Elements of Design: Shape

Visitor in this mission you are going to explore one of the seven Elements of Art--SHAPE.

ACCEPT the mission to learn more.

There are three ways that shape enhances your layout:

  • First, shape helps to sustain reader interest. Shapes can be used to break up a page that uses a lot of text.
  • Second, shape is used to organize and separate. A part of the text can be placed in a shape with a colorful background and will add variety to the page.
  • Third, shape can be used as a conceptual tool. You can use shape to lead your reader's eye through the design. In layouts, the eye looks for a place to begin and will follow through the design to the end. Shape can help you keep your reader's attention.

There are three different types of shapes:

  • Geometric shapes are triangles, squares, rectangles and circles. Geometric shapes are regular and structured, and make excellent building blocks for design.
  • Natural shapes are plant, animal or human, and are irregular and fluid. For example, instead of using a rectangular shape to frame part of a page, you could use ivy if it is appropriate, to give the page a light, airy feeling.
  • Abstract shapes are defined as simplified versions of natural shapes. An example of an abstracted shape is the symbol for handicapped asscessible is a figure in a wheelchair.

Shapes can be used in a variety of ways as a designer:

  • Frame a photograph using irregular shapes.
  • Symbolize an idea.
  • Connect pieces of information.
  • Make a part of the body copy more interesting.
  • Highlight information using a box with a shade of a color.
  • Imply letterforms by using a triangle to represent the letter "A" or a circle to represent the letter "O."
  • Tie together all the elements on a layout.

Watch this overview from KQED Arts of how shape is used in a variety of artwork.

Can you describe Shape as it relates to Art?

If so, COMPLETE the mission to explore the Shape Tools in Illustrator. If not, conduct your own research using Google before moving on.

While the Line Tools are useful, the Shape Tools are where Illustrator really starts to shine. Especially when we combine with the Shape Builder Tool in a future mission.

Follow along with Cap to learn how to draw with Shapes in Illustrator.

Download Project Files

Easy peasy, right? So much of design and art start with a strong understanding of Shape.


Great job following along with Cap to learn how to use the Shape Tools. Now it is time to show Cap what you have learned by creating creating a South Park Version of YOU. If you were a South Park character how would you look?


Back in 1992, two classmates at the University of Colorado took a stack of construction paper, some scissors and an old 8mm camera and pasted together a five minute stop motion movie that would launch a cartoon. The animation in that first film was primitive, even by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s lenient standards, but all the same assets from the show we know today was still present in that first film.

Over the last 20 years and 267 episodes South Park has been a pillar of the network, remaining one of Comedy Central’s highest rated shows. It has been translated into 30 languages and shown in 130 countries, nominated for 18 Emmys also having movies and as well as spawning a merchandising industry generating hundreds of millions of dollars. The show has been going on since and has upgraded its animation to computer flash animation instead of paper cut out stop motion methods.

Create a NEW Art & Illustration document in Adobe Illustrator:

  • Document Size: 16" x 20"
  • Document Orientation: Landscape
  • Document Color Mode: RGB

This character is going to be representative of your own likeness. You should take into consideration your hairstyle, the clothes you wear, and the things that you like to do. In addition to your character, you will create a background or setting for which your character will be affiliated with. An example of this would be if your character is a surfer, an ocean or beach setting would be a good background. If your character has a football then a football field would be an appropriate background. Be creative with your illustration, it should be completely personalized.

  1. Take an image of an already existing South Park character (they all pretty much have the same face and body build). Set this image on its own layer and lock this layer.
  2. Use the Shape Tool to trace over the existing image and reproduce the eyes, head, body, and everything else that makes up a typical South Park character.
  3. Then use your own judgment to personalize your character to represent yourself. Use both the Shape Tool and the Shape Builder Tool to create your clothes, your hair, your shoes, and so on.

Before clicking MASTER, you must Document Mastery.

Once you have submitted your Behance Project to Canvas, and you are comfortable using the Shape ToolsMASTER the mission.

Doing good so far, Visitor. By understanding how to draw with Lines and Shapes you are well on your way to becoming a Graphic Designer.

Next up let's learn about the importance of Color.

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