Circles and Drawing Books

Why Learn Circles?

Circles turn into spheres on paper.  It’s magic.  But it’s no ordinary magic.  Like any good magician, an artist needs to know the secrets of how a circle turns into a sphere.

Circles are Flat

But so is paper.  The great scientific minds of the Renaissance worked out the fact that in art, if you understand how three dimensional shapes act in light and perspective, you can draw Pikachu.

Wait a minute there, sister… Pikachu has nothing to do with the Renaissance.  He sprung from the Twentieth Century brains at Nintendo.  True that, but the character artists needed to create a three D looking creature.  To do that, you need a Renaissance inspired understanding of the circle.

When a Circle Becomes a Sphere

In order to make a circle look like a sphere, cartoon artists have simplified the very complicated science of the action of light on a sphere.  No terminus or reflected lights in shadows, no angles to measure for proper placement of shadow.  Cartoonists discovered that if you put curved guidelines on a circle…voila!  Instant sphere. Good for Pikachu and also, as you can see, anime heads.


For cartoonists, those pesky circles can be characters unto themselves, as witness your typical emoji.  But once you make a circle into a sphere,  they can be used to create far more complicated creatures.

Lots of Spheres equal Weedle

Weedle may look like he’s made up of circles, but he is actually made of circles creating the illusion of spheres.  Otherwise, how else could his little body look so real?


Artists spend a lot of time drawing circles.  Using a template for a round shape is fine, but most times, you need to do it freehand and you have to do it well.  Building a solid character depends not only on being able to understand the shape you are using, but to be able to draw it perfectly.

Here is someone’s drawing of ellipses I pulled off the internet.  Ellipses are not circles.  They have their own science and dynamic.   I am saving ellipses for their own lesson.

Drawing Books

I have an entire collection of cartoon themed How to Draw drawing books.  I have my favorites.  These are by and large the books that show how to create a strong underdrawing.

What is an Underdrawing

There are many ways to approach drawing.  Video game and television cartoon characters by and large need to function in three dimensional  space.  This means that under that slick Sonic the Hedgehog is Circle Head with Curved Line to Create Illusion of Sphere on Ellipsoid Body.

When using a How to Draw whatever Cartoon Character book, you have to look at the character and imagine what kind of Circle turned into what kind of Sphere to make that character work.  Fortunately, good Drawing books will show you do you don’t have to think too hard.

Breaking Down to Build Up

One trick I use to show how the underdrawing works is to lay tracing paper over the character and tell the student to draw the basic shapes.  But then you get the whining.  “Oh why can’t I just trace the whole thing.”  And then if I look away, that’s just what happens.  The best think I can say is that if you get the basic shapes right, the final drawing will look fabulous.

Getting the Basic Shapes wrong

If the basic shapes are wrong for that character, it won’t look like that character. If you draw Sonic’s head like an ellipse, he will become Elliptoid Sonic, a new character.

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Once you get the basic shapes down, the final drawing becomes all about the details.   If you look at a mecha head, it’s hare to think it started life as a circle.

When you use a How to Draw Book…

Look at the character and try to imagine how you could use a simple circle to begin your drawing of that character.  Check how the guys that wrote the book did it.  Try to do it their way.  Be really careful with the basic shapes.  If something looks off, change it.  That’s what erasers are for.

Once the basic shapes are down, it’s time to make a dog look like a dog instead of a circle with some squarish shapes.  If the basic shapes are similar to those in the book, say, like a perfect circle, then the details will have a perfect place to call home and your drawing will look like the picture. But no amount of detail can correct incorrect shapes.  Your picture may still turn out okay, but it will be very different that what you were trying to copy.

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Start with the Course “Fun with a Circle.”  If the assignments seem too easy for your overflowing talent, prove your smarts by creating a gallery of really extraordinary drawings using a simple circle somewhere in the underdrawing.