View Full Version : Getting the right shapes vs. understanding form

07 July 2006, 09:41 PM
I've always liked drawing as a hobby and it hasn't been long since I started getting into anatomy drawing. I try to practice everyday from real life, especially by drawing my hand. For as long as I've been drawing I admit that I've focused too much on the skill of "seeing the shapes" (i.e. trying to draw perfectly what I'm looking at). By doing that I realized how I need to practice understanding the form, a skill obviously important in anatomy drawing. So in other words, now I feel that it is not as important to have the skill to reproduce, say, a master's drawing in a photographic accuracy. Seeing shapes and seeing form are both important so it's hard to find the balance.

Understanding form I feel is the key to do imaginative drawing because seeing shapes will not help anything in terms of drawing w/o references (at least in my case...I'm sure it's different for many of you). For example, I've been doing sketches of my hand exclusively for the last few days, yet if you tell me to draw it without references I will do a very poor job.
So what's your opinion on this? I'm especially interested in hearing what the experts have to say.

07 July 2006, 01:12 AM

There are many paradoxes within drawing and I understand the difficulty you're facing melding the various concepts and approaches to drawing that you've learned and / or heard about. The key thing I think is to study both approaches as you've described here, big shapes + specific detail of form, both together and separately. Sometimes it's necessary to focus on a single approach, such as big shapes, in order to really master that approach. Once you've done that then it is necessary to study Anatomy and structure in more literal terms so that when you put pencil to page, you really can define something specific.

Really the concept of working big to small applies to the approach you should take to studying drawing as well as the act of drawing itself. It's always advisable to learn the big shapes approach first and the detailed anatomical / life study second. However, in studying the second, you can't forget the first, and vice versa.

This is in fact why it takes so many years to learn how to draw traditionally. Concepts which blend seamlessly in a master drawing must be learned independently of each other by a student and then the student must learn to mix them. This takes time, practice, dedication, and an awareness of your learning process. It can be frequently helpful to take notes as you draw, you sometimes have these 'aha' or epiphany moments where things seem to click and you understand a small piece of the puzzle.

Study the Drawings of Rubens:

In his work you will see a seamless coupling of the big / major shapes with specific anatomical detailing and form.

The two concepts you have described, major shapes and anatomical detail / form are not unlike 2 separate ingredients which when perfectly mixed make a good drawing. Drawing is a deceptively simple task, yet combining these 2 ingredients takes years to master. It's why I so highly recommend doing master copies, as you are engraining in your own consciousness this complex mix.

A good resource to study is Glenn Vilppu's ( Drawing Manual and DVDs. Check out razz's Anatomy Thread ( as he has done several studies from Vilppu. :)

Hope this helps! :)



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07 July 2006, 01:12 AM
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