Drawing – The Secret of Trapped Shapes

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If you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger you will find a “trapped” shape.  A “trapped” shape or space is usually found between limbs and background, between overlapping branches of a tree or even between the rungs of a chair. The whites of your eyes are “trapped” shapes as is the space within the handle of a teapot.  In the sketch above you will see the three “trapped” shapes between the boys’ legs.

If you focus on these shapes, you will see them as just a shape and easier to draw than something you already know.  When you draw the shape, you draw the common boundary between the leg and the foot…. to draw one is to draw the other.

Drawing shapes is much easier than drawing things, so drawing “trapped” shapes whenever you find them will give new life to your drawing.  “Trapped” shapes serve as a marker and proportional check to the shape beside it.  It helps to develop the habit of shifting back and forth between drawing objects and trapped shapes. This will lead you to new ways of observing.

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I have drawn the larger shapes first, then focused on the trapped shapes between the boys’ legs.

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By drawing the dark shape of the dress, you also draw a part of the model’s face.

Can you search for the trapped shapes? Can you shift back and forth between them and other objects?  Are you interested in finding new ways of observing?  Treat this as a challenge for your next drawing.


Next time you’re out, try to look for “trapped shapes” – they are everywhere.  I was driving the freeway yesterday and could see a “trapped shape” between the body of the car in front, its wheels, and the road.  I saw another between an overhead bridge, the pillars supporting it and the road.  It is fun to see in new ways.


Drawing – Create Cohesive Magic


Check out this crazy, yet striking drawing! This man’s clothes are totally merged with the background yet you still get the impression he is sitting with his shoulder and hand resting on the arm of the chair.

It is possible to create a unified pattern with an amazing design device!

The idea is to leave no boundary lines between one object and another or even the background as you see above.  This idea can be used when any two adjoining shapes are the same tone (or almost the same.) Dark shapes, white or middle tone shapes can all be merged just as well.

Deliberately merging the shapes in only one or two places in your drawing is enough to create cohesive magic.

Check these out!


The black dresses are merged at the knees but separate at the shoulder making these ladies strangely together yet apart.


These cows are tied together by their black shapes yet you still see them as cows only in a more exciting and dynamic way.

Are you willing to try embracing opposite qualities simultaneously? You will be surprised at the spontaneous opportunities you will find to use this great skill, all to the benefit of your drawing practice!

Drawing – Still Life, Puzzle Pieces and Giving Up Control

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Remember when you played with jigsaw puzzles as a kid, the same principle can help you to make amazing artwork.   “Puzzle pieces” are geometric shapes including highlights, shadows, reflections patterns and textures.

“Puzzle pieces” add so much vitality and variety to our drawings and if we are not daydreaming, we see them on or around objects every day.  At first, it may be hard to see them as shapes but sure as eggs, they are indeed two-dimensional shapes.  A shadow or a distorted reflection, both stand tall as geometric shapes in their own right.  They could be elongated triangles, dented circles or weird shapes with their own crazy contours.

Putting these shapes together is like making a jigsaw puzzle.  Each highlight or reflection is an added detail to make your work look soooo much better. This is what makes your work the real deal.  A work rich and beautiful is created by the looker’s awareness of the “puzzle pieces.”

Exercise – Allow 30 minutes for this drawing.

  • You will need a pencil (HB, B or 2B) with a sharp point.
  • Paper for drawing large enough to draw your object life size.

Find a jar or bottle made of tinted glass and place if in front of you. I did a stainless steel coffee pot and that is okay too.  Draw the hugest shapes first, make an effort to keep that pencil on the paper.  Try drawing “blind” 3 or 4 times. That means looking at the bottle, not your paper!  Scribble in the smaller shapes next then the many reflection-shapes in the glass.  If there is a label, you can draw some crazy letter shapes if you like.  Allow three or four restatements (going back overs) to give character and freshness to your incredible drawing.

Do not be concerned with the finished result of your drawing, chill!.  Try to give up your white knuckle control on doing a perfect drawing just for now.  After all, is there such a thing as a perfect drawing?

Unless you want to spend years (about 10!) learning to draw (as artists did in the olden days) you had better get used to your shapes being somewhat distorted, fresh and original.  Those who have practiced drawing for many years find it very difficult to go back to the childlike, fresh and lively drawings you see here.

