What is Form?

What Is Form?

The English studio potter Michael Cardew expressed an idea, that form is a thing not of the self, separate from the maker, and existing by itself.  This thought has intrigued me since I first encountered it thirty-five years ago.  My musings on this idea have leant direction to my creative life.  The realization — that this search for form need not be crowded by an over emphasis on oneself as creator, artist, and maker — is liberating.  There is freedom in the idea that form is something to seek after, to look for in the world. 

Drawing the Basic Acanthus Leaf

This post is excerpted from my book, “Drawing Floral Patterns For Leather Tooling”

The following drawings illustrate
the skeletal lines within the various
shapes that we draw, starting with the
most basic leaf and progressing to complex
structures like acanthus leaves, scrolls,
and flowers.
The simple leaf in the drawing here
shows how the leaf tapers to blend into
the skeleton. This is the way that skeletal
lines work in a nicely flowing layout.
They are in the center of the various structures
in the drawing and keep things moving
In the next, more complex leaf there
are two skeletal lines, and in the next leaf
there are three. The third line descends
from the lobe that is formed by the S curve
at the top. Knowing that the skeletal line
is there, where the swelling of this lobe is
at its fullest, we are able to keep things
As will be seen in the layouts presented
later, most of these lines don’t get
drawn in when drawing a layout pattern.
However it is important to know that they
are there. These lines form the composition
beneath the big picture.

For the purpose of this blog post I want to make a suggestion that you get a tracing pad, print out these images and trace the lines.  -But-  When doing this I suggest that you concentrate on the dimensions of each part relative to the other parts.  Try tracing the little thumb, or simple leaf and then turn the tracing to see how many times its length will go into the the S curve at the top of the combined leaf.  Concentrate on the size and sweep of the curves in the S curve.  The curve at the tip is smaller than the curve that connects the thumb leaf.  While tracing look to see how each line relates to the skeletal lines.

The point is, it is not enough to make the right number of bumps, curves and tapers.  Each part needs to be in the right proportion to every other part.

It is perfectly acceptable to trace like this for the purpose of learning how it feels to draw certain shapes.  If you practice enough you will develop muscle memory for the shapes.  If you don’t gain muscle memory you simply won’t be able to draw floral designs.  So develop the discipline to practice when you are not trying to work on an actual project.

When you can draw the basic shapes that you want to use in your patterns, then you will be ready to take on the much more complex task of putting them together in a layout.


Drawing Patterns

Drawing Patterns

What I've put together in this book is a good description of how patterns get put together.  I have students come to study with me that don't think they can draw.  They leave though, with a better understanding of the layers in a pattern, and the skeleton in the pattern that lets it flow, or keeps it from flowing.  They then feel confident in starting to alter the pre-drawn patterns that they use to make them better. Eventually, they start drawing some of their own.  The book teaches how to layout floral patterns, and then the important part, how to use elements and principles of design to be able to evaluate the drawings that a person makes, and then more successfully critique and edit them.

This book is truly a work dedicated to building your abilities and your passion for your work.  Dig in and really apply yourself and you will be more excited each day.