Basic Shapes in Drawing

Basic Shapes in Drawing

Foundations We Shouldn't Overlook

Drawing basic shapes may not be the most thrilling activity, but it’s crucial for enhancing our drawing skills. In this article, I’ve compiled exercises for drawing basic shapes and examples highlighting their significance in art.

Why Are Basic Shapes Important in Drawing?

Basic Shape Sketch

Drawing based on Basic Shapes

Even young children can sketch a typical family scene—a house and all family members—with just a few circles, triangles, and rectangles. We, too, can use basic shapes to our advantage, simplifying complex subjects.

Sketch with Basic Shapes

Drawing based on Basic Shapes

Here, we can use basic shapes as the building blocks of our drawings. For instance, when drawing a profile view of a head, we can first divide the individual areas into basic shapes and lines. Overall, understanding proportions and composition becomes much easier through drawing basic shapes.

Simple Exercises: Drawing Basic Shapes

In these simple exercises, the focus isn’t necessarily on the outcome. It’s more important to engage with the process from basic shape to finished drawing and consider which subjects we can draw using different basic shapes.


An oval provides a good foundation for drawing a tulip. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as most organic subjects in nature aren’t perfectly symmetrical.

Drawing Basic Shapes: Oval

Drawing Basic Shapes: Oval

Believe me, drawing a tulip looks more challenging than it actually is. The challenge lies in the shading and details, but as a beginner, you can focus on capturing the shape accurately first. The rest comes with practice!


While we could cheat a bit on symmetry with ovals, for this exercise, we should aim to draw the circle as perfectly as possible. From a simple circle, we can draw an impressive iris!

To practice drawing circles, start by placing a second, much smaller circle precisely in the center of the first circle. This smaller circle represents the pupil.

Drawing Basic Shapes: Circle

Drawing Basic Shapes: Circle

The iris, or eyes in general, are particularly popular subjects for both beginners and experienced artists, as they offer ample room for creativity. Whether you’re using colored pencils, graphite pencils, or any other material, the key is to take enough time for perfect circles.

By the way, you can easily add shine to the iris by adding additional circles (or other basic shapes) around it, which you leave untouched while drawing. There are no limits to your creativity here.

Drawing Basic Shapes: Circle

Drawing Basic Shapes: Circle

Another idea to practice drawing circles is drawing bubbles. To draw them realistically and convincingly, however, you also need to pay attention to achieving perfect reflections on the surface of the bubble.


Practicing rectangles lends itself to drawing inorganic subjects such as a window, a door, or similar objects. In my example drawing, you can recognize a balcony of a house in Hanoi, which consists of two large rectangles and several other basic shapes.

Drawing Basic Shapes: Rectangle

Drawing Basic Shapes: Rectangle


In this example, you can see that we’ve strayed quite far from the strict basic form of the triangle. Nevertheless, we can still clearly see the triangle in the example drawing: the sand dune in the foreground.

Drawing Basic Shapes: Triangle

As you can see, sometimes it’s important to incorporate the basic shape as precisely as possible in your drawing, while other times it’s perfectly sufficient not to draw the basic shape too strictly and perfectly.

Basic Shapes: Examples from Famous Paintings

When we look closely, we find basic shapes everywhere in artworks – even in those of the old masters.

Rectangle: “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David

The painting “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David is not only a great example of using the Golden Ratio in art, but we can also clearly see the use of rectangles as basic shapes. Both the bathtub and the wooden writing surface are unmistakably based on the form of rectangles.

David masterfully demonstrates how basic shapes are not only aesthetically pleasing but also powerful tools for creating emotional depth and structural clarity in an artwork.

Golden Ratio: Marat

The original uploader was Frankipank at German Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Oval: “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo Buonarroti

In this painting, the oval plays a crucial role, although it’s not a clearly and distinctly recognizable oval. Most viewers are even more reminded of the shape of a brain than an oval.

Nevertheless, the basic form is used in this painting to create a visual unity between God and the surrounding celestial beings. This unity contrasts with Adam, who remains alone on Earth.

The Creation of Adam

Michelangelo (1475–1564), circa 1511, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons