Tlingit Design Elements: Formline ‘U’ Shapes

Sometimes it’s good to practice single formline elements independent of each other, such as the wide variety of ovoid shapes, or the endless variations of formline ‘u’ shapes.

The ‘u’ shape at its most basic, is very similar to the letter ‘u’ with the ends tapering to points and the thick part being the bottom of the cup-like part.

‘U’ shapes can be oriented in any direction. They can be vertical like the letter ‘u’ or they can be horizontal. How they’re oriented changes the flow of the design.

Some of the body parts of designs are already naturally this ‘u’ shape, such as ears on animals and even on birds, or pectoral and dorsal fins on fish, and feathers on birds, just to name a few.

Pinterest is always a good place to search for these design shapes. A Google image search for “Tlingit ‘u’ or split ‘u’ shapes” turns up lots of examples, as you can see from the screen shot below:

google search for Tlingit 'u' shapes

google search for Tlingit ‘u’ shapes

After you’ve gotten somewhat skilled at drawing formline as single elements, you can move on to combining them in many different ways. Combine ‘u’ shapes to ovoids. Practice simple animal heads from the side profile, like the wolf head in the lower left of the screen shot above.

Sometimes I’ll treat all my single elements as if they’re part of a whole design, like I did in the photo of my January 15th Daily Sketch. It keeps me in practice for drawing shapes that are true; it’s easy to see where a shape is a bit off when drawing them in combination with each other. I use my trusty eraser a LOT! Here’s my daily sketch:

Tlingit Art Daily Sketch Jan 15 'u' shapes

Daily Sketch: ‘u’ shapes

You can see how it’s possible to make boring empty spaces more appealing by adding filler shapes, like I did by adding ovoids, cross-hatching or crescents in the different ‘u’ areas. Sometimes the eye just sees what fits.

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