Painting Basic Shapes: A Sphere

01
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The Difference Between Painting a Circle and a Sphere

Painting Basic Shapes: Sphere
The difference between painting a circle and a sphere is the range of tones you use. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The difference between painting a circle and a sphere is the use of a range of values which creates the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional canvas or sheet of paper. By having a series of values (or tones) from light to dark, what you paint looks like a sphere or ball rather than a flat circle, as the photo above shows.

Getting this illusion of depth when painting has got nothing to do with the color(s) you use, it's all down to getting the light and dark values right. Learning to paint the basic shapes (sphere, cube, cylinder, cone) in a realistic way, with accurate highlights and shadows, is an essential step towards painting any other subject.

Not convinced? Well, think about it: what shape is an apple, or an orange? If you can paint a basic sphere, then you're well set for painting a realistic apple because you already know how to give the shape a feeling of depth, of painting the illusion of three dimensions.

This sphere art worksheet sets out exactly where to put the various values in order to paint a sphere. Print it out for reference, then print the outline sphere art worksheet onto a sheet of watercolor paper and start painting. Take the time to paint the value scale as well as the sphere. It's all part of the process of internalizing values and tones as a painting skill.

I recommend painting the sphere art worksheet at least twice (once to familiarize yourself with what's going on, and the second time without referring to the explanation sheet). Then paint several more in your sketchbook in different colors, as well as with different values for the background and foreground.

02
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Paint With the Contours, Not Against

Painting basic shapes: sphere
The direction of your brush marks should not be arbitary, but with the contour or form of the object. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

A paint brush is not simply a tool for coloring in a shape. The marks you make with it influences the way a viewer interprets what they're looking at. Think about the direction in which you're moving your brush as you paint; it does make a difference.

Both circles in the photo above have only been painted roughly, yet already the one on the right looks more like a sphere than the one on the left. This is the result of the brush marks following the form or contour of a sphere.

Botanical artists call it painting with the "direction of growth". If you find this hard to visualize or decide, touch the object and see which way you instinctively move your hand over it (not the direction your fingers curl).

03
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Don't Paint the Background Around the Sphere

Painting Basic Shapes: Sphere
Don't paint the background around the sphere; that's not how it looks in real life. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

If you started with the sphere rather than the background, don't be tempted to paint the background around the sphere (as shown in the top photo). Backgrounds don't do that in reality, so if you want your painting to look real, your painted background can't either.

Another thing you want to avoid is the background visibly stopping at the sphere (as on the left-hand side of the bottom sphere).

So how do you solve the problem of having painted the perfect sphere and now having to paint the background without mucking up what you're already painted? I'm afraid it comes down to brush control, and that only comes with practice.

As you develop your skills as a painter, so you'll be able to 'get' the brush to 'stop' exactly where you want it to (well, more often than not). In the meantime, if the sphere is dry, you could place your one hand over it to protect it as you paint up to it.

See Also: Background or Foreground: Which Should You Paint First?

04
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Don't Let the Sphere Float

Painting Basic Shapes: Sphere
Unless you paint the shadow carefully, your sphere will float in space above the surface it's supposedly resting on. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

It's not just the range of values on the sphere that you need to pay attention to, you also need to watch where you put the shadow. Otherwise, your sphere will float in space (as in the bottom photo), rather than resting on the surface it's supposedly lying on.

05
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Variations in the Value of the Background

Painting Basic Shapes: Sphere
The value or tone of the background influences the values you use to paint a sphere. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The values you select for the background has an influence on those you use for painting the sphere. The sphere art worksheet is set up against a light background, but you should also practice painting a sphere with backgrounds and foregrounds in a range of values or tones.

Possible variations include:

  • Dark background, light foreground
  • Light background, dark foreground
  • Light background, slightly darker foreground
  • Light foreground, slightly darker background
  • Mid-tone background and foreground
06
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Painting Basic Shapes -- Practice It

Painting Basic Shapes: Sphere
Paint pages of spheres in your sketchbook in different colors. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Once you're used the sphere art worksheets, I suggest painting a page or two of spheres in your sketchbook. You may find it easier to draw the basic elements (use a lid or mug to draw the circle) before you start painting. If you use a watercolor pencil, the lines will 'dissolve' as you paint.

Use different colors to paint the spheres, to reinforce the fact that it's the values or tones that create the illusion of three dimensions, not the color with which you're painting. And paint versions with different values for the background too, as this influences the values you use for the sphere.