Monday, January 27, 2014

Elements of Art: Shape

Today it's all about shape! We're going to spend the next few weeks talking about the elements and principles of art & design.  Last week, it was all about line.  Each element and principle builds upon all of the others, so each lesson ends up going over a little bit of all of them.  I think the next logical step for us is to look at shapes.

A shape can be defined as an enclosed space created by lines or edges.  It can be geometric - like those shapes we learn as kids (circle, square, etc) - or it can be organic with free-flowing lines and curves.  Shapes can also be either positive or negative.  A positive shape is the defined object and negative space is the space defined by the object.

To get a better handle on shape, we're going to look at another of my still-life paintings.  Fun fact: when I'm not creating paper dolls, my other love is still-life painting.  I prefer oil but it's been years since I've worked with oils.  When the kids are a little older, I'll get back into it....

Anyway.... here's a watercolor still-life I did of some bottles.

Again, don't judge my painting too harshly :)  This is actually my first watercolor still-life painting.  It isn't perfect, but it's not too bad either!

I've outlined some obvious shapes here.  There are rectangles and cropped triangles, as well as more organic shapes.  Each bottle has its own shape, and often is comprised of many shapes.  These are the positive shapes.

Just as important to the composition, however, are the negative shapes.

In this case, there's really only one large negative shape.  There is a negative shape created by the cap on the largest bottle, but mainly it's the background that becomes a negative shape.  I find that negative space is really important to an overall composition.  Here, you can see that there's a strong pyramid composition that becomes really apparent when the negative shape is highlighted.

Ok, ok, enough about still-life paintings.  What has this got to do with paper dolls?

Ever created a paper doll with a hand-on-hip pose?  That space between the arm and body is negative space.  The silhouette of the doll (the shape!) is critical in defining how the outfits fit.

There are three dolls I want to look at that use shape to define the art more than line.


Melissa Bastow of DorkyPrints (

I love this doll!  Melissa creates a lot of posters, prints, and clip art and sells it on her Etsy site.  This is the only paper doll listed on her site.  This doll has a really strong use of shape.  Everything is defined by shape: the bodies, the details, the clothing.  There's hardly a line at all! (Unless you count implied lines, which you are, because you remember last weeks lesson!!)

Tiffani Mari Mensch of Goodnight Squirrel (

Here's another Etsy doll.  I wanted to look at harder-to-find examples and Etsy was a great place to find them!  This artist has really strong academic training (RIT and RISD) and beautiful work.  She has all sorts of fun things on her site, including custom paper dolls like the one pictured.  Again, this doll is defined by shapes and less by line.  There's a negative space created in-between the legs and a nice composition to the entire page.  This is more of an art paper doll to be framed & hung and less a toy, so composition is more important here.

Dyna Moe, Nobody's Sweetheart

This is one of several Mad Men paper dolls that this illustrator has created.  All of her illustration work is amazing and worth a look.  Again, this is a doll defined by shapes and not line.  There's some subtle shading that really helps define the shapes used and adds just enough depth.  And, as with the previous example, page composition is really important. I know we aren't discussing color, but I just have to say how much I love the color and how perfect it is for the time period!

Anyway, so those are a few dolls that make amazing use of shape.  Next up, we'll look at form and how to give a 2D image a little depth.  Check in Friday for paper doll download!

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