Yes, You Too Can Draw! Ch 2 – Break and Build with Basic Shapes

Welcome to Chapter 2 of Yes, You Too Can Draw! This chapter will cover one of the fundamentals of drawing, constructing stuff using basic shapes. If you can draw a square or a circle, this lesson will be a snap! Before we start, let’s review the previous chapter…

Let’s Review

basic shapes used to draw a mouse

In case you just happened to stumble across this series, you should visit and read Chapter 1 on Perception and Seeing. We’ve built the proverbial foundation for your drawing skills in Chapter 1. Without it, you’ll either be lost or just plain struggle. But before we go too deep into using basic shapes, let’s review what we’ve learned:

  • Why most people can’t draw like Leonardo Da Vinci.
  • We had a self-help session that dealt with how your believes hold you back.
  • About the magic of visualization and a little español.
  • We found out that everything in our visual world can be broken down into basic shapes.
  • About those basic 2D shapes and used them to build simple 3D objects.
  • And you had homework. Did you do it?

Basic Construction

Now that you’ve thoroughly digested the previous chapter, let’s dig in deeper and get our hands dirty!

We already know that anything can be broken down into simple 3D and 2D shapes. Subjects can be visualized and broken down in our minds to simplify them. The simpler the better. When our subject is transformed into simple, easy-to-draw pieces, life becomes that much easier!

Throughout this series, we’ll try to take baby steps. This is to make what we learn easier to understand and to internalize, not to make you feel like an idiot. (This takes us back to, “You don’t know what you don’t know.“) So let’s start with something easy…

Building the Cube

What’s in a cube?

cube vs square. Basic shapes like a square can be used to construct a cube on paper

Aside from the sphere, this is the simplest 3D object that you’ll ever draw. It doesn’t matter how it’s stretched out or where it’s located in space. You will be using cubes or variations of the cube throughout your artistic career. So how do we build a cube? Easy! With our friend, the square. In fact, our cube is created of squares. Can you pick them out?

Squaring the Cube

Can you find the basic shapes that make up a cube?

In our next example, we see how the cube gets broken down into squares. You can easily see 3 different squares on the cube to the left. But there’s a problem! Cubes are three-dimensional objects. So we need to draw cubes in a three-dimensional space.

What I mean is that when we draw a cube on our 2-D surface, we need to construct it as if we’re building our cube in 3-D space. As we construct our cube, we’re going to sketch out all of the sides of the cube, including the sides we can’t see. I’m sure some of you are mentally asking, “Why the heck would I draw the stuff people won’t see?” That’s a very good question since we’re going to erase all of that stuff anyway.

Do you recall that conversation I had with my friend’s little brother? (Yeah, I know you weren’t there, that’s why I included a link.) When I didn’t sketch out a finished product, I told him you don’t build a house starting with the roof and the walls. It’s the same way with a cube. In order to draw a 3D object like a cube properly and have it look “right”, you need to draw all sides of the cube, not just the sides facing the viewer.

Think about it, if you were just drawing the sides that you can see, where would the far corner on the top side end? Is it just an arbitrary spot in your drawing? Let’s go step by step to drive the point home…

In six easy steps!

Six step to drawing a cube using basic shapes like a square.

Now does that not look easy? Of course it’s easy! I also want you to notice in the Six Steps to Cubedom, how I used the points of each square as guides, determining where to create the points for the other squares.

As I progressed, this process became easier and easier. There became less and less guesswork. The only real arbitrary points were in the first two squares. Those two squares determined my desired length, width, and height. This eliminated the guesswork and confusion. Now go grab a pencil and some paper, and give it a try!

Angling for a Cube

Showing how basic shapes like a square can be used to construct cubes at any angle

Now that you know how to draw a cube, you can use these steps to draw a cube from any angle. Now we’re going to take this a step further…

Let’s Throw a Curve Using Basic Shapes

Using basic shapes like a square to help us construct a circle. Then we can use those basic shapes to create cylinders.

Here’s the next level! Not so tough-looking, huh? Even if it does look a little hard, it’s nothing you can’t do. What I’ve just done, was utilize the cube and the square as guides to create other objects.

To create a cylinder, I started with a circle inside a square and used that as my guide.

