Name Your Shadow Shapes when Drawing

Naming the shapes within your shapes helps you to draw accurately.

Name Those Shapes

“Don’t you see? It looks like Minnesota on crack.”

This is how I once described a shadow shape to one of my students in her drawing. She was struggling to achieve the nuance of the shape because it was complex, and her perception was polluted by her preconceived notion that she was drawing a “face”.

In fact, when drawing, artists have to extract themselves as much as possible from the label of their subject matter in order to be impartial observers and achieve accuracy.

If you think “eyes” you are bound to draw caricatures of eyes. If you draw all the shapes around the eyes, the forms emerge that look like real eyes because the drawing is not polluted by preconceptions. Instead, the eyes emerge due to the accurate observations of shapes.

Once my student conceived of the shape as something else – no longer a feature of the face but simply a shape that happened to look like Minnesota on crack, she had a visual idea she could use for comparison between what was the same and different between her observations and her drawing. 

Name Them All

One of the quickest ways to improve accuracy when drawing shapes is to give everything a name. Big shapes. Little shapes. Shapes within shapes. Give them all names.

Naming shapes abstracts them from the thing it really is (like a face) into something more accessible, like the flat outline of Minnesota on crack.

Like finding shapes in the clouds, identify shapes in your lights and shadows that look like other things. Find shapes in your negative spaces. Find shapes of your colors. For those of you who are masters of the Cloud Game and can find the most specific and funny shapes floating in the sky, greatness awaits you.

Once you get used to abstracting the essence of something from its shape, you might find that the rest of the visual world can be analyzed similarly.

Bell Centennial

I was very amused to read in a book about fonts, Just My Type, an overall visual impression of the font Bell Centennial as perceived by the calligrapher Gunnlauugur SE Briem:

Bell Centennial [looks like] a bulletproof rhinoceros that could dance Swan Lake.”

Bell Centennial Font

And indeed, when you look at the font, it appears to gracefully gallumph.

This quote is a perfect example of abstracting the feel or look of something in terms that helps us to understand its innate visual nature. Briem’s description helps us as the viewer to forget that there are letters that make words that make sentences that make meaning. They become simply visual objects to behold, and indeed the font does look like a bulletproof rhinoceros that could dance Swan Lake.

Want to help your students learn how to find shapes? Check our our free art lesson plans.

What’s the funniest shape you’ve ever found in the clouds? Let me know in the comments below.

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