You are currently viewing Drawing Basics: To Draw Accurately, Draw Forms, Not Edges

Drawing Basics: To Draw Accurately, Draw Forms, Not Edges

Line is the most basic and expressive element of all the design elements. We can’t develop a drawing without using them. Using line comes naturally to us. We’ve been using it since we were children. 

But, if you focus just on line and drawing the edges of things, your images will look flat. And that can be frustrating.

Are you frustrated with your drawings because they don’t turn out the way you want them to? 

You can immediately improve your drawing ability if you change your thinking and what you focus on while you draw.


Outlines are automatic but not realistic.

Drawing outlines is an automatic tendency for us. Even our drawing tools encourage us to make lines.  

In reality, people and animals don’t have outlines. There’s no outline around anything in the real world. 

And realistic art doesn’t include outline in the final image.

Certainly, lines have to be part of your drawing process. The thing is, if you think only in line and not about form and volume, your drawings are going to look flat and lack realism.


If you think only in line and not about form and volume, your drawings are going to look flat and lack realism.


So, to draw accurately, THINK FORM, not line. Even if your intent is to draw with line only and not shade or add value tonalities, you have to consider the form. You have to consider the parts of what you’re drawing and how they fit together and interlock to become the whole thing.

Drawing realistically is the process of interpreting what we see in reality. Lines describe the edges of the forms that we see. So form is the thing, not line. Therefore, focus on depicting form, not on drawing lines.


Line and edge

There are two types of line:

Contour line describes edges. Edges are boundaries between shapes.

A hard edge has a sharp, distinct, clear boundary between shapes.

A firm edge is less sharp, but still distinct.

A soft edge is a slow, gradual transition from one plane to another.

A lost edge is one that merges with the background or surrounding color.


Shading Corners example sketches by Alvalyn Lundgren


Gesture line describes movement and direction. It’s not descriptive of edges but is used as a starting point for drawing accurately.


Why you should think about form

Drawing is a two-dimensional activity. You’re dealing with the height and width of something. When you draw, you draw shapes.

But forms are three-dimensional. They have heigh, width, and depth. Form is the total of all the shapes that go into it.


Thing Form Not Edges by Alvalyn Lundgren Sketch A Think Form Not Edges by Alvalyn Lundgren Sketch E

To draw a form you have to understand its dimensionality. You have to observe and understand what’s happening on the parts of the form that you don’t see in order to draw what you do see accurately.

If that doesn’t quite make sense let me put it another way: Whenever you look at a three-dimensional object you can’t see the whole thing all at once. There are parts of it that are hidden from view. You have to rotate the form in order to see those parts. And once you rotate the form, there’re other parts you can’t see.

So when you draw something, you need to connect the visible parts with the hidden parts to create the dimensionality.

When you draw from life — direct observation of something — you are translating that three-dimensional form into two-dimensional shapes. How do you combine and interlock those shapes is going to communicate the form accurately, or not.

One thing that will help you to really understand form is to draw the same object from different angles and points of view. In this way, you study the whole form — front, back, top, bottom, and sides.

You can’t see more than three sides of any object or person at the same time.

Front, back, and sides overlap. If you look at the front of a box you can’t see the back side. If you look at the top you can’t see the bottom.

Along with structure, understanding volume and overlapping planes is the most important aspects of drawing realistically. You have to understand the structure and the volume of what you’re drawing.

So when you draw you can’t think in terms of line, or it’s going to go flat.

You have to think form and how forms intersect and overlap. You have to consider the six sides of a dog, a person’s head, or a car, for example.

Drawing from photos?

When you draw from photos, you have to also think form and not line. The same principles apply.

Photos are already flat, but you want your drawings to show volume. So, start with form and work into the details.


Train your brain

You have to intentionally train your brain — your perception and your thinking — to recognize these principles at work in the real world and to deploy them in your designs and drawings.

You’ll struggle with it at first. In fact, be prepared to be frustrated with it. But keep going anyway. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Drawing is a skill. Skills can be learned.

With persistent intentionality, eventually your thinking will be transformed and your awareness of form will become inherent.


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.