Your best drawings are the ones that come from your heart.  They come not from your mind but from your spirit.  Look at these amazing works by Peter Arscott.  Was he freaked out about his drawings? I think not!


And this awesome work by Picasso.  No stressing about drawing here!

Pablo Picasso

You can paint and draw just like this if you just let go! 🙂

Drawing – Shape Consciousness

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“There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another. “ Edouard Manet

This statement is a major key to improving your drawing.  Each “shape” or “area of colour” is in fact a shape.

This leads us to the conclusion that drawing shapes is easier, much easier than drawing things.

Below is a magnificent painting by Paul Gauguin called “The Seaweed Harvesters”.  Can you see the series of shapes the artists has put together to make a picture?

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Photo courtesy Encyclopaedia Britannica International Limited, London.  “Great Artists Collection”, 1971 Phaidon Press Ltd, London

EXERCISE – Allow 35 minutes for this task.

  • Trace the outline of an object in the air as if you were actually drawing it along its outer edge.  Begin anywhere and continue all around the object until you meet your starting point.   Did you notice that your eye and hand do all the work; there is virtually nothing to think about.  This exercise is just a slight step away from actually drawing the shape.
  • Now choose an item to draw from around your house.  It is a good idea to check out the helpful hints below before commencing.  Keep your eye on the object and do a real drawing only briefly glancing at the paper as you work.  You are now working in the “language of shapes”.  The great thing about this language is that it bypasses conscious thinking and critical dialogue and allows you to record only what you see.

The more we stay in the language of shapes, shutting down the language of things temporarily, the more our drawings look like the reality of the things we have observed.

To break away from the language of “things”, these helpful hints can become your pocket guide to learning this new vocabulary:

  • Draw larger shapes first, then smaller ones.
  • Join shapes together.
  • Draw the shapes of highlights, shadows, reflections patterns and textures.
  • Recognize “trapped” shapes and draw them. (Trapped shapes could be the area between your arms and body when you have your hands on your hips.  Trapped shapes are usually the areas where there is space between parts of the object.)

Understanding these hints will make drawing easier and help you see things in a fresh new way.

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Would you like to know how to do this?  Check out my next post for all the info.

Drawing – Draw Your Own Eyes

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In our last drawing post, we established that your memory is inadequate compared to your visual experience.

A good way to break old seeing habits is by assuming nothing about your subject, looking at it with absolute curiosity. Logic does not come into it.  You need to move past a language of “things” to a language of “line and shape.”

In the following exercise, you will draw your own eyes as they are reflected in a mirror.

To prepare yourself visually and to draw a sensitive and accurate pair of unique eyes, the following question will help you to see with the eyes of an artist:

  • Are the two eyes exactly alike or are there small differences? If so, what are those differences?
  • Could you say your eyes are one eye width apart?
  • How much of the open eye does the iris cover? One third, one half?
  • What is the shape of the upper lid?  Is it a semi-circle or an asymmetrical shape?
  • The highest part of the eyebrow appears where in relationship to the eye?
  • Can you see any prominent character lines or folds around the eye?
  • Can you see some dark shadows and some light areas?
  • If you turn your head to three-quarter view, can you see how the eye shapes are now different.?
  • In this three-quarter view, is one eye higher than the other on the page?  Is one eyebrow higher than the other?
  •  Is there any of the eye obscured from view by the bridge of the nose?
  • If you wear glasses, the size and shape of the lenses will appear different in the three-quarter view.  Do you notice how the near lens is larger and more open in shape?
  • KEY TIP! Look at the whites of the eyes.  What shape are they? By drawing this shape, rather than the shape of the iris you will usually end up with a convincing set of eyes.

When you draw from observation these and many other questions are often automatically answered.

Exercise in Drawing Your Own Eyes – allow 20 minutes for this exercise.

With your head turned to three-quarter view, (half-way between front and profile.) Draw as accurately as possible only the areas of the eyes, eyebrows, and the bridge of your nose. Remember to always draw what you see rather than what you know.

Using a 2B pencil with a sharp point, work mostly in line with some added shading to show the lights and darks.  Try drawing “blind” at least three or four times and include at least two restatements.

Here is a drawing I did for this exercise.  I kept the drawing loose and spontaneous and was pleased with the result.

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Please send in your drawings for appraisal to christine@zenschool.com.au, I would love to see them!