depth and volume of the form.
In my second mushroom form construction demo, I chose a cone-shaped mushroom cap and repeated the process. Again, I began by drawing in the form’s major shapes: a circle first, then an exaggerated arch, connected by an ellipse.
Once again, I used contour lines toward the end to add to the illusion of depth and volume. I also added a circular “lip” on the views that show the very bottom of the cap. This gives a sense of thickness, which aids the illusion of volume.
For this mushroom drawing demo, I chose a slightly oblong half oval shape. The process remains the same. I used two different sized circles to create the oblong feel of the shape and enclosed them with lines to connect them. To create depth, I added an ellipse at the base that connects the two corners of the oval. Next, I added a smaller ellipse to create an opening for a stem and a plane change boundary for the gills.
I constructed a few mushroom stem forms with the same process. The stems tend to be cylindrical, but sometimes they look almost completely round.
As a rule, I like to create my demos in traditional media because 1) it’s best to start learning with traditional media and get really familiar with sketching in your sketchbook, and 2) I don’t want anyone to think they need digital tools to learn how to draw. You do not need digital tools to learn how to draw a mushroom or anything else. I have suggestions about tools for beginners, but digital can be a later thing.
That being said, I created this next sketch on the fly digitally (as I was writing😅) because I felt there should be a construction demo that included both major mushroom forms: the mushroom cap and the stem. The very bottom of the construction demo section seemed like a good place for it, too.
These demonstrations are of basic form construction. Additional shape information can make the forms more complex add detail, but I strongly encourage you to make a habit of first getting comfortable studying and constructing the larger forms. Details and complexity live on top of major foundational forms. They don’t exist on their own.
A word about details
Details are a treat for the eyes and can be fun to draw, but for as much attention as they command, their place in the process is toward the end.
Here’s an example along with the original reference:
I’ve shown the major forms for the mushroom cap, the stem, and the plane for the gills in my sketch. The mushroom on the left of the sketch is an example of the major forms without details, and the mushroom on the right has some of the details drawn on top of the major forms. Details add fun, interest, and more information–but we can still tell the drawing on the left is a mushroom without them.
I highlighted the details on the right-hand side mushroom and then broke them out independently. When details are the focus, they give very little information about what the actual subject is.
Sometimes additional details are necessary for clear visual communication. For example, when you’re drawing the inner portion or the dissected view of your subject. However, since mushrooms already have a large variety of possible surface texture shape information, I chose not to dive into inner portion or dissected view drawings for this drawing tutorial.
How to draw a mushroom from Imagination: Invention and Experimentation
At this point, you know how to draw a mushroom! Congratulations!
Let’s tackle how to draw a mushroom from imagination! Don’t worry; the process is still the same! The only difference is that nowyouchoose the gesture and shapes your mushroom drawing will have. You’ve got this!
I find it helpful to play around with shape combinations before settling on a shape design to construct. Time to use what you’ve learned and using it to develop your own ideas! Booyah! 👊🏽
Here’s an example of my ideation and playing on paper:
If you want to try more adventurous shapes with your sketches to get a different kind of look, go for it! I kept it a little low-key here to ensure everything stayed clear, but I encourage you to try whatever variety, character, and zest you want!
Once you’ve developed an idea you like, follow the same process to build your forms. I’ll demonstrate with one of my sketches from above by going through how to draw a mushroom step-by-step.
How to draw a mushroom Step-by-step
With your rough sketch next to you, lay down a gesture line (curved line) to start building from. Since my mushroom is upright, I used mostly vertical lines. The gesture line will add a sense of movement and character to help your drawing feel more dynamic.
On top of your gesture line, add the basic shapes that make up the form you’re building. Here I’ve added a circle at the top for a rounded tip, two curved lines for a curvy cap of the mushroom, and a circle at the bottom for the base of the stem.
Next, it’s time to add the illusion of volume and depth by connecting the basic shapes. I’ve added an ellipse at the mushroom cap base and connected the ellipse of the stem base with the circle at the top of the mushroom cap.
