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How To Draw the Basic Forms

As with any discipline there are fundamentals that are often overlooked but which are absolutely necessary to draw and paint with accuracy.
If you’re a beginner, learning to draw from large form to small detail is crucial to develop good habits and approach. If you’re a seasoned artist or designer, basic forms exercises are an excellent warm-up for drawing and painting sessions.
Along with gesture, contour, and light/shadow relationships, basic forms are building blocks for image-making.

Form From Shape

Painting and drawing are each two-dimensional. When we intend to create a sense of realism or representational, objective images, we need to create the illusion of volume. Therefore, we begin with two-dimensional shape and “carve” it into three-dimensional form… visually.

From the 3 basic shapes: circle, triangle and square, we develop sphere, pyramid and cube.

I think it’s good to note that the basic forms, otherwise  known as primary solids, can be described via geometry. Drawing and design have a lot in common with mathematics.

This drawing illustrates the three basic shapes, their related forms, and hybrids (cylinder and cone).


Basic Forms Illustrated by Alvalyn Lundgren

Characteristics of the basic forms

Sphere [circle]
This form has no edges or corners. It’s dynamic, meaning it in itself has a sense of motion.
Even so, a circle can be created by drawing a series of intersecting lines going different directions. And a sphere is defined by the intersections of countless conceptual planes.
Circles and spheres are considered complete and perfect.
While we can draw a cube and a pyramid as volumes using only lines, we need shading to show the volume of a sphere.
Cube [square]
A cube is made of 6 intersecting planes. This results in 8 corners and 12 edges. All the planes meet at right angles, making corresponding sides parallel. If all angles aren’t right (90˚) angles, the form is not a cube.
Unlike the sphere — and because of the edges and corners — we can draw a cube using lines alone, with no shading, and it is perceived as a volume.
When all 6 sides are equal in length and width, we have a square cube. If the cube is compressed, making some lengths shorter, it will appear rectangular.
The cube is also considered complete and perfect. But unlike the sphere, it is grounded and static.
Pyramid [triangle]
Pyramids have a base and non-parallel sides that converge to form a point.
The base of a pyramid is a square, and the form has four sides with triangular faces.
Pyramids are stable but also dynamic. The wide base and narrow apex create stability, but the diagonals create the perception of movement.
When inverted and  placed on its apex, the form becomes physically unbalanced and unstable.

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.