August 28, 2016

Shape, Form & Pattern

Can help improve your drawing skills if you understand the nuances between these concepts. Anything can be drawn using an arrangement of shape, form, or pattern. Any subject may be simplified into simpler shapes or components.

Shape Form & Color


Is an element of design and a potent tool in visual communication. When looking at an object or image, 'shape' is the first retinal impression that the human eye registers before color, texture, space, or anything else. Shapes are created by an enclosed area or line. They have the characteristic of length and width. 'Contours' are the outlines or outer edges of a shape. 'Silhouettes' are filled in with a single tone or a color, usually black.
Shape noun. an enclosed area or figure.

Geometric Shapes

Have uniform measurements and are usually man-made. These two-dimensional shapes can be manipulated with mathematics but lack any visual information with regards to their location, scale, or orientation.

Geometric Shapes

Graphic Shapes

Are visual images or designs that serve as a pictorial representation or may give the viewer information when written words are not adequate. Symbols stand for ideas, beliefs, or actions. Logos are emblems or symbols commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations, or individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition.

Graphic Shapes

Organic Shapes

Are associated with the natural world and may or may not have a name. These free-form shapes have very few straight lines, such as leaves, plants, trees, or animals.

Organic, Free-form, or Natural Shapes


Is the configuration of a shape. Forms convey three-dimensional information. It is well understood how these objects sit in space or in relation to the viewer. The form differs from a shape in that it includes visual information regarding location, scale, or orientation.
Form noun. the visible shape or configuration of something.

The form includes location, scale, or orientation.

In a two-dimensional drawing, the form gives the viewer information to understand how the object sits in space and their relationship to that object, i.e., are they looking down on it or up to it. Elliptical distortions and angles suggest perspective. Just from the curvature in the contours of these drawings, it tells us that we are looking down at the objects.


Is one of the principles of art and repeats shapes or forms. Geometric patterns are based on mathematics and use geometric shapes. They repeat predictably. Organic patterns are formed in nature. They often have slight variations or never repeat themselves exactly. Spiraling patterns are circular, winding in and around themselves, i.e., waves. Branching patterns are the repetition of forking lines or patterns of deviation, i.e., cracks.
Pattern noun. a repeated decorative design.

Patterns are repeated shapes.

If your contours are stiff or have straight lines in drawing or painting, they will look more like geometric shapes or man-made objects than forms. If your shapes are not well observed, they may look more like symbols than what they actually represent.

Understanding shape, pattern, or form and using them effectively will lead to improved drawing or painting. When you draw, do you break complex shapes down, or do you complete the contour first?

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