You are currently viewing Primary Forms: Prisms and Cylinders

Primary Forms: Prisms and Cylinders

Form is the visual appearance of something. Everything we see has form.

We understand what a form is by how it’s shaped. So we need to look for those basic shapes in the objects we’re drawing, and observe how they relate to each other.

By focusing on primary forms, we not only start understanding how the object is made and what it does, we avoid getting lost in noodley details before we build volume. It also simplifies our drawing process.

Observe how things are stacked, how they connect, and where they overlap. 

Observe size relationships, angles, and edges. 

Study how light and shadow work together to reveal the form to you. It’s easier to communicate a cube or prism than a cylinder or sphere in drawing because they have edges — abrupt transitions from light to shadow that are formed when two physical planes intersect. One plane is lighter and the other darker.  

The sharper the edge, the more abrupt and immediate the transition from light to dark. 

Light and dark contrasts (value contrast) are key to depicting form with accuracy. So observe the areas or zones of light and dark value. Keep the different value areas simple. Adding too much detail can create confusion.

Focus first on the larger shape breaks between direct light, core shadow, cast shadow, and reflected light. I discuss these in my article on light logic, which you can read here.

Build structure with prisms and cylinders

Drawing using basic forms:

  1. Begin with a gestural, directional line. This helps establish  the form’s position in space.

2 Observe the primary forms:(cubes, spheres, cylinders, and cones) and lay them in around your initial gestural lines.

3) Pay attention to edges. Simplify the light-dark value relationships.

4) Work up to the details.

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.