Lesson 2: Shape and Value

Why shape and value?

Whether you know their names or not, you're using the elements of art every time you draw something. Every element of art works together to create a whole piece, including these two. Shape and value work together to add depth to a drawing. Artists see the world around them in basic shapes and their light values.

What is shape? What is form?

Shape is an area enclosed by line or colour; it is two-dimensional and defined by height and width. Form is similar, but is three-dimensional; form is defined by height, width, and depth.

Geometric vs Organic Shapes

Geometric shapes are mathematical; they include named shapes such as the cube, cylinder, rhombus, trapezoid, and sphere. These are often man-made but can be seen in nature (such as the honeycomb). Organic shapes are unnamed. They’re usually free-flowing and asymmetrical. 


Left: Zellige tile work at Hassan II Mosque. Right: Vincent Vangogh, Sunflowers (F454).

Exercise 1: Found objects

For this exercise, find two objects in your home and draw them using only simple shapes. One object should be simple (ex. a cup, a book, a box), and the other more complex (ex. a lamp, a cat toy, a jump rope). Begin with the simple object.


  1. Look at your object. Think of what shapes it consists of - are there stacked circles? A cylinder? A rectangle? A cone? Where are these shapes?
  2. Draw the shape that is most apparent to you.
  3. Continue drawing additional shapes until it resembles the object without details.
  4. Add in details if desired. Details can include colour, highlights, and patterns.

Tip: If you’re struggling with this and have access to a printer, print out photos of objects and animals in black and white! Then you can draw directly on your paper to try and figure out what shapes make up a form.

What is value?

Value is the amount of lightness or darkness in a picture. You can also think of it as the amount of light reflected off a surface. This means value needs a light source.

Value Scale:

Exercise 2: Photographic Value Scale

For this exercise, we’re making our own value scale using objects we find at home. Objects you could do this with include books,ribbons, wrapping paper, fruits, vegetables, or anything else - it’s all up to you.


  1. Find at least 5 items of various levels of darkness and lightness
  2. Arrange these items in a line from lightest to darkest
  3. Take a photo of the items
  4. Change the photo to black and white (most phones and computers can do this under “edit” in the photos app)

Notice how the colour of an object impacts its value! Does your value scale change if you put it in different lighting? What if it’s outside? What if you shine a lamp directly on it?

The  Challenge: Particular Paper

For this challenge, you’ll be creating a free-standing abstract paper sculpture that represents a feeling, experience, or emotion; then you will draw it.


  • 2 pieces of paper
  • Pencil
  1. Think of a feeling, emotion, or experience. How are you feeling right now? What was the best thing that happened to you last week - how did that make you feel?
  2. Once you know what feeling, experience, or emotion you want, sculpt one piece of paper to represent that. You can rip, tear, shred, and fold. You cannot use scissors, glue, or tape. 
  3. Find somewhere to put the sculpture. Make sure there’s enough light you can see it.
  4. Using the other piece of paper, draw your paper sculpture. Here are some things to consider when drawing:
    1. The value - where are the shadows? Do the shadows end abruptly or slowly smooth into light?
    2. The shape - do you recognize any of the shapes? Are the lines created curved or straight? Is there a lot of space in my picture, or is the paper smushed together?

Here’s an example that was done by art student Jenny Ha.


Questions? Comments? Concerns?
Just want to chill out and draw with other people for an hour? Join us for our livestream from 6-7pm on Friday, April 24!
Sign up here