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Art Elements: What Is Form in Art (With Examples)

Today we wanted to talk about form in art. If you can create something that looks truly three dimensional on a two dimensional surface you can guarantee you have a strong grasp of form.

‘Form’ refers to the three-dimensional characteristics of an art object, including aspects such as length, width, height, and depth. Simply put, it’s a 2d drawing that appears as a 3d object.

In this blog post, we’ll take a deeper look at form, providing examples of how artists utilize form in their works as well as how you can better use form in your own art. By the end, you should hopefully have a deep understanding of this key component, which alongside other elements of art, plays a significant role in creating powerful artworks.

Check out our other art elements explained here:

Key Takeaways

  • Again, ‘Form’ refers to the three-dimensional characteristics of an art object, including aspects such as length, width, height, and depth.
  • Illusion of depth and three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface is often achieved by understanding and manipulating light and shade.
  • Geometric forms and Organic forms are the two broad categories of form. Geometric forms are mathematical and precise, while organic forms are free-flowing and naturally occurring.
  • Form is one of the 7 elements of art

The 7 Elements of Art Explained with Examples

ElementDescriptionExample ArtworkExplanation of Representation
LineFundamental in art and design; defines space, contours, outlines, mass, and volume.“Praying Hands” by Albrecht DürerExpert use of delicate lines to create depth and detail, demonstrating how lines can depict both the physical form and emotional essence
ShapeA two-dimensional area defined by lines or contrasts.“Squares with Concentric Circles” by Wassily KandinskyShape is exemplified through abstract forms, using simple geometric shapes to create a complex and vibrant composition
ColorInvolves hue, value, and intensity; sets mood and symbolism.“Wheatfield With a Reaper” by Vincent Van GoghUse of vivid color palettes, demonstrating how color can convey emotion, mood, and atmosphere, and enhance the narrative of a scene.
ValueLightness to darkness in colors; creates illusion of three dimensions.“Medusa” by CaravaggioStrong contrasts between light and dark (chiaroscuro) shows how value can create depth, volume, and a dramatic atmosphere
FormShape with depth, adding a third dimension; seen in two-dimensional art through shading and light effects.“Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da VinciForm is demonstrated in two dimensions. The subtle gradations of light and shadow and the (sfumato) technique give a lifelike depth and realism to the portrait.
TextureSurface quality of artwork; actual or implied.“Starry Night” by Vincent Van GoghNotable for its thick, impasto brushstrokes that give a tactile quality to the painting, creating a texture from paint that can be felt as well as seen
SpaceThe area within, around, between, or above objects; positive and negative space.“The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika HokusaiBy contrasting the immense wave (positive space) against Mount Fuji in the distance (negative space), illustrating how space can be manipulated to enhance the focal point and narrative of a piece.

What Is Form in Art?

Notice how Mona Lisa appears to pop off the canvas thanks to an expert use of light, shadow, as well as depth in the background

In terms of art, form describes an object with three dimensions. You observe form in two-dimensional artwork like painting where artists use techniques to convey a sense of depth. Form plays an integral role in both representational and abstract art.

Techniques such as perspective, light, shadow, and color gradients help to create illusions of forms that seem to ‘pop’ off the canvas.

Some people also use form to refer to the larger connotations of an artwork such as its construct, design, set-up, and organization- including aspects such as balance, proportion, and layout.

Examples of Form in Art

Form can be perfectly represented in a couple different artworks as well as art mediums:

  • sculpture
  • abstract art
  • representational art

With Michelangelo’s marble sculpture ‘David’, he has rendered a piece of marble into a very life-like figure, creating depth and dimension using precise sculpting techniques. The evident three-dimensionality of the statue is a result of the artist’s understanding of form and how light influences perception of three dimensions.

‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso

Next, we have an example of an abstraction of form which can be seen in Pablo Picasso’s Cubist works. Take his painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (above) for example. He breaks down traditional forms transforming human figures into geometric shapes.

Bridget Riley’s ‘Fall

Lastly, we have artworks from the Optical Art (Op Art) movement like Bridget Riley’s ‘Fall’ (above) present yet another interpretation of form. The use of black and white lines to create an illusion of movement is not only mesmerizing, but a great use of form.

Organic vs Geometric Form

drawings by me*

Form in art is sometimes broken down into organic and geometric form.

  • Organic Form: refers to naturally occurring structures
    • for example: the human body, landscapes, animals, and plants
  • Geometric Form: refers to objects or structures defined by symmetry and shapes (squares, circles etc)
    • for example: man made structures, architecture

Organic forms are often characterized by their free-flowing, spontaneous, and somewhat unpredictable nature. They’re typically curved, rounded, or irregular, often lacking uniformity or symmetry.

A great example is seen in the works of sculptor Henry Moore, who was renowned for his large-scale organic forms, particularly the reclining human figure. Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ sculptures (shown above) mimicked the rounded, soft forms found in nature, using curves and hollows to create a sense of natural, spontaneous form.

