Basic Forms, Shadow Shapes and Cats | Colored Pencil Techniques

I hope you’re not expecting a funny cat video; I know you can find plenty of those online easily enough without even trying (in my experience, not that I’m complaining!). So why the kitty reference in today’s title? Because when it comes to drawing cats, forms and shapes are everything.

Today’s guest artist is Mark Menendez, who has a series of video workshops on colored pencil techniques at ArtistsNetworkTV (preview or download them here). He’s here to explain the most important aspect of drawing a popular subject, but this can be applied to others as well.

Colored pencil techniques | Mark Menendez, ArtistsNetwork.com

Colored pencil art by Mark Menendez (PIN this!)

Colored Pencil Techniques: Understanding Basic Forms by Mark Menendez

Animal portraits created with colored pencil techniques are a very popular subject in my classes and seminars, and many of my students want to learn how to draw cats. Whether shorthair or longhair, the feline form can be challenging. The bulk of art instruction books and videos, especially those demonstrating color pencil, focus on detail. I prefer instruction that focuses on basic forms. While the handling of detail is essential in any work of art, it is only one element in creating a drawing or painting of merit. In my opinion, the capturing of form, through a faithful rendering of light and shadow, is much more vital than detail. Therefore, as I teach, I have always put emphasis on first capturing form, whatever the subject, as revealed by the direction, position, quality and temperature of the light source illuminating the subject, and then applying the detail.

Colored pencil drawings | Mark Menendez, ArtistsNetwork.com

In Fox Hollow (colored pencil) by Mark Menendez, you can see how the same colored pencil techniques are applied to a different animal.

The use of basic forms is almost always included in the first few pages of every beginner drawing book or video. Yet I find students, whether my young artists of school age, or my “seasoned citizen” students, often want to skip past that section of the instruction. They prefer to get right to the details. In my opinion, they’re skipping the stage of the drawing that renders the illusion of three dimensions. Why is this so?

Consider this.When someone sets out to bake a birthday cake, you wouldn’t start by mixing the icing and decorating by piping the borders, leaves and flowers. No, you would bake the cake first! The two layers, one stacked upon the other is the form upon which all the icing, borders, leaves and flowers is built. You can’t decorate without that foundational form underneath. And so it is with any three dimensional subject you draw or paint.

The basic forms found most often in nature are the sphere, cone, cylinder and cube. When you observe the four basic forms, you may discover they each have a distinctive “shadow shape.” Many times the shadow shape on a spherical form is in the shape of a crescent; the cone, a triangular shadow; the cube is identified by a quadrangular shadow shape; and on the cylinder, the shadow runs in a rectangular fashion, running along the sides of the form.

The feline form, as observed, can be created from the sphere (the head and body); the cone (the ears, snout and feet); and the cylinder (the legs and tail). After sketching a cat using the basics forms, you then observe the shadows and render the shadow shapes as observed on your subject,

With the shadows in place, then you can add the fur texture, features, and other details, As I repeat so often in my class, “Form first, details last!” ~Mark

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