Practicing Your Draw Fu Forms – Forms Are Like Sentences

February 18, 2015 in Intermediate, Lvl 1

Practicing Your Draw Fu Forms

Practicing your draw fu forms - forms are like sentences

You can draw cartoons but there’s something missing.  They look odd.  Not like the stuff you see in animated cartoons or your favorite comics.

What are you missing? What do you need to do?

You want to start drawing cartoons that look more solid.  Cartoons with “dimension.”  Something that compliments your new perspective skills.

If you create three dimensional environments, it would be nice to put three dimensional characters in them.  The problem is, where do you start?

Well, you start here.  Now that you know what you know about lines and flat shapes, it’s time to build upon that knowledge to add a new dimension.

Just as you did with those beginner’s exercises, here you will need to get comfortable working with three dimensional shapes. This is the stuff you need to know to take your character drawing to the next level.

In the following lesson, you will learn the four basic forms that can be modified to create the basic structure of just about any cartoon.  They can even be used to create naturalistic drawings.

We’ll finally get into the stuff you need to know to make your drawing look much more professional.

Let’s begin.

Three Dimensional Forms are Like Sentences.

If drawing is like writing, lines are like the A, B, C, and Shapes are like words, then three dimensional forms are like Sentences.

To really be able to communicate in the clearest natural way, you need to learn three dimensional drawing forms.

There are four forms that, in combination, make up all three dimensional drawing:

  • Spheres
  • Cylinders
  • Cubes
  • Wedges

Just about every basic, flat, three dimensional shape can be given dimension to become one of these three forms.  Remember, the illusion of space is just that, an illusion. You’re not drawing three dimensional forms, you’re drawing flat shapes on a piece of paper.

That doesn’t mean you can’t trick the eye into thinking it’s seeing something more dimensional.  It’s best to start thinking about your drawings as a flat graphic design which you add dimension to.  This will make you’re drawings more pleasing to the eye in the long run.

Everything you can see and draw can be broken down into these four basic forms.  Although, sometimes they may be a complex combination of the forms. This is why it’s so important to learn to draw them.

Let’s take these four basic forms and see how they can be developed from flat graphic shapes:

Spheres – This one is pretty self explanatory, Circles or ellipses can be given dimension and turned into Spheres or modified Spheres. Spheres are very versatile but they can also be tricky to use.

They don’t have corners which makes it more difficult to give them direction. You can usually do so by defining the radius of the outer surface of the Sphere.

Traditionally this is done by drawing the diameter across the circumference vertically and horizontally across the Sphere so you can clearly see it’s dimension.


Cylinders -Squares and modified squares can be made into Cylinders.  This all depends on your intention.

Simply decide which direction the Cylinder is being seen from and add the circumference lines reinforcing the direction. Cylinders can be the most handy form to use in the preliminary drawing process.

They come in handy when you don’t want to get too caught up in detail.  They’re ideal for drawing organic long forms and are great for defining gesture and rhythm.


Cubes – Cubes and modified Cubes are often created off of squares and rectangles as well.  They can be the most useful of all the forms.

Cubes are the easiest forms to get the illusion of dimension with. Because of this, Cubes can also be used to better clarify the perspective of forms that don’t have corners, like Sphere modified Sphere and Cylinders.

This can be done by simply drawing a Cube around the corner less form. Whenever you’re unsure about the dimension of a soft corner-less form, convert it into a Cube or modified Cube.

The one drawback to cubes is that they are often stiff and inorganic.


Wedges – Wedges are odd forms.  They’re usually created from both cubes and triangles, depending on the intent.  A wedge is basically a cube, cut in half diagonally  across two of it’s corners.

Most often, wedges are found combined with the other forms above creating a complex compound form.  You’d be surprised how handy this form can be.


The reason to learn to draw these forms well is so you could later combine them all into complex  compound forms that lead to more organic naturalistic looking drawings.

Examples of Using  These Simple Forms in Action

Let’s see what can be done with these basic forms.

In the 1920s, many cartoons where often drawn by using two of the basic forms: spheres and cylinders.  The result was something that looked a lot like this:

1920s style kung fu girl


Here’s my very rough under drawing so you can see the circles and cylinders I used:


1920s style kung fu girl rough

Now a days with more stylized video games, such as Minecraft and Lego video games, we can have more blocky looking cartoon characters. Like this:

Simple form Characters

If you’re into drawing environments, you can even use the forms to draw things like bushes and trees out of these basic forms:

simple trees and bushes

Here’s my rough under drawing, so you can see the cylinders and circles more clearly:

Simple form Characters rough

As you can see, these forms, at their most basic, can be very versatile.

Your Exercises

Alright, now that you know the importance of these forms, it’s time to do some yourself.  Instead of simply drawing spheres, cubes and stuff, I thought it would be more fun to actually be able to have something cool to show for your effort. Let’s start:

Drawing Spheres

Spheres are, more often than not, used as the basis for most heads.  So why not start by filling up a page with goofy drawings of cartoon heads?

  • Simply draw a circle or modified circle of some kind.
  • Draw the circumference lines somewhere through the circle, creating a sphere.
  • The XZ axis is your eye line. It’s where you will place your eyes.
  • The YZ axis is your guide for the nose and the direction the character is facing.

Just draw dots for the eyes and another sphere for the nose. Play around with the placement of the XZ axis. It doesn’t have to be directly in the center. Also, play around with the orientation of the sphere.

