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Elements of Art Shape – What and How to Use in your Artwork

The shape is a closed area created by a line on a two-dimensional plane depicting an object. Shapes and Forms are the building block of an Artwork.

We draw shapes on paper or canvas, which look like objects, human forms, or anything which a human mind can identify and understand by looking at it.

Shapes have length and breadth; both are created on a 2D surface. Shapes form the basis for simple to complex artwork.

Like how alphabets create words, lines, paragraphs, and a book, tiny shapes form meaningful artwork.

Elements of Art Shape

It is one of the seven elements of art, and shapes express everything in the art world. The seven elements are listed below:

  1. Elements of Art Line
  2. Elements of Art Shape
  3. Elements of Art Form
  4. Elements of Art Color
  5. Elements of Art Space
  6. Elements of Art Texture
  7. Elements of Art Value

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.

Georgia o’keeffe

You can divide into two types, geometric shapes and non-Geometrical Shapes or Organic Shapes. It can further be classified based on factors like Space, dimension, purpose, etc.
Shapes are classified based on certain factors: –

Geometric Shapes – Based on Mathematical Rules

What is the definition of Geometric Shape in Art?

A Geometric Shape is created using dots and lines with predefined mathematical calculations and formulas. These shapes are categorized based on sides, length, breadth, and angle.

What are the different types of Geometric Shapes used in art?

  1. Triangle – A three-sided figure having straight lines drawn on a plane with three angles. Depending on the angles, an artist can further classify the triangle into a Right angle triangle, Isosceles triangle, equilateral triangle, etc. This shape is used in art to draw mountains, buildings, things, etc.
  2. Square – A four-sided figure with straight lines drawn on a plane, where the length and breadth are equal, and all the angles are 90 degrees. This shape is used in art to draw buildings, objects, etc.
  3. Rectangle – A four-sided figure having straight lines drawn on a plane, where length and breadth are unequal, and all the angles are 90 degrees. This shape is used for creating items, houses, and many other things.
  4. Rhombus – A four-sided figure having straight lines drawn on a plane, where the length and breadth are equal, but the angles are not 90 degrees, or the angles are not right angles. These shapes are used in technical drawings.
  5. Trapezoid – A four-sided figure having straight lines drawn on a plane and parallel lines on one side. This shape is not frequently used in drawings.
  6. Parallelogram – A four-sided figure having straight lines drawn on a plane, where the length and breadth are not equal, but the angles are not 90 degrees, or the angles are not right angles.
  7. Pentagon – A five-sided figure with straight lines drawn on the plane and five angles. Artists are creating modern art, or Engineers creating technical art use this shape.
  8. Geometric figures with more than 5 Sides are called Hexagon, Octagon, Nonagon, and so on. They are primarily used in Technical drawings or modern art.
  9. Circle – A fundamental geometrical shape used everywhere and found in nature. A circle is a line drawn on a plane equidistant from the center point. Many of the figures are started using a circle. No one can draw a perfect circle, but it is essential to know how to draw a circle. It creates the framework or guideline for drawing other figures.
  10. Oval – This is like a circle but elongated at opposite ends, more like the shape of an egg. The artist uses this shape as a guideline for drawing a face. A budding artist needs to learn to draw an oval shape. 

Organic Shape – Based on Free Form or from Nature

Organic or natural shapes are contrary to Geometric shapes without predefined mathematical rules. But these shapes can be identified by a look at them. E.g., the shape of a leaf or the shape of a hand.

The shape of one leaf is not the same as the shape of another leaf, but it is similar. The same shape of one hand is not the same as that of another hand, its length and breadth, etc. But it is similar.

What are Organic Shapes in Art?

The term Organic means something derived naturally; let us extend this to the organic shape and how it is a twin to art.

The organic shape is related more to the natural world. The shape of the mountain, a cloud, humans, animals, or anything natural all have organic shapes.

What is the definition of Organic Shapes in Art?

Organic shapes form naturally and may not be uniform and unique but are easily recognizable by all.

They generally do not have any geometric rules, and the organic shape is non-regular. For example, you cannot say what the shape of the bark of a tree is, it may be cylindrical, but it is an organic shape.

I am not saying everything in nature is an organic shape. The earth, sun, or moon shape is in the shape or circle, the hexagon in beehives, and the golden ratio on seashells. Those are exceptions. Some have scientific answers to why they have geometric shapes, and some do not.

Organic shapes are not uniform and may be different in size and sometimes unique.

We use organic shapes in freehand drawing, unlike geometric shapes in technical drawings.

There are infinite recognizable organic shapes; I don’t think organizing and listing them is possible.

What are Objects which do not have predefined shapes?

Most organic shapes are unique and geometrical terms, or some identifiable terms cannot express them. A mountain appears a bit conical, or we can also say the shape of the mountain.

There are things on the earth that do not have any shape. Water or liquid does not have any shape. We cannot say the shape of water, and it gets the shape of the container which holds it.

So, the next thing that comes to an artist’s mind is how you can draw (Sketch) water. Draw water also means getting water from the well, so try to clarify it.

Things like air, wind, or anything in gas form do not have any identifiable shape.

The first thing is both water and air are transparent. Representing it in shape form is difficult, and an artist can create this in the Art form.

He uses different techniques to represent the water. E.g., reflections, refractions, flow, etc. To depict wind or breeze, an artist can draw the flow of curtains or the shape of trees as if the wind is blowing.

These objects do not have any shape and can be created or expressed through other representations of objects in the art space.

Shape based on Space Occupied

What is Positive Shape in Art?

Positive shapes are shapes of the subjects drawn on the artwork. One or more subjects may occupy Space in the artwork, and the shape representing the object and Space occupied in the artwork is called a positive shape.

Sometimes, an artist uses flat or single colors to represent a positive shape in the drawing, also called a silhouette.

The positive shape also holds an area of interest for the viewer who sees the painting.

In the elements of art, a positive shape holds the positive Space in the drawing.

In a 2D artwork or a drawing, a positive shape is a subject matter in the artwork.

A positive shape is a sculpture in a 3D artwork or a sculpture.

Mostly we keep positive shapes in the foreground.

What is Negative Shape in Art?

A negative shape is an area around a positive shape.

In a silhouette, the Space around the object is negative Space, and the shape around the positive shape is the negative shape.

It helps the viewer to observe the object in the drawing.

Both the Positive Shape and Negative Shape blend to create meaningful artwork.

Shapes based on Planes or Dimensions

Shapes can be categorized as two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes.

What is a two-dimensional shape in art?

Two-dimensional shapes in artwork have a composition of length and breadth to the object and will not have depth.

Artwork like drawing, painting, or printing on paper is all different categories of two-dimensional artwork. Things that we draw with just length and breadth are two-dimensional shapes in the artwork.

Both geometric and organic shape without any depth in the drawing represents the two-dimensional shape.

What is a three-dimensional shape in art?

An artwork where an object has length, breadth, and depth represents a three-dimensional shape to the artwork.

If we add perspective to art (two-dimensional art), depth follows, creating a third dimension. A Cube, or a house where we can see the vanishing point, becomes a three-dimensional shape in an Artwork.

Following the rules of perspective are followed creates reality for the drawing.

What are the other types of Shapes?

What is Implied Shape in Art?

The implied shape physically is not in existence, but your brain fills in the blanks, visually connecting it through dots, lines, colors, and edges to appear as a shape.

The shapes of the objects are drawn or placed to create a visually appealing object even though the implied object we may not physically draw in the picture. Visual perception creates these objects.

A painter needs to be smart to create an implied shape in his artwork, and he needs to psychologically create an illusion so that the viewer sees an object in the picture.

What is Biomorphic Shape in Art?

A biomorphic shape is an organic shape generally curvy or rounded and representing living organisms or natural beings. It comes from the root words bios, meaning life, and morphe, meaning form.

Abstract art uses biomorphic shapes and graphic designs, representing the form’s appearance and quality. The patterns in this art are something that we find in nature.

These in art or sculpture are smooth and can represent humans, animals, or objects resembling living things.

What is an Amorphous Shape in Art?

An Amorphous shape is vague without any definition, boundary, or framework and is not easily understandable.

Dictionary meaning of Amorphous Shape is the indefinite shape and can refer to as a shapeless form.

Many of the Art exhibitions nowadays display these types of art pieces. The good thing about amorphous shapes in the Art form is they can be anything made from any object, and artistic creativity is boundless and can create a limitless form of amorphous artwork.

The negative side of Amorphous Shape is that it is quite difficult to understand what the artist is conveying. There will be a lot of criticism and less appreciation.

