See Three Shapes

By Paula Briggs

This resources shares a simple exercise to help children (or adults) appreciate how seeing simple shapes can help improve drawing skills, and how one material can be used in a variety of ways to create different qualities of line.

drawing shapes, 3 Lines: Outline, Shadow and Shade
3 Lines: Outline, Shadow and Shade

  • Click to Read Key Points for Teachers: What is "See Three Shapes"?

    • See Three Shapes helps children of all ages and abilities learn to simplify what they see when they look at an object, and carry that vision forward into their drawing. It is suitable for ages 7 upwards.
    • This exercise breaks down "seeing" into 3 stages.
    • It helps children begin to understand how they can make different marks with the same materials to improve their drawing.
    • It introduces them to the concept of "outline", "form" and "shadow"
    • It develops observational drawing skills, and also helps children settle and focus.
    • It can take as little as 5 to 10 minutes.
  • You Will Need...

    • Sheet of paper for each child.
    • Ink, or poster paint, in two thickness: the first being undiluted or thick, the second diluted down to a wash i.e. about 1 part paint and 5 parts water (approximately).
    • Painting/Drawing tools: A fine brush and a thick brush for each child.
    • An small, solid object to draw near each child, such as a pebble, apple, vegetable etc.
  • Summary of the Exercise


    • Invite the children to stay quiet and concentrate.
    • Ask them to look slowly at the object in front of them before starting to draw.
      • Ask them to see the outline of the object.
      • Ask them to see the shadow the object makes on the ground
      • Ask them to see the shadow on the underside of the object.
    • When they have seen the above, they can start making their lines in the following order:
      • 1. Take the fine brush (or quill) and use undiluted paint or ink draw the outline of the object. Make sure it is a good size, i.e. not too small.
      • 2. Take a thicker brush and use the diluted paint or ink and make a single brush stroke to describe the shadow on the ground.
      • 3. Using the same thick brush and diluted paint or ink made a third mark to show the shadow on the object itself.
    • In a five minute exercise, atleast half the time might be spent looking before the children start to commit their drawing to paper

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This resources shares how I did this activity in a community arts setting. Please read the info above to see how it can be adapted the classroom environment and what it offers pupils and teachers.


I took in some ornamental gourds as a subject matter that had a strong yet simple shape which would cast a shadow on white paper and display shade within its mass. Eggs, apples, lemons etc would also work well - but keep away from perfect spheres like balls which are not so forgiving in terms of their outside line.

I also provided Indian ink. After this exercise we were going on to draw fossils with ink, and this exercise was about giving children the opportunity to explore the types of marks which we can make with ink, via a limited subject matter. I poured the ink into small cups, leaving half the ink undiluted, and the remainder I diluted 1:5 ink to water.

Our drawing tools were brushes and feathers, which I had cut at angles to use as nibs.

Simple subject matter
Simple subject matter


Drawing Materials
Drawing Materials


I demonstrated how I would like the children to make a simple study of the gourds by seeing and drawing three shapes:

1) Starting with the undiluted ink and using the feather nibs, I asked them to make a simple line drawing of the outside of the gourds - if their feather had plenty of ink they could add a few lines of detail inside the line drawing to help convey texture. (We kept the drawings A4 size so that the feathers didn't have to be re-dipped in ink to make a large drawing).

2) I then asked them to see the shadow on the white paper and using the undiluted ink again, though this time with a brush, to make a single brush mark to describe this shadow.

3) The third shape I asked them to see was the tonal shading on the side of the gourd which helped describe its volume. The children used the diluted ink this time, with a brush, to make a single stroke to describe this form.

The children loved the ink's density. We talked during the process about the difference between watercolour and ink, and how if you applied more water to wet ink it ran, but if you let the ink dry then used a wash over the top it stayed as a separate layer. I loved the sculptural directness of the drawings which emerged.

Drawing shapes See 3 Shapes
See Three Shapes


Drawing shapes, See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes


Drawing shapes: See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes


Drawing shapes: See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes


Drawing shapes: See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes

See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes


See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes


See Three Shapes
See Three Shapes

Start Here: Drawing
This resource forms part of Start Here: Drawing, designed to help teachers facilitate drawing in school

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