Digital art basics – Shape and form:

Digital art basics – Breaking it all down, why use shape and form?

So if you have read the first article about getting yourself set up then digital art basics looking at shape and form is where to look next. Firstly it’s important to understand shape. When we think of shape in children’s education, our own childhood or as teachers we immediately consider math’s class (I know I do). However shape is an art fundamental. Each complex form is made up of basic shapes which in turn create the form.

“Draw what you see, not what you think you see”.

Heard that before right? It is a common phrase and many students upon hearing it look at you quizzically, they might even think it’s something deep and philosophical. In reality it is just fact. Take the picture seen below. This can be broken up into various shapes, those shapes are then creating the form of the overall object.

Digital art basics - draw over of a mallard duck broken down into 11 shapes.
Digital art basics – Mallard duck draw over.
Photo by cynthia berridge from FreeImages

When considering your digital art basics, shape and form is always going to be important. When you start to draw your own images, or if you already started; you will find drawing out the shapes first is a really useful way to ensure that you are creating a proportionately accurate piece of work. If you’re not doing this then you’re trying to draw one complex shape. Perfectly… in one go. Reading it likes that makes it seem challenging. Right? Any successful artist will tell you that starting with shape, and working in the detail last is the best practice, working in detail and trying to create those complex shapes too quickly can cause a lot of problems and you will eventually plateau.

Ways to practice shape and form – Digital art basics:

This is a good list of practice techniques used when you want to practice shape and form.

The draw over:

A nice simple technique, you get an image. Import this image into photoshop or even print it out. From there you draw over in a brightly coloured pen or brush. Draw every shape you see and from there you can redraw those shapes and use them to recreate the complex images (You can see this above in our beautiful duck image) .

I have used this as a technique often when teaching features of the human face. We look at the human face every day. You’d think we would be amazing at drawing it right? … Wrong! In fact that is part of the problem. They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe that is why eyes are always draw larger than they should be, as are lips. Noses are often smaller and foreheads don’t ever seem to exist. Why would they? The more you look at something the more your brain distorts it into what it categorises as important. When we consider eyes, these are often larger as the brain knows they are useful in terms of communication. The eyes help us see emotion so this makes sense.

By drawing over the eyes and ascertaining their actual shape. We are then in a position to look at what they really look like, the scale of them and more.

Draw what you see, not what you think you see:

When you have practiced “the draw over” then you are ready to look at the complex image and break it down into shapes. Start this basic. By this I mean break the image into no more than five shapes. When you have five shapes go to ten, then fifteen. As you start to add more shapes you are in essence adding more detail and you will become more and more confident at breaking images down naturally.

Draw from life:

Really important, when we are teaching children basic shapes we are probably going to use household objects. My one and a half year old knows that oranges, footballs and some of his toys are all circle. (He tells me this at length, it’s how I am so certain and in reality they are spheres but they can be classed as circular regardless).

What does my one year old have to do with drawing from life? Well if I ask a student to draw a picture of an clothes iron they will often not do what really young children do every day. Categorise. They will look at the object and become intimidated by the complex shape and forget that a clothes iron is made up of triangles, this is often because they are over thinking it. Yes maybe the dial is circular, maybe this triangle has curved edges. But if I had to categorise it I would say triangle. When a student has a flat image they may not see that. But drawing from life it becomes much easier to see the shape that is there, breaking down those shapes simply means “simplify”.

digital art basics, simple clothes iron with a triange drawn on it.
Digital art basics – Irons are trianges
Photo by Jean Scheijen from FreeImages

If you take all these points into consideration you are well on your way to understanding shape and form. If you are interested in seeing more, let me know in the comments and I can do a video tutorial.

Livestream: When and what I do when I work on one

Fish like creature I created in a livestream.

Recently I have got back into my livestream. My current platforms are Youtube and Twitch and I stream digital art. I wanted to show off some of the projects I am working on, whilst talking a bit about when and why I do it. The details of the livestream at the bottom of this post. This is more to talk about what I do and why I choose to do it.

Livestream benefits for creative work:

When I draw I find that having a livestream helps to keep me on track and engaged on the project. When working to an audience with a specific timeframe in mind it helps to keep myself. Or if you are reading this to help yourself our then you. The creator in a position where you are engaging with the target audience for your work. I find that active flow of feedback from people watching, helps a lot when working. In all will help you produce better work with the audience in mind.

