Teaching Shape, Form, and Depth

Teaching About Depth Visual Aide

Visual Aide for Teaching About Depth

Previously I shared the project that I use to reinforce my teaching about line to my middle school student. Today I want to share a summary of my teaching on shape, form, and depth. I think you’ll also find some ideas for integrating art with math in this material. Next week we’ll look at the exercise that I use to reinforce this lesson.

After establishing the definition of “shape” as two-dimensional space inclosed by a line, we then clarify what “two-dimensional” means and contrast it with the concept of “three-dimensional.” It is surprising how often the students have only a vague sense of those words. Using illustrations and objects I demonstrate that the two dimensions of two-dimensional are height and width ONLY: whereas, three-dimensional involves the third dimension of depth. Therefore, two-dimensional is flat, and three-dimensional is not flat.

Returning to the definition of shapes after that introduction, the students are now ready to consider the difference between shapes and forms. Drawing a circle on the board I ask them to identify it as a circle which is a shape and contrast it with a ball or sphere that I hold up which they identify as a form. We repeat the process between a square and a cube, a rectangle and a rectangular prism, and a triangle and a pyramid or a triangular prism.

Because I believe that there are spiritual nuggets hidden in approaching art through the visual elements, I point out that the emphasis with shapes is on the boundary, borders, or edges. Because of the definitive line at the edge of the shape we clearly see that there is a boundary, a specific place beyond which the shape does not exist. And so it is in life that there are boundaries, clear distinctions between male and female, between life and death, between truth and lies. Modern, popular culture to the contrary, life is not a matter of vague, subjective preferences. On the other hand, the emphasis with form is on the volume or the substance. To capture form with any degree of effectiveness the artist is going to need to study the form in relationship to its light source. Since we are reminded scripturally that God is Light, it doesn’t take much consideration to see the spiritual suggestion that the substance and fulness of our lives is dependent upon our own response to the Light of God’s truth.

I then point out to the students that we have a basic problem as artists who paint or draw on paper or canvas because our paper or canvas is two-dimensional but the stuff we want to paint or draw is usually three-dimensional. Finding ways to solve that problem is the on-going challenge of the two-dimensional artist who wants to capture any level of realism.

Directing the students’ attention to the still-life drawing at the beginning of this post, I remind the students that it is drawn on a flat piece of paper. There is no real depth involved; however, does it look like some of the objects are closer to them and other objects are further away? They all agree that the knife looks like it is closer so I ask them why? What did I do to create an optical illusion that the knife was closer?

After considerable discussion and challenging questions from me, they are usually able to come up with the following basic rule for achieving depth:

Something further away will be . . .

1.  Higher on the page,
2.  Relatively smaller, and
3.  Overlapped by items that are “closer.”

This has been the instructional part of the lesson on space, form, and depth. Next week I’ll share with you the exercise that I use to reinforce the concepts.

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