Shape in art

When you're out in the wild, sketching animals and plants, understanding the concept of shape in art becomes your secret weapon. Think of shape as the foundation of whatever you're drawing. It's not just about the outline or the silhouette, it's about capturing the essence and the structure of your subject.

Key points

  • Recognizing the basic shapes within subjects simplifies their complexity, making it easier to accurately capture their essence on paper.
  • Focusing on broad shapes formed by shadows, light, and silhouettes establishes a strong foundation, simplifying complex animal forms for easier and more accurate depiction.
  • Utilizing shapes to convey volume and depth, through shading and texturing, transforms flat sketches into realistic, three-dimensional representations, deepening the artist's connection with nature.

Shape in art: Through the eyes of a wildlife artist

As a wildlife artist, I'm always drawing from observation in my sketchbook.

Basically, I'm always looking at shapes and quickly sketching what I see.

To master the art of drawing from nature, begin by identifying the basic shapes that form your subject. Is it the graceful arc of an elephant's back or the simple roundness of a fat toad? Recognize these fundamental forms as your primary tools.

They are what will simplify the complexity of what you see into more manageable elements, allowing you to accurately capture them on paper.

Here’s how you can put this into action:

  1. Break it down: Look at your subject and mentally break it down into its simplest shapes. For instance, an animal’s body can be seen as a series of connected ovals or rectangles.
  2. Quick sketches: Practice making quick sketches focusing only on these shapes. Don’t worry about details; just get the basic form down. This is particularly useful for moving subjects, as it allows you to capture the essence of their posture and movement quickly.
  3. Use visual aids: If you’re finding it hard to discern the shapes, squint your eyes slightly. This technique reduces detail and makes the basic shapes more apparent.
  4. Dynamic environments: In unpredictable settings, start with the largest shape and work your way to the smaller ones. This helps you set a framework that you can adjust or refine as the scene changes.
  5. Practice regularly: The more you practice this method, the better you’ll become at quickly recognizing and drawing the basic shapes of any subject, making your sketching more efficient and your drawings more accurate.

Observing basic shapes

Drawing animals begins with an emphasis on the overarching shapes.

By focusing on the broad shapes made by shadows, light, and the animal's silhouette, you create a strong framework for your drawing. This method not only simplifies the complex forms of animals into more manageable components but also ensures that your sketches capture the dynamic spirit and posture of your subject with greater ease and accuracy.

Here’s how to approach this effectively:

  1. Start with large shapes: Identify the largest shapes that compose the animal. This isn't about intricate anatomy; it’s about seeing the big picture. What are the dominant forms? A bear, for instance, might start as a large oval for the body and a smaller circle for the head.
  2. Observe shadows and light: Notice how light falls on the animal and creates shadows. These areas of light and dark can reveal large shapes that define the animal’s form and posture. Can you see a shadow that outlines a significant part of the animal? Use these cues to guide your drawing.
  3. Silhouette study: Look at the animal’s silhouette. This can be a powerful way to understand the overall shape and movement of the animal without getting distracted by the details. The silhouette tells you a lot about the animal’s stance, energy, and proportions.
  4. Capture gesture and posture: Before diving into the details, use the shapes you’ve identified to sketch the animal’s gesture and posture. This step is crucial for capturing the essence of the animal’s movement and presence. It sets the stage for a more detailed and accurate representation.
  5. Simplification is key: Remember, the goal at this stage is not to render every detail but to lay down a solid foundation based on the significant shapes. This approach allows you to grasp the animal's essence quickly, making it easier to refine your drawing later.

Conveying Volume and Depth: A Step-by-Step Approach

Transforming flat shapes into three-dimensional forms is key to bringing your sketches to life.

Use shapes not just to outline but to convey volume and depth. Shading and texturing techniques can turn a flat circle into a spherical poisonous berry or a simple rectangle into a rugged bark. The transition from shapes to forms is what brings your sketches to life, adding dimension and realism to your work. As you refine your observation skills, you'll start to see the world differently. Shapes become the language through which you interpret and document the wild's beauty.

This approach not only enhances your drawing skills but deepens your connection with nature. By focusing on the basic shapes that make up complex creatures and landscapes, you're able to capture the essence of the wild, one sketch at a time.

Here's how to achieve volume and depth in your drawings:

  1. Beyond outlining: Start by moving beyond mere outlines. Use your shapes as the basis for building volume. For instance, a flat circle becomes the base for a spherical berry, and a rectangle transforms into the trunk of a tree.
  2. Shading techniques: Learn and apply different shading techniques. Light and shadow are your tools for suggesting volume. Observe where the light source comes from and shade accordingly. Darker areas recede, while lighter areas come forward, creating a sense of depth.
  3. Texturing: Add textures to your shapes to enhance realism. A circle becomes a berry not just through shading but by adding texture that mimics its surface. Similarly, a rectangle turns into bark with lines and patterns that replicate the roughness and irregularities of a tree.
  4. Observation skills: Sharpen your observation skills. With practice, you'll start to see how shapes form the basis of everything you draw. This enhanced perception will change how you view and capture the world around you, making your drawings more detailed and accurate.
  5. Interpreting the wild: Use shapes as a language to interpret and express the beauty of the wild. This method not only improves your drawing capabilities but also deepens your connection with nature. By focusing on the foundational shapes of complex subjects, you can more effectively capture their essence and vitality.

Keep practicing in your sketchbook

Use your sketchbook to keep refining your ability to see the essential forms that make up complex subjects. This journey is beautifully supported by understanding the elements of art, where the foundational components of visual art become tools for deeper exploration and expression in your work.

Moreover, the exploration of line in art becomes a essential in this journey. Lines are the initial marks that capture the essence of your subject, guiding the viewer's eye and conveying motion and emotion. They are the first steps in translating the wild's dynamic energy onto the static pages of your sketchbook.

Equally important is the exploration of mark-making and materiality in art, which offers a rich palette of textures and tones to bring your sketches to life. Through various techniques and materials, you learn to add depth and dimension, capturing not just the look but the feel of your subjects.