Design Series: Form

Yes, Sandy and I are on a roll! If you have not listened to the previous podcast on shape, you might want to do so. Shape and form are related and listening to shape will help you when you listen to form.

Form is an element of design

Form can be thought of as the 3D version of shape


3D Form
3D Form


Just to confuse things further, the word Form is also used to describe a higher level of the design of art pieces, e.g. “Content implies subject matter, story, or information that the artwork seeks to communicate to the viewer. Form is purely visual aspect, the manipulation of various elements and principles of design. Content is what artists want to say; form is how they say it.” (Pentak & Lauer, pg.5) This is not the kind of form we are discussing in this podcast.

Architecture is the art form most concerned with three-dimensional volumes. Architecture creates three-dimensional shapes and volumes by enclosing areas within walls. (Pentak & Lauer, pg.138)

  • Susan Else creates quilt related architecture/forms.

“Volume and mass refer to the three-dimensional shapes of sculpture and architecture. Even though quilts have dimension in the relief created by quilting and embellishment, they are usually considered two-dimensional because the angle of viewing doesn’t critically change the image.” (The Quilter’s Book of Design, 2d, pg.58)

A Piece of a Flat globe n.6 Sculpture by Noriko Ambe (
A Piece of a Flat globe n.6 Sculpture by Noriko Ambe (

With three dimensional art, such as a sculpture, one can see how the object occupies space by walking around it, looking from above, below or from the side. Three dimensional objects have height, width and depth. With two dimensional art [like a quilt], the arrangement of objects on the design field can be crowded with lots of objects or nearly empty with very few objects. These design elements have height and width, but no depth. (A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color and Design, pg.130)

The Form vs. Shape Conundrum

A shape is also sometimes “called a form. The two terms are generally [thought to be] synonymous and are often used interchangeably. ‘Shape’ is a more precise term because form has other meanings in art. For example, ‘form’ may be used in a broad sense to described the total visual organization of a work, including color, texture and composition. Thus, to avoid confusion,” and because we are going to use form in a different way for our purposes, the term ‘shape’ is more specific. (Pentak & Lauer, pg.136). Refer to the previous podcast on shape.

Sou Fujimoto - Inside/Outside Tree ”
Sou Fujimoto – Inside/Outside Tree ”

Source:Sou Fujimoto – Inside/Outside Tree ” Inside Outside, Inside Art



  • “A flat work, such as a painting” or a quilt, “can be viewed satisfactorily from only a limited number of angles, and offers approximately the same image from each angle, but three dimensional works can be viewed from countless angles as [the viewer] moves around them.” (Pentak & Lauer, pg.138)
  • Form and shape are areas or masses which define objects in space. Form and shape imply space; indeed they cannot exist without space. (Art Design & Visual Thinking
  • There are various ways to categorize form and shape. Form and shape can be thought of as either two dimensional or three dimensional. Two dimensional form has width and height. It can also create the illusion of three dimension objects. Three dimensional shape has depth as well as width and height. (Art Design & Visual Thinking

“Forms and shapes can be thought of as positive or negative. In a two dimensional composition, the objects constitute the positive forms, while the background is the negative space. For beginning art and design students, effective use of negative space is often an especially important concept to be mastered. An exercise in cut paper required the student to work with the same composition in black on white and white on black simultaneously. This exercise makes it difficult to ignore the background and treat it as merely empty space. The effective placement of objects in relation to the surrounding negative space is essential for success in composition.

Some artists play with the reversal of positive and negative space to create complex illusions. The prints of M. C. Escher … often feature interlocking images that play with our perception of what is foreground and what is background. Other artists take these illusions of positive and negative images to even greater lengths, hiding images within images. Perception of form and shape are conditioned by our ingrained “instinct” to impute meaning and order to visual data. When we look at an image and initially form an impression, there is a tendency to latch on to that conclusion about its meaning, and then ignore other possible solutions. This may make it hard to see the other images. Training the eye to keep on looking beyond first impressions is a crucial step in developing true visual literacy.”

(Art Design & Visual Thinking