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[Drawing] Construction & Form

category: Design | course: Drawing | difficulty:

Now that you can draw the most important shapes, it’s time to dig a little deeper into that construction method. I already told you that you can use basic shapes to construct anything, but how do you know which shapes to use and where to place them?

Well, that can be accomplished by constructing your objects out of actual 3D shapes! Instead of trying to magically figure out the shapes of an object, you can build it out of basic shapes – such as cubes, spheres and cylinders – and use that as a very useful guide. When I refer to the actual three-dimensional construction of an object, I’ll use the term form.


When you see an object, you only see its outside, and not what is on the inside. This, however, is quite deceptive; how the object is constructed from the inside is what actually determines how it looks to our eyes. By learning to build your objects from the inside to the outside, you learn to understand its form, and you’re able to draw it in any way you like.

Laws of Form #1: Learn to recognize and draw the 3D basic shapes: cubes, circles, cylinders, pyramids and cones.


An object with the same form, can have multiple poses. A human can sit in many different poses, but it stays the same human with the exact same body. That human is able to do so because multiple parts of his body are connected at so-called joints (that can rotate freely, to some extent).

Laws of Form #2: Find out where the joints are, and how they connect two parts of the object


The important things to remember is that joints can be hinge-like, such as the elbow that connects upper arm and lower arm, as well as fixed, such as screwing a leg to a chair’s sitting surface.

In this case, I use the word pose in a general sense: it doesn’t only apply to humans or living things, but also to lifeless objects. For example, a building can be in different states as well (windows can be opened, curtains can be closed), but in general lifeless objects are more static and drawing basic shapes is often enough to understand them.

Gesture & Rhythm

Most poses have a general action, direction or movement within them, which I call the gesture or rhythm. If you don’t know where to start, it’s always wise to lay down the basic gesture. For example, if you’re drawing a human, a simple vertical curve already establishes that the human is standing up. If you’re drawing a tree blowing in the wind, a simple diagonal curve establishes the gesture you can then work on.

Laws of Form #3: Before anything else, loosely sketch the gesture of your object.


Contour Lines

The only problem with basic shapes, is that they’re quite static. A panda’s upper body can be approximated with a cylinder – but it doesn’t actually look anything like a cylinder! Once you laid out the basic shapes, it’s time to modify them and add details to improve the realism of your drawing.

The best way to reliably do so, is to subdivide your basic shapes and add contour lines here and there. In the previous chapters I’ve already discussed how to subdivide shapes, while drawing contour lines in 3D will be dealt with in the next chapters. By adding these contour lines, you can really see how the form flows, and you can make adjustments in accordance with those lines. If you were to modify a basic shape in a completely different flow than the contour lines, it would look odd.

Laws of Form #4: Modify basic shapes to increase realism, and use contour lines to aid this process.



Last but not least, a quick tip for you. If an object is not falling over, it’s balanced. Therefore, if you’re drawing something that shouldn’t fall over, you should make sure the balance is right. For example, if you look at your drawing and see that your character is slightly leaning to the left, while he should just be standing perfectly straight, this would look weird. If you, however, move his left foot outward, he regains balance and the way your drew him is just a pose you gave him. Always try to find out what your object leans on, and where the centre of mass (approximately) is, and use this information to make the pose balanced.

Laws of Form #5: If your object isn’t falling over, make sure it’s balanced. If your object actually is falling over, or you want a surrealistic effect, reduce balance on purpose.


Test your knowledge with the quiz!
What does the term Basic Shapes mean?
Cubes, spheres, cylinders, pyramids, and cones
The three-dimensional construction of an object
The action, direction or movement of a pose
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