Working like this is really beneficial for lots of reasons. I work to two hour blocks, in this time I can create simple designs that I can later build on. At the same time there is the idea that by doing so you are giving yourself that time. When you work on projects by yourself and without a designated time it is easier to give up or get distracted (especially if you are like me and you have three children). If I didn’t livestream they would naturally take that time. This is not a bad thing. However at the same time it is important that you can work on your craft in order to get better. Blocking in this time becomes a nice way to save that time for your own development. which in turn’ will put you in a much better mood for thiers.

So why do I do it?

This is simple, it’s fun. Well not just fun but also a great way to get valuable feedback from peers. Look, I get for some people it’s about making a livelihood, getting viewers and having lots of followers. For me it’s all about having fun and enjoying the process of designing characters, creatures and environments. I do this whilst sharing that with whoever will listen .

In my livestream at the moment. This still being early days I get a maximum of maybe 10 concurrent viewers. Maybe 30 views in my two hour schedule. Really I don’t think this is bad. In fact it’s enough people to provide me with feedback. If a design is bad then I find out about it fairly quick. I see it as a collaborative approach to concept art as I get live feedback whilst I work.

My current projects:

Currently I have completed two livestreams. Below are the wonderful creatures I created in this time.

This character is a basic idea for a game and in all would be quite interesting to see in a classic adventure game for livestream.
This character is a basic idea for a game and in all would be quite interesting to see in a classic adventure game.

The character above was inspired by an insect. The idea in the livestream was to create characters that might belong in a video game. How would these work and how to differentiate these from one another.

Fish like creature I created in a livestream.
Fish like creature I created in a livestream.

This creature above is a creature I designed after looking at pictures of a sturgeon, the idea of a prehistoric looking armored fish came across as pretty cool and it was well received throughout the livestream.

Each of these designs were completed within around one hour and forty minutes. My personal plan is to start getting these to a level where I am able to produce two or even three of these sorts of designs within the two hour space. I would love feedback and for more people to join so this is where I share the details.

I stream every Thursday evening from 21:00 – 23:00 UTC+1


Abura Akago

I wanted to write about this piece as I felt it’s one of my more original ideas when looking at mythology creatures. This creature is from Japanese folklore and it’s referred too as the Abura-Akago.

How the legend goes:

In Japanese folklore a greedy merchant was caught stealing oil from villagers lamps. He would make his prophet by selling this oil back to the villagers at a higher price and it eventually led to many of these people being considerably worse off in the long run. So disgusted with this act the ancestors cursed the merchant to wonder the world as a spirit. A little fat creature that drank the oil from peoples lamps to survive. My rendition of the story is probably not very accurate and my drawing is maybe not what you would expect from the story I just told.

When I created this however I wanted to see what I could make different. Adaptations in the animal kingdom  allow creatures to drink their food (instead of consuming it via eating). I decided to cross between a spider monkey in body but with the head of a humming bird. This allowed the project to meet the set criteria.

This creature would be nocturnal. It has developed feline style eyes as this is often used to see effectively in the dark and will allow it to focus at night. This creature prowls in the shadows on dark nights. It waits to drain the oil from a perch at a distance when no one is present.

Technical aspects:

To build the base the best way to do this was to work using shapes. Using shapes allows for blocking and the creation of an overall anatomically sound creature.

The colour scheme I picked of reds and oranges was purely coincidental at the time. I liked the warm colours and felt these would work best with a creature found around oil lamps. The colours allow the creature to seem warm. I added green in the bamboo to work as part of a Colour wheel’s complimentary colours.




The Coralmancer







The image above is one I have done of the Coralmancers. These were an idea I had, the thought process behind these characters were that they lived under the ocean to flee from a faction occupying the mainland called the  geomantic order. This rebel faction were outcast for experimenting with both water and earth magics. They fled to the ocean using water magic to extract air from the water. They are still hunted by the geomantic order and therefore summoned coral golems, these golems although work with the Coralmancers gained sentience from their masters due to their two entity system of animal and plant.

This was a really fun one to draw and you can see a live stream of it on my Youtube channel. I haven’t linked this as I have decided that I will create a separate page for the channel. The  exciting fact for me was it was the first time in a which I have tackled a character in a complicated pose with full colour, I have had to really think about how to give the image depth through use of values and anatomical proportion for this character which I feel I did fairly well.

I would love to turn this into a comic so if you thought this was interesting then feel free to drop me a message and maybe I can give it a go.