With all the major shapes and forms roughed in, now is a good time to build in the form information for smaller structures like the mushroom’s ring. If you want more shape info for your mushroom drawing, like scales on the mushroom cap, this is a good stage to begin blocking those in.
At this stage, with most, if not all, of your forms roughed in, it’s a good time to start “truing up” or darkening the lines of the major forms for your final mushroom drawing.
I lightly blocked in the mushroom gill pattern. Following the gesture established earlier, I used vertical lines to create the gill pattern. You can do this step earlier than I did if you prefer. I made it a separate step for clarity’s sake.
I darkened the gills and added some thickness to the bottom margins of the mushroom cap and ring.
As part of the finishing stage, I erase the construction lines.
I used cross-contour lines to add depth and give more plane-change info. You don’t have to do this, but it does come in handy when you add light & shadow.
How to draw a mushroom in Perspective
Don’t worry; I’m not going to squish an entire lesson on Perspective drawing into a how to draw a mushroom tutorial. Perspective is its own thing, but I thought some examples of a mushroom drawing in perspective might be helpful.
Start with a horizon line, a vanishing point (VP), and some squares to set up boxes of various sizes in one-point perspective.
Once I’d drawn my boxes, I divided them to match my mushroom design proportions. This made constructing my design in perspective a bit easier.
I begin constructing my forms with the same process as before. The only difference is that shape placement needs to happen within the bounds of the boxes and planes to maintain the perspective.
The process for how to draw a mushroom doesn’t change for two or three-point perspective, but the set up for the perspective does change. I’ll cover perspective in separate articles, but I wanted to visually demo the process for you.
Here’s two-point perspective:
And here’s three-point perspective:
How to draw a mushroom from Imagination: Sketching in Perspective.
I thought it would be fun to demo how to sketch in perspective briefly. So I created my own perspective grids in Photoshop, printed them, and sketched on top of them. The basic idea is that your lines need to go in the same direction as the grid lines, and from there, you construct forms. I chose two-point perspective for this demo.
Light and Shadow: How to light your mushroom
Now that your sketchbook is overflowing with fabulous mushroom drawings & designs, of course, you’ll want to pick your favorites to take to finish! That means adding light and shadow.
I created a visual step-by-step demo below for how to light your mushroom design. For more in-depth info on light, please check out my Fundamentals of Light series.
A word about color
It was tempting to break out the colored pencils after this light and shadow demo, but…I firmly believe that Color & Light, like Light & Shadow, are their own thing. Using colored pencils here would certainly add another dimension to the sketch, and if that’s your jam, then go for it! I prefer to dive into that separately to help all my readers build a solid drawing foundation, and I think whipping out the colored pencils would distract from that. So, that’ll be a “later later” thing for me. 😜
Fun with mushrooms: Exploring shape language and style variations
I thought it would be fun to show other types of shape language examples to wrap things up. My default is representational drawing, but that’s not everyone’s jam. Plus, we have to speak different shape languages, so here are some fun sketches I came up with to play around with different kinds of shapes in various sizes.
Anime/manga shape language
The shape language for anime and manga seems a little more “realistic” to me in how characters and other subjects are drawn, but just like other cartoons, it’s also very light on detail. It’s also exaggerated, of course.
This is my version of an anime/manga style set of mushrooms.
Cartoon shape language
The shape language for cartoons tends to be pretty flat, with very exaggerated shapes to fit the story’s tone. As a result, you can really stretch believability, experiment with different kinds of designs, and have a lot of fun.
This is my version of a couple of cartoon character mushrooms.
How to draw a mushroom, signing off!
Well…I’m exhausted, how about you? 😂😉
That was a lot of stuff, I know. As always, Thank you so very much for hanging in there with me. There are so many options out there for drawing tutorials. You could’ve chosen any drawing tutorial, easy drawing tutorials, but you chose mine and hung in there with me. Thank you.❤ You are awesome!
I sincerely hope you found this article helpful and that you now feel more confident about drawing a mushroom. Please remember to have fun with it! This is your art, and it’s about you. Enjoy it! ❤
If you have any questions or feedback, please leave them in the comments below. Thank you again, and happy mushroom drawing!
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.