Drawing Through the Form

Armand Cabrera

Many painters get stuck on contour and see only 2d shapes instead of drawing and painting the solidity of the forms they are trying to translate to canvas. When an artist sees everything as a flat shape they tend to ignore the visual clues that help give it more dimensions. You can teach yourself to see the form of a thing by doing what we call drawing through the form when sketching.

Drawing through the form uses construction lines to further enhance the 3d effect of an object and to set its depth clearly in your mind so you can then translate it to your canvas. It uses perspective, geometry and basic shapes to build your subject with. It is a constructive approach but can be used as an observational approach also.

It’s a good idea to practice sketching like this at all times until you automatically visualize everything you see this way. Some people prefer to start with red pencil or blue pencil to separate the construction lines from their refined final drawing. Doing this allows you to pick out what’s important to you.

Illustrators and production artists are aware of this approach because many times they are inventing scenes and characters from their imaginations but there is no reason for gallery painters not to use this tool also. Many problems can be avoided by paying attention to volume when drawing a landscape, figurative or still life picture.
(images from top to bottom Will Pogany, Peter Helck, Armand Cabrera all images are copyright to their respective owners)

7 thoughts on “Drawing Through the Form

  1. Yes, I learned about drawing through the forms early, and it's saved me from many a compositional error. I've seen some nice paintings where something looks funny, then I realize that their orange painted in front of a wide bowl would have to occupy some of the same space if looked at solidly- horrors!

  2. Judy,

    You're so right it is the same with landscapes. People forget and get their volumes out of perspective thinking everything is organic and it doesn't really matter but it does.

  3. I also see this as problematic when it comes to using photography as a reference.

    Those who have done their due diligence and spent time learning how to draw through (and thoroughly understand) form before referencing a photograph are usually able to express the forms better.

  4. In a line drawing I can see how this applies but it would seem that in a full blown value sketch/painting the correctly placed values would communicate the form for you.

  5. John,

    You're right of course but what comes before the value sketch? At some point you have to make marks for positioning. I think understanding the form of things gets you to think in correct terms for value and color as you know a form is turning. If you look at painters who do this you will see their brushwork paints the form. Cornwell, Von Zugel, and Sorolla come to mind.

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