Northwest Coast Formline: The Eyes Have It

Northwest Coast Formline Elements: Ovoids and Eyelids

It’s good to get as much practice as you can drawing a variety of ovoid shapes. Ovoids are the most common element of formline design. They are used in eyes, joints, and many filler shapes.

Bill Holm traced a number of ovoid templates in the collection at the Burke Museum in Seattle. If you’re interested, it’s on page 31 of Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. I highly recommend this book if you’re trying to understand the rules of formline.

As you start to recognize ovoids in art works, you’ll also notice that they are many different shapes. Ovoids can be very elongated or short and stout, as well as more circular. Experiment with lots of different shapes. It’s good practice.

If you had two ovoid templates, one a little smaller than the first, the smaller one would be a little offset toward the bottom. This results in the tapering formlines, with the thicker area at the top. Now you have the outer ovoid. The inside area is the tertiary (blue) area.

After the outer ovoid is drawn, if you had a third small ovoid, this one would be situated more toward the top of the tertiary space. This is the inner ovoid, which will have a very fine line outlining it.

Another formline element Holm describes is the eyelid. I mentioned that ovoids are used for eyes, joints, and fillers. When drawing ovoid eyes, the inner ovoid will become the pupil of an eye. Instead of having the fine line outlining the inner ovoid, you will use the eyelid shape. On page 39, Holm did more tracings from eyelid templates.

There’s nothing wrong with tracing! Even tracing helps improve drawing these shapes. Practice!
Here’s a downloadable .pdf file that can help you with ovoids.

I filled my January 26 sketchbook page with different ovoid shapes and eyelids.
Reminds me of a line in my poem, “Saginaw Bay: I Keep Going Back” — “…everywhere eyes peered from the woods…”
I’m not paranoid, I just think everything is watching.

Northwest Coast Formline Eyes

Eyes Everywhere

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