Think about it. Since you can already draw a cube, pick two opposing walls, draw in your circles, and connect the two. Now you now have a means of drawing cylinders in perspective. (Or you can at least fake it for now.) In a similar manner, you can create 3D objects out of triangles.

Now Go Sphere Yourself!

a sphere can be constructed using basic shapes like a circle

What’s a sphere made of? If you said a circle, you’re only half right. Yes, the parameter or the edge that we can see is circular. But there isn’t a flat side on a sphere that’s a circle. On top of that, the sphere has only one side.

The sphere is really a circle spun 360 degrees. What we see is the sphere’s mass, which is formed and shaped by light.

I know, I’ve just complicated something so seemingly simple, but here’s the good news, you can sketch out a sphere with just a circle. Just don’t forget that a sphere has mass, and light and shadow define that mass. If you use a circle to represent a sphere, shade it or make a mental note that your sphere has some mass.

a whole sphere and a sphere split in two, showing that it's made up of basic shapes.

Now study the render above. I took a sphere and broke it in half. Notice the circular edge.

Apply What We Learned About Basic Shapes

A mouse, jar, and phone as our muse. They use basic shapes.
Our muse. A mouse, an empty ink bottle, and a mobile phone.

Alright, let’s start with our subject. (You can follow along with pad and pencil.) We have a composition of three pretty simple objects, a mouse, a jar, and a cell phone. Study the composition, and envision the numerous shapes found within each item. Take your time before committing to paper.

Rough It Out Using Basic Shapes!

mouse, jar, and phone roughed out with basic shapes

Once we have a clear idea of how the subject can be broken down, we’ll commit to paper. Lightly rough out those basic shapes to form the different items. You don’t want to press down too hard with your pencils. Don’t worry if it looks too loose.

We’re at the very start of our drawing. There’s no need to expect what you have to look like a masterpiece. You’re going to make mistakes as you go along. If you don’t get it right the first time, erase whatever is wrong, and try again.

Also, you’re going to create marks that you need right now. But those marks will eventually be erased as you progress. Remember that you’re building up your drawing, starting with basic shapes.

Refine and Refine

Basic shapes were used to construct this image.

This is the point where we’ll better define our subject, and start getting into our details. Growing more confident, we’ll start eliminating lines that are no longer needed. We may even map out areas of value and light. For example, the shiny spots on the mouse. You’ll want to feel at least copacetic before moving on to laying in values.

Constantly compare what’s on paper to your live subject. If you made some mistakes, take the time to study where you went wrong, and how you might be able to correct them. Don’t be afraid to erase or assume you’re too close to being finished. And if you happen to screw up, start all over, and try again. It’s not the end of the world.

basic shapes were used during the creation of this mouse, jar, and cell phone.

Shade that puppy!

Here is probably the fun part, or it is for me. This is going to be a little advance, but I’ll try my best to keep it simple. The values of any item are the lightness and darkness of the areas that make up the object. We’re not talking about color.

Values are based on how light reflects or reacts off the subject’s surface. Sometimes that surface will be really shiny, really dull, or somewhere in between. Certain surfaces will provide you with a wide array of values, from dark to light. Another surface will have more of a sharper contrast. Those values will be more distinct.

Before you go nuts with your pencil, carefully study the values of your subject. You’ll end up doing a better job than the quickie I provide above. When you have a clear idea of how those values form around each item, go ahead and try to replicate them with your pencil. Get as close to each corresponding value as you can. Constantly compare what you have on paper to the values of your subject. You can also lift off layers of graphite or pencil with your eraser. Great for creating subtle highlights, or just lighting areas up.

Man, This is Exhausting!

Okay, maybe not, but I’m tired. Nonetheless, we covered a lot of ground for one chapter. So let’s wrap this one up with some homework!

Today’s Homework Assignment

I know what you’re thinking, “You can’t make me do homework!” But this assignment is for yourself and your improvement. Since you can’t whip out masterworks overnight, you may as well take the time to practice.

1.) Draw 5 cubes using the Six Steps to Cubedom. Make those cubes in different sizes and from different angles.

2.) Put together a still life. You can make it very simple or very complex, it doesn’t matter. Spend an hour or more with pencil and paper drawing it. Follow the same steps we used above utilizing basic shapes to construct your image.

3.) Relax and have a drink. (You get to choose the drink.)

© 2012, 2022 CHRIS HILBIG — Updated on Jan 23, 2022