Basic Shapes to Complex Forms – Exemplars.

Basic Shape Drawing

Complex Form Drawings

Detail of 2 complex form drawing.

Basic Shapes to Complex Forms
Modern Art & Art Brut

With thanks to Aida Sulcs, and Oshawa Central Collegiate Institute.

Time: 2 - 1 hour periods

Objective: Students will gain a hands-on and visual understanding of basic shapes and complex forms, from 2d to 3d, modern art and abstraction, and color and line quality. This lesson can begin a lesson on each and especially link to modern art and art brut; trained and untrained artists and how the two begin to blur together. They will draw (shade and line) using only 3 colors. Students will work alone and in groups.

Materials: Handouts, colored construction paper, pencils, colored pencils, glue, scissors, drawing paper.

Classroom arrangement: Studio for drawing on a flat service. Students will work in groups and change seats.

Lesson Hook: Ask students to pick up 3 colored pencils from 3 piles and 1 sheet of construction paper. Pencils can be divided into cool, warm, and dark/intense colors.

Day 1 – Basic Shapes.

Student Activity: Ask students to draw one basic shape with one pencil color,on construction paper using colored pencils. Suggest shapes to students, i.e. triangles, free form, square, circle, oval, rectangle, star, etc.

Ask students to overlap when drawing their 2nd basic shape in their 2nd pencil color; over the first. Line only. When done point out the tension areas at the intersections where the two basic shapes meet at the overlapping lines. Have students shade gradations at some of these areas on one side of the line or the other (inside or outside the shapes).

You may have to point out too students, there are no longer 2 basic shapes, but 4, or 5, or 6, etc. shapes have been created.

Ask students to shade some of these spaces with solid colors in their 3rd pencil color, or shades other colors in some areas.

Have a quick look at drawings, i.e. students can walk around the room to look at each others work.

End of Day 1 into Day 2 - Complex Forms.

Teachers will handout the instructions to students, to make 5 basic shapes in construction paper. Ask students to work in groups to make, construct, basic shapes, from various colored construction paper, cone, pyramid, square, and circle (flat) etc. Ask them to vary the scale of the shapes, from large to small.

When finishing up, ask students to create a sculpture using all 5 shapes.

Again ask students to use only 3 pencil colors, and pick them up from 3 piles, and a large piece of newsprint, or Mayfair paper. Explain to them they will do 3 overlapping drawings on the same page. Explain to students that they will end up with what looks like a lot of lines on their page, which may not make much sense at first. To begin ...

(1)Ask students to draw the sculpture in 3 dimensions, any size, on large paper (draw a border first for composition). When done....

(2)Ask students to move 1 seat to the left or right, and use their 2nd color to draw the sculpture again larger or smaller than the 1st drawing, the scale MUST change and overlap the 1st drawing. When done ....

(3) Repeat step 2; ask students to move 1 seat again, and use their 3rd color to draw the sculpture again larger or smaller than previously and overlap the 1st and 2nd drawings.

For the remainder of the class students will utilize previous exercise drawing skills. Students will shade in areas of tension, and solid areas as well, with their 3 colored pencils.

Discuss finished work – from basic shapes, complex forms, quality of line (as students will have drawn quickly), into trained or untrained line quality? Etc.. Have students look at each other’s work, and comment.


  • Which drawing do you like? Why?
  • Does the shapes result in a recognizable form or shape?
  • Is this abstraction? What is abstraction, what does it do?
  • What makes the drawing pleasing or appealing to you? Balance of shapes and color? Texture, line, value, composition?
  • Could the drawing have a title?

© 2007, L.Moriarity, For education purposes only.