Turn it so it you’re looking up at it, down at it, seeing it at 3/4,…etc.

Your page of cartoon heads, should look something like this:

Heads exercises

This might be tricky at first. If you’re having trouble, start simple.  Don’t get fancy. Simply draw a round sphere and place everything in the center.  Slowly make your way to fancier heads as you go.

Most important part of all though, is to have fun.

Drawing Cylinders

Now it’s time to add an element.  Let’s keep it simple at first.

  • Draw a sphere adding the circumference lines.
  • Then attach a cylinder to the sphere, right underneath it.  To create a neck.
  • For now, make sure to draw through your forms as if they were transparent. Also on the cylinders, draw circumference lines all the way across it so you can see the perspective.

You can draw a variety of head shapes and neck shapes until you feel comfortable.

It should look like this:

Cylinder exersise

Once you’re comfortable , you can add another element.

  • Do the first three steps above,
  • Now add another bigger cylinder under the neck cylinder.  This makes a body or torso for your figure.
  • As before, draw through your forms and draw the circumference lines all across your cylinders.
  • Don’t be afraid to make it bend.

Vary the shapes and play around.  Get comfortable.

At first you’re not going to want to make the cylinders bend, keep it simple and straight.  Once you get the hang of it, start playing around some more.

It should look something like this:

Cylinder exersise 02

If you’re comfortable with that, it’s time to add the last element. Arms and legs.

  • Do the first six steps above
  • Now, simply add four cylinders attached to the torso for arms and legs.
  • At this point you should be comfortable enough to make the cylinders you add bendy.
  • If you wish, you can add spheres for hands and feet.

Like this:

Cylinder bodies and arms

Congratulations, you can draw spheres and cylinders.

Let’s move on…

Drawing Cubes

With cubes we’ll do a similar thing as what we did with the spheres.  Modified cubes also end up as heads.  In fact, a lot of what you use spheres and cylinders for can be given corners, squared off a bit and turned into cube in order to understand, their position in space better.

Here’s your cube exercise:

  • Simply draw a cube or modified cube of some kind.
  • Draw the circumference lines somewhere through the cube,
  • The XZ axis is your eye line. It’s where you will place your eyes.
  • The YZ axis is your guide for the nose and the direction the character is facing.

Just draw dots for the eyes and a sphere or cube for the nose. Play around with the placement of the XZ axis. It doesn’t have to be directly in the center. Also, play around with the orientation of the cube.

Turn it so it you’re looking up at it, down at it, seeing it at 3/4,…etc.

Your page of cartoon heads, should look something like this:

Block heads

If you have not been practicing your perspective, your cubes will look very off.

If it helps, put a Horizon line and a Vanishing point on the page.  Ideally, you should be able to draw and turn a drawing of a cube in space without them.

See the previous post to see how this is done.

If you’re having trouble, start simple.  Don’t get fancy. Simple draw a cube facing one direction and place everything in the center.  Slowly make your way to fancier heads as you go.

Once you’re comfortable doing this exercise, you can then start replacing the cylinder torsos from the earlier exercise with cubes. Like this:

Cube Torso Character

You can keep the arms and legs as cylinders.  You’ll find that doing this actually helps with the cylinder drawing as well.

Drawing Wedges

Finally we get to the wedges. Wedges tend to be sprinkled on a cartoon or drawing.  They rarely take center stage like Spheres, Cylinders and Cubes do.

Here’s what I want you to do, simply add Wedges to the cartoons you are already making out of Spheres, Cylinders, and Cubes.

  • Use Wedges for drawing noses.
  • Use Wedges are shoulders,
  • Add Wedge feet on your cartoons.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Characters with wedges

Okay there you have it.

It’s important to become comfortable drawing these forms. Hopefully these exercises will make it fun to practice drawing them.

It wouldn’t be a good idea to move on without feeling  you’ve got a handle on them.  From this point on, things get a bit more tricky and knowing  how to draw the forms will help out immensely.


Q: I don’t understand. Every time I try to draw these forms they come out all wrong and messed up.  I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. What can I do?

A: If you’re having trouble drawing these forms from your imagination, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using real objects as reference when drawing them.

Especially when you’re starting out.

You want to draw a cube rotating in space? Find a small box or a Rubik’s Cube and draw it.

Need help drawing cylinders? Find a can, a cup or a glass.

The point is, to start.  Get confidence. Get used to the forms.  The more you do the more your muscle memory will start taking over.

Don’t be afraid to use reference. This is NOT “cheating.” The best artist in the world use reference.

The problem is not UNDERSTANDING, the basic structures your referencing.  And THAT is what this lesson is helping you to do.

Often, when you see them draw something fantastic straight out of their imagination, it’s because they’ve done so much drawing and studying from reality that it’s become second nature.

Pro Tip

Observe how things around you can be broken down into the four basic forms.

When sketching complicated things, don’t get caught up in surface detail, instead, try to take it all away so what you’re left with is the basic form of what you’re drawing.

Learning this skill is the key to drawing anything.

Arms are tubes, books are boxes, heads are spheres,..etc.

Practice seeing these things.


I can’t help you if you don’t ask.

What’s your burning 3D forms questions?

Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about drawing forms? Ask.

I’ll give you my best answer and, who knows,  probably write a post about it.

Leave any comments and questions in the comments below.

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