On the flip side, Geometric forms are precision-oriented, often identifiable by their mathematical accuracy and consistency. They are systematic, regular forms, defined by symmetry and structure, such as squares, circles, triangles, cubes, or pyramids. Geometric forms are typically used in creating and understanding man-made structures, such as in architecture, design, or graphic art.

Consider, for example, the works of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. His painting ‘Composition with Red, Blue, Black, Yellow, and Gray’ (shown below) shows an intricate, well-crafted balancing of rectangles of various sizes, exhibiting luminous colors against a white background. At its core, it is a celebration of geometric symmetry, showcasing his love for line, shape, and color.

Elements of Art (7 Elements of Art)

1. Form in Art

Form in art, contrary to popular belief, does not refer solely to the shape or silhouette of an object or entity. It signifies the solidity or three-dimensionality of an object.

The form carries properties of length, width, and most importantly, depth making the subject appear almost tangible. To put it in a nutshell, a form is essentially a shape endowed with depth, an attribute that adds a distinct third-dimension.

One essential point to understand is that form is not confined to sculptures or ceramics, i.e., naturally three-dimensional pieces. Even within two-dimensional forms such as paintings or drawings, artists achieve the illusion of form.

2. Space in Art

Space in art refers to the area within, around, between, or above objects.

It essentially dictates how the objects in a work relate to one another and affects the overall composition, style, and visual narrative of a piece. Essentially, space in art provides a visual framework for form and shapes to inhabit and interact.

Space can be of two types–

  • Positive Space: refers to the primary subjects or objects in the art piece
  • Negative space: the area surrounding these shapes or forms

For instance, in a garden landscape painting, the trees, flowers, or a pond would constitute the positive space. The blue sky above or the area between the trees, however, would be examples of negative space.

Read More: Space Explained with Examples

3. Color

In art, color is broken down into three basic properties:

  • hue (the actual color)
  • intensity (the purity of that color)
  • value (the lightness or darkness of a color).

Color sets the mood, evokes emotions, and adds depth and interest to a piece. It can even transform the viewer’s perception and understanding of the artwork.

4. Texture

Texture refers to the tactile quality of an artwork’s surface. Basically, it’s how an element feels or appears to feel in an artwork. Some of my favorite artists that play with texture are Van Gogh and Lucian Freud (with some of their famous artworks shown above).

Texture can be categorized into two types; actual and visual.

  • Actual texture refers to the real, tangible surfaces of objects.
    • For instance, the coarseness of a tree bark, or the smooth sleekness of a marble sculpture, are examples of actual texture.
  • Visual texture, on the other hand, is the perceived texture, where elements are visually manipulated to seem textured, like a rough sea in a flat oil painting.

5. Value

Value, often associated with tone, refers to the lightness or darkness of colors or shades in an artwork. It works concurrently with the other art elements such as form, shape, line, color, and texture to augment the depth and realism of the artwork.

Turn your attention to Grayscale (shown above), a perfect example that offers a fantastic illustration of value in art. This is where you observe a spectrum starting from black, moving through various shades of grey and finally reaching white. Remember, the closer a color is to white (the highest value), the higher its value.

6. Shape

The shape refers to an enclosed space that is a result of other art elements such as lines, textures, and colors converging.

Shapes can be broadly categorized into two types – Geometric and Organic (which we went over briefly above)

Again, geometric shapes are mathematical, precise, and include squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles. You’ll often find them in man-made structures, providing the basis for entire architectural designs, in graphic designs or even in logos for that crisp, clean appearance.

Conversely, organic shapes, also referred to as free-form shapes, are irregular and uneven. Mostly derived from nature, these shapes portray details like the silhouette of trees, the curvilinear form of river, or the asymmetry found in leaves. Organic shapes are often deployed in art to represent objects in a more general, rather than precise, manner.

7. Line

Line in art serve as the rudimentary building blocks from which more complex shapes, forms, and textures are created. They are strokes that connect two points, and can run the gamut from being bold strokes to being imperceptible scratches.

Lines have potent storytelling capabilities. They guide your eyes around the artwork, leading you from one point to another, creating a narrative. They set the mood and tone of the piece, whether it’s calm with horizontal lines or chaotic with zigzag lines.

Side note: Art isn’t confined to solid lines either; implied lines, where your eyes connect the dots between various elements, can be just as impactful.

Read More: Gestalt Principles in Art Explained

How Does Perspective Fit in with Form?

Form is about the dimensionality of objects themselves, while perspective is about how these objects are arranged and viewed in a space to create depth and realism.

When we talk about perspective in the context of fine art, we’re referring to the method used to represent three-dimensional objects and depth on a two-dimensional surface. So how does this link with form? Well, perspective is essentially a mathematical system used by artists to create the illusion of form and space within a flat artwork. It breathes life into flat forms, transforming them into realistic-looking three-dimensional objects.

Mastering perspective means understanding that as objects recede into the distance, they appear smaller to the viewer.

