Seeing Forms in What You Draw

Wouldn’t it be great if you had some kind of framework from which all drawings and paintings could be derived from? Some way to cut out most of the confusion when trying to draw realistic things from observation would be fantastic! What if there was a way to look at anything and be able to draw it on paper. What if I told you that there is such a way?

What is a Form?

Forms are the three-dimensional space that an object takes up. Forms are everywhere but not to be confused with shape which is a form’s two-dimensional counterpart. Our world is made up of forms, while some forms are simple, many forms are complex and made up of many simpler forms.

I’m going to teach you how the basic forms look so that you know what to look for when you look at objects and try to draw them. I’m finding out that this simple concept is often overlooked within art educational settings. All too often art teachers hand students drawing materials and tell them to draw what they see. Well, what do they see? Many things I’m sure; too much to take in. Many real world objects are very complex and it can be overwhelming to learn to draw. What should you be looking at? What should you ignore? After introducing you to the 4 basic forms you are going to be more confident when drawing objects from observation.

Some Lighting Assumptions

We’ll be illuminating each of our forms with a light source located to the right of the form. This would be a spotlight shining over our right shoulder and striking the object with most of the light’s intensity on the right side of the object. Let’s assume our environment is only illuminated by this single light source which is what you should always strive to do when starting out learning how to draw.

The 4 Basic Forms

The four basic forms come in four separate flavors, each encompassing its own unique properties while sharing a few minor commonalities. It is vital that an artist in training gains a complete understanding for each one of these forms. This includes recognizing the form in the wild and being able to draw the form with a chosen medium. The four basic forms are the cylinder, cone, sphere, and cube. Over the next several posts we will be taking an in depth look at each one.

You will be amazed at how well you will begin to understand objects, lighting, and how to draw! I must warn you however. Once you start to look at forms in the ways I suggest in subsequent lessons, you will never look at things the same again. You will find yourself staring at the illuminated side of a building while having a mental conversation within your own mind. That mental conversation will consist of the logical components of your brain making logical sense from what it is seeing. You’ll observe the sheen of sunlight striking the top of a person’s head while they are talking to you and you’ll find yourself paying attention more to the effects of light and less of what they are saying to you. I get in trouble all the time for spacing out!

Now you have been warned…stay tuned for your next lesson with the first basic form…the cylinder.


  1. I relate so much to the last part so the warning is nothing but a reminder of something that I very frequently do XD. I believe that it is an advantage to me whenever I’m stuck in a situation where I have nothing to do. I distract myself with the effects of light to the objects around me 🙂

    1. John Morfis says:

      I’m glad i’m not the only one!

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