Courses Perceptual Studies page 8


Application of Theoretical Flat Shape
Choose a subject from nature which is naturally flat, such as a leaf. Design the shape using line qualities and criteria learned in the previous problems. It is usually necessary to demand carry-over from previous problems. Almost every year we work with stylized leaves. In order to reduce the time students spend arriving at a leaf shape, they are instructed to choose from a pointed vertical shape, pointed non-biased (somewhat triangular) shape, a pointed horizontal shape or a trefoil. They are to concentrate on reining the shape playing one contour against the other and designing top and bottom of the leaf so that three lines do not converge at the same point when the stem is attached. Students may add one or several combinations of leaf serration, stem, ribs or decay to enhance the communication of the shape as a leaf. Edge serration will relate to the definition of leaf veins.

Students view drawing the leaf as something different from what they have been doing and concentrate on the leaf rather than the shape and line quality. The teacher must constantly remind students that the previously given criteria applies and the leaf as such is incidental to problem objectives. The leaf is a shape and the shape is a leaf! For purposes of the problem, I make a distinction between organic and geometric symmetry. Geometric describes con tours on either side of the axis which are identical while organic describes a symmetry where enclosed areas on either side of the axis are the same but the contours differ. Students are required to always draw the spine when working with any image from nature.


Typical Criticisms
) Play the line and shapes on one side against the other. Your shape is too symmetrical.
) The intruding white lines describing ribs are too thick creating excessive visual vibration. Thin the lines down!
) What is the relationship of the stem to the veins? What is the length of the stem to the body of the leaf?
) There are too many white lines. The idea is to have just enough to communicate and no more.
) Extend the stem line to the tip of the leaf and you will see that there is more area on one side than on the other. There must be balance, or symmetry of area, but not necessarily of shape or contour.
) You can create tension within the shape by indicating ribs or decay in more than one place on the leaf. However, one area should be dominant by size and the other(s) subordinate by size or activity.
) You are cutting off the stem at the bottom of the leaf where the two lines describing the sides of the leaf come together and meet the stem line. To ensure the integrity of the leaf and stem as a single shape, it is necessary to off-set the two leaf lines at the point where they meet the stem. One line might turn up where it meets the stem; the other might turn down; the two lines might meet the stem at different levels on the stem, or some other similar device for off-setting them.
) Play with stem. Vary length and weight.
) Remember the nodule at the end where the stem attaches to the branch has form. Look at a leaf stem so you know the form of the nodule and translate it into a drawing that accurately reflects shape and volume.
) You are using too much serration, use small amount(s) as an accent.
) With decay, either use a small amount as an accent, or show decay over almost all of the leaf. Don’t cancel out with equal areas of decay and undecayed leaf. How much to how much!
) The negative shapes on both sides of the leaf are all too similar. Vary size, shape and direction.


Draw four 10-inch squares on tracing paper and do marker fill-ins of the shape in different rotations, when the best positioning is determined, the leaf may be done in one color visually centered on a 10-inch square board. This past year I changed this exercise making it a composition rather than a single image. In the past, the fruit or vegetable was presented on a 10 x 10 board in black plaka. Last year, students were required to design a simple composition incorporating at least one fruit or vegetable (it could be more) with two other shapes from the theoretical studies. Scale, place ment, tension,overlap, activation of ground, interval are among principles that could be demonstrated with this exercise. I recommend this interpretation of the exercise but I have retained the previous assignment as a record.


Application of Theoretical Shape with Illusion of Dimension
Choose a fruit or vegetable to make a shape that suggests dimensionality. Initial studies should be done on tracing paper with pencil as constructed drawings with ellipses and axis. This better aids the student in understanding the volume or dimensionality of the subject. They then interpret the drawing using lines based on earlier problems; line quality and tension curves. The resulting image is highly stylized. There is considerable distortion and artistic license taken in this exercise. The most interesting results occur when there is exaggeration of elements. However, the student has to explore which elements to exaggerate proportions, stems or leaves to the body of the fruit or vegetable, or the variation of forms within one variety of fruits or vegetables. Those parts of the fruit or vegetable that are inverted often have to be extruded, stems have to be raised and extended. Students must pay particular attention that ground and horizon lines are curved because they are elliptical; that increments decrease in width as they move back in space; and to better define the illusion of space, objects should set on different planes. Contours must describe the space occupied by the fruit or vegetable. Sometimes it is helpful to draw a trapezoid (square in perspective) or ellipse (circle in perspective) and draw the object so as to set on as much of the trapezoid or ellipse as possible.

Of particular concern is that the main shape does not close where there is a stem or stalk, or where the contour comes into the stem or stalk from either side, the two sides offset to maintain the integrity of a single shape.

Shapes are not symmetrical. Students design one side to play against the line defining the other side as they did in the line shape and leaf compositions. This is not a geometric symmetry but an organic symmetry where contours might differ from one side to the other, but enclosed areas on each side of center will appear equal.

Concave lines on contour tend to diminish vitality of fruit or vegetable shapes. Students need to know when to use a point or a curve in establishing the illusion of dimensionality. A point tends to show a form going behind or in front; a curve tends to flatten into a single shape.



Download PDF



Student example of theoretical leaf shape

Flat Shape: Leaf
(more examples)


Student example of vegetable shape

Dimensional Shape: Vegetable
(more examples)


Site Index



. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Typical Criticisms >