What is Abstract Shape in Art?

Different forms depict Abstract shapes instead of exact representations, and the shapes may not closely resemble the original form.

In his work, an artist extracts the crux of the real-life shape and creates a simplified version using limited ideas.

An abstract shape uses symbols, logos, or places to convey something quickly and easily.

Modern Artwork or Modern paintings uses these shapes. Yet another place where abstract shapes are used is in Graphic designs.

Abstract shapes may be easily identifiable; sometimes, one must watch the art for a long time to understand its meaning. Some abstract symbols have global recognition.

We find abstract symbols in a major part of galleries around the world.

What is Representational Shape in Art?

The representational shape is drawn with less accuracy and may convey the shape figuratively to the viewer.

These are representations and not exact shapes. A smiling emoticon is a symbolic shape of happiness. Though there is no face, eyes, or nose in the picture, two dots with a bottom part of a semi-circle drawn inside a full circle represents a smile, and anyone can understand it.

One more example of the heart in the shape of an inverted leaf without the stem in the shape of a heart globally represents as A cartoonist uses representational shapes to convey his sarcastic meaning inside his artwork.

Why are different uses of Shapes in Art?

It is one of the elements of art and shapes form the foundation on which the entire artwork stands. We make use of Shapes in the art for many reasons.

To Plan:

If an artist makes a complex drawing, he first outlines using rough shapes. If he wants to draw a face, he may start with an oval and draw a vertical and horizontal line. The detailed artwork is based on the outlines and framework, and these geometric shapes may help him create his images.

To Communication:

Shapes in art create a form of communication. Shapes, in general, are used for conveying many things like logos, symbols, emblems, etc.

Small shapes combine to create a larger artwork and convey what an artist wants to communicate.

To Symbolize Ideas:

A simple logo can represent a complicated business aim. Take, for example, the logo of Amazon. The logo has the word amazon. A curved arrow from A and ending from Z also represents a smile. The arrow also conveys that everything from A to Z is available on Amazon. The symbol is identifiable and communicates the importance of the brand.

Elements of Art Shape – To Lead Eye on Area of Interest

An artist uses shapes in his drawing in many ways. One important use of shape is to focus on the subject matter he intends to convey.

Art can use shapes to guide from one part of the drawing to another and bring the viewers’ attention to a specific point.

Your Next Action

Shapes like lines and Space in the elements of art are like grammar to the visual world. It is beyond imagination to draw something without shapes; it is like trying to write something without words, which is impossible.

There is an infinite number of shapes in the world.

Next time you see artwork or something interesting, try to study the shapes behind it. Develop that into a habit. Also, try to recreate what you have seen. Initially, it might be a bit difficult, but this habit can make you a wonderful artist over a period.

Never stop drawing.

Reference: National Gallery of Art

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can you use shapes to create a composition?

    Various shapes are used to create a visually interesting composition. Heavier shapes are placed at the bottom of the composition to anchor it, while lighter shapes are used at the top to create a sense of movement. You can also try using organic shapes to create a more natural look. Considering some of these factors, you can use shapes to create an eye-catching, well-balanced composition.

  2. How can you use shape to create movement in a painting?

    By carefully selecting the shapes and placement of objects, an artist can control the flow of a viewer’s eye across the canvas. Artists often use lines and the order of shapes to create movement. Objects placed closer will appear to move faster than those further apart. Overlapping shapes, too, can create a sense of movement.

  3. What are the differences between positive and negative shapes?

    Positive shapes are the actual objects in a piece of art, while negative shapes are the spaces between those objects. Positive shapes are the main subjects of a piece of art. They can be geometric, like circles and squares, or organic, like flowers and leaves. On the other hand, negative shapes are the spaces between positive shapes.

  4. What are some shape design principles?

    Regarding shapes-based design, there are three principles to keep in mind, contrast, repetition, and balance. Contrast can be created using shapes of different sizes, colors, or textures. Repetition involves using the same shape multiple times throughout the design. And balance is achieved by ensuring that the shapes are evenly distributed throughout the space.

  5. What are the basic shapes in art?

    The most basic shapes in the art are circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles. These shapes are often combined to create more complex images, but they can also be used to create simple yet effective designs. They can be used to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional images and can be manipulated to convey a wide range of emotions and ideas.

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