How to Use Shapes to Create Realistic Drawings

by Wendi OBrien


Paper:  Bristol Vellum

Pencil Sharpener

Prismacolor Premier Pencils: 118 Cadmium Orange Hue, 133 Cobalt Blue Hue, 140 Eggshell, 195 Pomegranate, 904 Light Cerulean Blue, 907 Peacock Green, 908 Dark Green, 914 Cream, 915 Lemon Yellow, 922 Poppy Red, 930 Magenta, 935 Black, 937 Tuscan Red, 938 White, 940 Sand, 941 Light Umber, 942 Yellow Ochre, 944 Terra Cotta, 947 Dark Umber, 948 Sepia, 989 Chartreuse, 1005 Lime Peel, 1007 Imperial Violet, 1012 Jasmine, 1017 Clay Rose, 1019 Rosy Beige, 1020 Celadon Green, 1021 Jade Green, 1023 Cloud Blue, 1026 Greyed Lavender, 1032 Pumpkin Orange, 1033 Mineral Orange, 1034 Golden Rod, 1050 10% Warm Grey, 1059 10% Cool Grey, 1067 90% Cool Grey, 1070 30% French Grey, 1072 50% French Grey, 1074 70% French Grey, 1083 Putty Beige, 1084 Ginger Root, 1095 Black Raspberry, 1098 Artichoke

Using Shapes to Create Realistic Art

In this blog, I am going to discuss the importance of using shapes when creating realistic art work.

For the piece I am working on I needed to take two completely different approaches in mind set and techniques between the background and the actual subject.  First,  let’s visit the process for completing the background.


Since the background is blurred, I decided early on that I was going to use OMS or Odorless Mineral Spirits for blending.  If you follow my work, you know I don’t often use OMS except in certain instances.  This would be one of those times.

Most of the background is very dark with speckles of color from reflecting light on flowers and foliage, so my approach to this was actually put the color shapes in first, then fill in between with the darker color. 

My main reason for this was to keep from dragging the dark pigment into the lighter areas, thus creating a bit of mud.  Yes, I want it blurry, but I don’t want it muddy.  I want to keep the vibrancy of the colors.  I also kept this first layer a bit loose in order to make sure I had enough balance in my piece.

Using Odorless Mineral Spirits for Blending

After I got my first layer down, I used OMS to blend out the colored pencil.  If you would like a more in depth, real time instruction on how to use OMS with colored pencil, check out this video for a step by step tutorial. 

The process I used for this was to dip the tip of the brush in OMS…dab it off on a paper towel then go over the lighter area then move to the darker. It is important to blend the lighter areas first, so you don’t muddy or darken the bright vibrant areas. 

The way I accomplish this is every time I dip, I start with the lighter area on my drawing then move to the darker as I move around the drawing.  This ensures a nice clean brush every time you touch the lightest parts of the drawing. 

Alternatively, you could do all the yellow then the pink then the darkest areas, but I don’t like jumping around too much so I usually work left to right.  Just find what method works best for you.

After the initial OMS, I let it dry and continued layering my pencils, saturating the color and semi burnishing as I worked.  I only used OMS on my piece 1 time in the initial layers to ensure pigment was in all the nooks and crannys of the paper and avoid any white specs.  Depending upon your techniques, you could use it more than once.

It Looks Weird

Even after this last step was complete, I still found it a bit odd looking.  All I saw was the random shapes that were there creating the background. 

This is important, as those shapes is what ultimately defined the background in the end.  Because the subject wasn’t completed it threw the perspective of the background out and didn’t really seem like anything except a bunch of shapes that didn’t really have a purpose.  That was okay and I moved past it because I knew in the end it would look fine.

Rendering the Table

I then moved onto the table that the mug is sitting on.  Most of that was pretty straight forward as the shapes where already there for the soccer ball.  All I needed to worry about was the cast shadow and ensuring the values were correct for the shading.

Handle of the Mug

After I was happy with the table I then moved onto the mug.  Now this was super fun to complete and where concentrating on the different shapes is key.  In order to get the transparency and distortion, you must focus on each individual shape and not think of it as a mug. 

Each color has a shape and in some cases a few colors and gradients.  Taking each one individually really helps to create a successful piece.

The handle is essentially part of the background.  I continued with the shapes and colors of the background then used my white pencil to blur it in the correct direction for the area of the handle to create the illusion of see through glass and the bends in the handle.  I loved creating this glass appearance.

Bottom of the Mug

I kept working on the handle until I was happy with the final outcome and then moved onto the bottom of the mug. 

Again, focusing on the shapes to get the reflections from the table and beer.  I have yet to really think about what I am drawing except for individual shapes.  When I step back and look at it as a whole I then briefly consider what I am drawing to see if it is coming together then quickly switch back to shape mode and continue on the mug.

Creating the Distortion

Now this did take a bit of time working with the different shapes.  I blocked in the main color so I wouldn’t lose my map then started working on the individual shapes with the various colors to form the beer and mug distortion. 

Without using shapes for this, there is no way I would have been able to complete this.  Thinking of it as a mug of beer really messes with your head when the mug itself is a bit distorted and not your typical shape.

Shapes Working Together

As I moved across the mug, all of those individual shapes started to come together in what appears to be beer in a distorted mug.  Once I was happy with that section I moved onto the foam and the top of the mug.  Again just using the various shapes within the reference and the techniques I explained earlier.

The piece finally came together in the end.  The mug looked…well like a mug and the background then became a blurred background and not a bunch of miscellaneous shapes.  It didn’t really look like anything until almost the end because everything then had a relation to other things in the piece to help your eye and mind make sense.

Final Thoughts

I do use this approach on just about everything I create.  This way it helps me to take away the preconception in my mind of what it is I am actually drawing and just focuses on the shapes that actually make up that drawing.

What is your favorite way to work?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Until next time….Keep On Arting!


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