What is Shape?
A shape is a two-dimensional space with a recognizable boundary. It is most often created with an enclosed line, but can also be created by using color or texture.
When people think of the word shape, often the following shapes come to mind: circle, square, triangle. These are geometric shapes and have strong clean contours and often include straight lines.
You can see the artistic use of geometric shapes with Wassily Kandinksy’s “On White II,” where he uses triangles, trapezoids, circles, and more.
Organic shapes are in some ways the opposite of a geometric shape. They are soft and curving in nature. They are more likely to be observed in nature, such as the shape of leaves, or a bacteria under a microscope.
In this Australian Aboriginal piece “Wonga & Chicks” by Cheryl Davison there are nice soft flowing lines that create black organic shapes in the sky, but also help us see mountains on the horizon.
Drawing with Shapes
Using shapes in drawings can help an artist be more accurate in their observational drawing, both from image references and from life.
In drawing the figure, an artist can simplify the human figure into two-dimensional shapes to help define proportions and layout details like facial features. For example, an eye can be shaped similar to a football, and a head can be shaped a bit like an oval.
This same approach is used in cartooning and comics. Simple shapes are placed together to create the start of a drawing.
Once simple shapes are drawn, the artist can then refine details, deciding whether to add value and create the illusion of form (three-dimensions), or continue to add details that focus on shapes and keep the drawing more like a cartoon.
Everything an artist observes around them can be translated into simple shapes to start or create their art!
Shapes and Composition
Shapes organize an artist’s composition through connection and separation. Shapes can line up next to each other, overlap, or be placed separately on the drawing surface. Using a combination of these three strategies can increase the quality of the finished product.
Using simpler shapes to help lay out an entire composition before starting to draw details is very helpful. It can help an artist make sure they can fit their entire drawing on the paper they are working on, that it doesn’t accidentally extend off the edges of the page, and that it isn’t so small that most of the paper is still showing.
To create a small print that uses both organic and geometric shapes.
- Styrofoam plates
- A fork or other tool to carve into the styrofoam
- Breyer (a paint roller) or paintbrushes
- Printing ink
- Scrap paper for planning
- A spoon
Instruct students to choose three different shapes and to draw them on their scrap paper. Both organic and geometric shapes should be included in their choices. For example they could choose one geometric shape like a square and two organic shapes as shown:
Next, they will draw the shapes on their carving surface. Instruct them to make sure each shape overlaps with at least one other.
After they have three shapes that mostly fill their surface and overlap, have students color in lightly the areas they want to show up with color in their print. Doing this will help them see where the ink will show up when they print.
Once they’ve prepared their carving surface, they now carve out the white spaces using their fork. Be careful to show them how not to punch holes in their styrofoam. They only need to dig or carve away a small layer of the styrofoam, sometimes described as a carving block, to achieve the desired effect.
Once the carving is finished it’s time to print!
Using the breyer, students can roll out ink to cover the entire breyer nice and evenly. Once the breyer is evenly coated with paint, students roll the breyer over their carved surface until the paint appears evenly applied to the print block.
The next step is called registering, and this is where the student places their paper carefully on top of the carving block. Once the paper is placed it’s important they don’t lift it again. Using a spoon and their hands, they carefully rub the back of the paper into the carving block until they are sure most of the ink has transferred from the block to the paper.
Now it’s time for the big reveal. Students remove their paper from the block and let their prints dry. They can make as many as they want, in as many colors as they want.
Instead of carving out of styrofoam, advanced students could use lino block to create an advanced print. Materials needed include: linoleum, carving tools, breyer, spoon, paper, printing ink.
This printmaking activity will help students use geometric and organic shapes to create a unique composition. They will learn how to not only use printmaking tools and techniques, but have to consider layout, composition and color to create a finished artwork.