Fundamental Forms


One of the most oldest and most profound ideas in classical art is that of the fundamental forms. This is the idea that every object seen in nature can be considered as some combination of the four fundamental forms in art. These forms are the cube, the sphere, the cylinder and the cone. These forms are an excellent way of introducing ourselves to certain rules of lighting and structure. The study of these forms is often instrumental to the student transitioning out of purely considering 2 dimensional relationships within the subject but also considering the artwork as something that exists in physical space with all the rules that this entails. While these two dimensional relationships are hugely important to establishing a believable likeness, it should never be the only consideration. This ability to consider a work in both of these, sometimes seemingly contradictory, ways simultaneously often spells the difference between the professional artist and the amateur. This being the case, LARA encourages its students to study the fundamental forms at every available opportunity.

The study of these forms has been at the forefront of artists’ consideration for much of the history of art. We see one example of how this idea can be applied in this ink composition drawing created by the 16th century artist Luca Cambiaso. Cambiaso was a painter of religious paintings, grand in their scale and complex in their number of figures depicted together. We can see here how even through all of their complexity, many of his paintings began their life as humble cube figures. Simplifying the problem to this simple form frees him of the manifold difficulties that inevitably arise in creating fully realised realistic forms and allows him to purely study the core ideas of work. Ideas such as overall arrangement, orientation and spacing of forms, light direction and storytelling.

A common mistake of beginning figure drawing students is to miss this idea of consistent spacing and orientation of form. These ideas are extremely important and form the bedrock of all truly accomplished works. All the fine detail in the world will not save a drawing from ignorance of these core ideas. One excellent exercise for beginning to understand these concepts is to draw a ‘boxman’ figure, similar to those found in the Cambiaso drawing above, next to your drawing or a drawing by a master you admire. Try to match the orientation and direction of the large masses of the body. This uses the fundamental form to isolate these ideas, allowing us to study them for their own merit and highlight issues with them in our work. Above we see a beautiful academic figure drawing completed by Ilya Repin where these ideas have been thoroughly explored to great effect. To the right I have drawn an example of how one might interpret this drawing into one of these ‘boxman’ figures.

by Charlie Pickard

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