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.