Two key concepts underpin the use of perspective –

  • Horizon line (eye level): represents the viewer’s eye level and separates the sky from the ground, setting the viewpoint in a composition.
  • Vanishing point: specific spots on the horizon line where parallel lines appear to converge and disappear, creating a sense of depth

Read More: Perspective in Art with Examples

How Are Proportion and Form Related in Art?

Proportion is essentially a comparative relationship, a measurement of dimensions and scale between different elements within an artwork or design.

Form, on the other hand, represents the physical constitution of an object, its three-dimensional character capturing length, width, and depth.

The relationship works well when the artist uses proportion to depict form realistically. For instance, when we draw a human figure, understanding the proportion of different body parts – like the length of the arms in relation to torso height – is vital to rendering a convincing form.

Form in Different Types of Art

Drawing and Painting

Drawing and painting are art forms that primarily exist on two-dimensional platforms. However, the excellent understanding of artistic techniques enable artists to create an illusion of three-dimensionality. (This involves the strategic application of elements like shading, tapering, and foreshortening).


Sculpture is a unique art form that exists fully in three dimensions – length, width, and height – and provides an immersive viewing experience. Sculptures made from solid materials like wood, metal, clay, or stone exemplify form in one of its most tangible, physical manifestations.

Side note: this is quite different from the two-dimensional world of painting or drawing, where form is suggested through the skillful use of techniques such as shading and perspective.

Like we mentioned earlier, in relation to the kinds of forms seen in sculpture, they can be either geometric (with regular, mathematically defined shapes like cubes, spheres, pyramids) or organic (irregular, free-form shapes often inspired by nature).

How to Learn Form for Drawing or Painting

Learning to accurately depict form in your drawings or paintings is a skill that requires time and practice. It involves training your eye to see shapes and forms accurately, understanding how light affects form, and developing the manual dexterity to translate what you see onto your canvas or sketchpad successfully.

Some Tips to Better Create Form Are:

  • Break down organic/complex forms into simple geometric shapes
  • Practice shading various simple objects
  • Practice drawing still life’s from different angles and lighting
  • Work on breaking down proportion into comparative sizes (especially when it comes to drawing a face or figure

Finally, practice is key. Keep a sketchbook and draw regularly. Experiment with different subjects and lighting conditions. Over time, you’ll find your understanding of form improving, and your drawings and paintings becoming more lifelike and convincing. You’ll start noticing form and light in the world around you, and your art will bear the evidence of your improved perception and skill.

Shape vs Form in Art

Form and shape are two of the seven elements of art and while they may seem synonymous, they have distinctive differences.

  1. Shape: refers to a two-dimensional, flat area defined by boundaries such as lines or contrasts in color or texture, without depth or volume.
  2. Form: the three-dimensional aspect of objects, giving them volume and depth, and is often depicted in two-dimensional works through shading, perspective, and lighting techniques.

Shape, in the context of art, refers to a two-dimensional area that is distinct from its surroundings. It is defined by boundaries and can be geometric (circles, squares) or organic (naturally occurring shapes). These shapes are only concerned with height and width.

Fundamentally, form takes the concept of shape even further by adding the third dimension: depth.

In artistry, form refers to the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface. This means that form encases volume, giving drawings and sculptures a realistic, tangible semblance.

Content vs Form

Content refers primarily to the subject matter or the theme. It includes the emotions, messages, ideas, symbols, narratives, and concepts that the artist communicates through their work.

Form, on the other hand, refers to the physical and visual elements of the artwork. It pertains to how the artist uses lines, shapes, color, texture, and space to construct the composition and its three dimensionality.

In other words, if content is what is being said, form is how it’s being said.

Related Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Form?

‘Form’ refers to the three-dimensional characteristics of an art object, including aspects such as length, width, height, and depth. Simply put, it’s a 2d drawing that appears as a 3d object.

When we discuss ‘form’ in the context of art, we essentially refer to the perception of an object in three-dimensional space. Form is not just about what you see on the surface, it covers length, width, and most importantly, depth.

It gives a physical dimension to the artistic expression, helping convey the artist’s thoughts and emotions in a tangible way.

What Does Subject Form and Content Mean?

Subject’ refers to the entity or theme an artist chooses to portray.

Form is about the physical embodiment of an artist’s interpretation. It encapsulates the structural features – the shapes, colors, textures, and the technique the artist employs to bring forth their artistic vision.

Lastly, ‘content’ is the intended message that an artist tries to imply or create with their work.

Side note: Keep in mind that ‘content’ is subjective, relying heavily upon the viewer’s perception. One may interpret a piece of artwork differently from anothe.

Why Are Geometric Forms Easier to Draw?

Geometric forms are generally perceived as easier to draw due to their predictability and inherent symmetry.

You can also more easily break them down into simple geometric shapes which is more difficult to do when drawing or painting organic forms like the human body or face.

However, some artists like myself find drawing geometric forms like architecture more challenging since the lines have to be very precise.

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