Feeling the Form

Feeling the Form by Michael Newberry

Feeling Form demo

If the artist is going to convey reality, getting the forms right are absolutely essential. The realist artist is also at a disadvantage, in that if they present real objects, these objects have to have believable forms. As simple as forms look in art, they are one of the most difficult things to accomplish.

For example, no spectator is going to believe that the woman’s breasts were concaved, or that the sphere was flat.

You might have heard it said that if you can draw an egg, you can draw anything. There is quite a bit of truth to that statement. So, let’s start with an egg.

Feeling Form demo

For this demo, I used a real egg as the model. I outlined it in a middle-gray tone, not in black.

Many amateur artists outline the edges of objects with very dark lines and forget about the form that made the edge; the result is that it flattens the shape, almost irreparably.

Feeling Form demo

If artists can hold in their minds that the edge is the completion of the form, it will help them a great deal.

To show you what I mean, I have taken the outlined egg and stuck it inside of a transparent box.

The “X’s” mark the points where the egg meets the sides, top, and bottom of the box. The bold “X” is the closest to us, and the other 4 “X’s” are half-way to the back of the box.

I marked the closer edges of the box much darker than the outline of the egg in order to show that the sides of the egg are further away than the front.

The first thing to grasp about round forms is that the edges on the side are further away from us. It is what is in-between the edges that expands and comes towards us.

Feeling Form demo

Here is a bird’s eye view of the box and egg. We are looking down as if at a floor plan.

Feeling Form demo

A great tool to “see” form is to imagine reaching out with your hand and figuring what are spatially the first, second, and third things you will touch.

In this case, it is the center of the egg that is the closest to the hand, marked with an “X”.

Once you can see how forms expand towards us, you have mastered part of the form problem.

Feeling Form demo

Now the really hard part begins. Molding the egg with line or tone is really difficult. Here you can see that I am using a cross-hatching technique. The lines (mark making) go around the form, sometimes overlapping (cross-hatching).

There is no sure-fire way to make these lines successful, but I find the best way to do this is to imagine that you are massaging the egg, or whatever form it is, with your thumb.

Feeling Form demo

I literally will hold out my thumb and imagine it gliding gently over the forms. Whatever direction my thumb takes, I will make my drawing marks go in the same direction.

There is a point when drawing feels like literally caressing the form, and not merely scratching the paper.

When I have taught this massaging technique to classes, of up to 22 students, I have always gotten amazing results. Aside from understanding how to draw forms, the students have drawn the forms in their unique “voice.” I am convinced that when they concentrated on massaging the form, the pencil’s touch became personal.

Give this technique a go and I am sure you will benefit from it.

Michael Newberry
New York, January 14th, 2007

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