How to Learn to Draw With Basic Shapes

Things You'll Need

  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Reference photos

Learning to accurately see an object is one of the first key skills a new artist must master. Accurate, realistic drawing depends on how well an artist masters this.

One of the simplest techniques an artist can use to accomplish this is to learn to see the basic shapes that lie within the object. To that, the artist can add volume, shading and other elements when drawing to make the drawing look three-dimensional and realistic.

Learning to Draw Using Basic Shapes

Practice first seeing the basic geometric shapes like triangles, rectangles, squares, circles, parallelograms, etc. Geometric shapes are the first basic shapes you must see to draw well.

Find and draw some of the basic shapes in your environment. For example, a door is a basic rectangle. A tire is a basic circle. You can start with photos and then work to draw from life.

Discover the next most basic shape, the organic shape, in your environment. These tend to be soft and round, but do not look man-made. Good examples are squash or roses.

Squint to see the silhouette of the organic shape if it’s too difficult to make out its form.

Practice drawing some organic shapes.

Move on to larger compositions once you practice the basics. This means that if you are looking at a picture of a covered bridge over a river, look for the largest basic shape in the picture. In this case it’s probably a very large rectangle representing the side walls.

Draw just the largest, most basic shapes that you see in your reference photo.

Combine shapes once you master seeing the largest shapes. What this means is that if you were to draw a person, his basic body shape would be a modified square, his head a modified circle, etc.

Learn to see the object’s positive shapes and negative spaces around it; this will help you see the basic shapes even more accurately. Think about cutting out a paper doll. The doll is the positive shape. The paper that’s left is the negative space; in fact you can still see the shape of the paper doll in the paper even though it’s not there anymore.

Draw an object, paying attention to the negative space around it. The better you can see the negative space, the more accurate your drawing will be.

Study your objects to now see not only the basic shape, but the volume of the object. Since you know that a tire, for example, is not just a flat circle, but that there is some volume to it, observe the object to determine what gives it its volume. Representing volume in a drawing is accomplished by the correct use of light and shading. Once you learn to add volume to your basic shapes, they will stop looking flat and become more realistic looking.


  • If you are still having trouble seeing the basic shape of the object you’re drawing, turn your reference photo upside down. This forces you to see the shapes that are there instead of what you think you see.


  • Basic Shapes; Art Instruction Schools; 2006
  • How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs; Lee Hammond; 1995
  • Keys to Drawing; Bert Dodson; 1985

About the Author

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.