The Elements of Art - Form
A Guide for Teachers
Form! Once you’ve learned all about your 2D shapes it’s time to move onto the big kid blocks! 3D geometry is the next step up in mathematics once you learn all of your regular 2D shapes, and the same principles apply to shapes and forms in art. While forms are just as important as shapes within the elements of art, they’re not quite as simple! From different kinds of forms to perspective and foreshortening, let’s learn about what forms are and how you can use them to improve your artwork!
Not a fan of reading? Don’t worry. We have a short and sweet video called Form: Elements of Art Explained that gives you a fun and quick rundown of the element!
What is Form?
Form as an element of art is an enclosed 3-dimensional space. Like a shape, a form has length and width, but it also has depth. Like I mentioned in the blog for the element of art: shape, the main thing to remember is that while shapes are 2D, forms are 3D.
Artists use forms for a wide variety of things like perspective and foreshortening, but let's start by breaking forms down into two categories just like shape -- geometric and organic.
Geometric Forms are forms that are mathematical, precise, and can be named. You’re most likely already familiar with a bunch of them -- cubes, rectangular prisms, cones, pyramids, spheres, cylinders, and more are all considered geometric forms.
Just like geometric shapes, geometric forms achieve the same thing -- illustrating and building man-made objects are always done with geometric forms because they’re easier to calculate and repeat.
Asteriskos by Tony Smith is a very literal example of geometric forms being used within artwork. The vast majority of his work follows these lines, where he builds them up using geometric forms to create very minimalist sculptures. However, just like shape, there are less obvious ways that artists use forms within their artwork that we’ll get into later.
Also alike to shapes, organic forms make up things in nature rather than man-made objects. All forms of flora and fauna are considered organic forms, Just like geometric shapes, geometric forms can be combined and used as building blocks for organic forms.
Reclining Figure by Henry Moore is an example of said principle. Looking at the piece as a whole, you can’t pinpoint a single geometric form that it could be. However, you can combine multiple geometric forms that will build up the entire figure. We’ve already talked about principles like these in our elements of art blog about shape, so let's learn the various ways we can use forms in art.
Isometric artwork is how most people learn to draw 3D forms. Illustrating isometrically makes all forms in the scene appear as though they were on a chessboard. However, isometric scenes aren’t true perspective because of a lack of vanishing points. Strict isometric artwork has all objects set on a 30-degree angle -- artists sometimes use isometric grids to build up their individual pieces.
Isometric scenes are used most frequently within mobile games, RPGs and dungeon crawler games. Tiny Room Stories, Hades, and Clash of Clans are three games that use this isometric art style.
With more complex illustrations, using 3D forms are essential for perspective. Perspective is what makes things appear 3D on a flat or 2D surface. Artists achieve this by using shading or line art, depending on the style of the piece.
The basic types of perspective are one-point, two-point and three-point perspectives. These refer to the amount of vanishing points there are on the piece. All things recede towards a vanishing point, and how it recedes depends on how many points there are. Games as geometric as Minecraft make it pretty easy to see things in perspective because of all the straight edges. If you’d like to learn more about how to illustrate perspective, check out our How To Draw In Perspective playlist on YouTube!
Foreshortening is like an extreme form of perspective, where objects appear to be almost compressed to show that something’s getting closer or farther away. Foreshortening is also considered to be one of the most difficult-to-master skills.
Due to its difficulty, artists have come up with many strategies to make foreshortening simpler to handle, such as the coil/ring technique. These use rings or coils to emphasize a form coming closer or getting farther away. The rings get smaller and closer together as they grow more distant. Getting these curves right are key to making a form feel 3D -- if it’s done incorrectly, the whole piece can feel weird or flat.
Understanding how your forms recede in perspective and how they fit within a 3D space is essential to getting the basics of perspective down. For instance, cylinders and rectangular prisms are two of the most common forms that build up the human body -- understanding how they work is key to illustrating people in perspective.
There you have it! Forms are easy to grasp at first, but drawing them in perspective can be an added challenge. They’re incredibly important to your drawing fundamentals, just like shapes. Understanding them completely -- in both artistic and some mathematical ways -- is key to creating masterful works of art.
Want to get more in0depth with form? Learn how to really push those perspectives in our advanced cartooning and anime and realistic drawing classes! If you want to go even further, learn how to draw fun and intricate scene compositions for your next illustrated story in our comics and manga mentorship class! If you want more resources on the elements of art, find them on our art resources for teachers section on our blog!