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What are Organic Shapes?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 23, 2024
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Organic shapes are figures that have a natural look and a flowing, curving appearance. Different from geometric shapes, they are often also referred to as curvilinear or free form shapes, as they can be made of angles, curves or both. Examples are found in leaves, plants, and animals. This type of design appears primarily in landscaping, engineering and art. Although problems do exist in creating them, technology is positively changing the way people make these figures.

Difference from Geometric Shapes

Organic shapes are not the same as geometric shapes. They generally don't have measurements that are uniform or perfect. From a practical standpoint, this makes it much more mathematically complex to calculate measurements such as area and volume.

Another key difference between organic shapes and geometric shapes is that organic shapes typically are not made by people, except in a handful of fields. They are found in the natural environment and in living things. Geometric shapes, by contrast, can be either made by individuals or appear naturally. A wall of a house, for instance, usually is square or rectangular, and honeycombs have a hexagonal pattern.

Positive and Negative

Free form figures may be positive or negative, similar to geometric ones. Positive means that the shape has something inside of it, such as the irregular image of a face where two eyes are drawn in. Negative means that only the outline is complete and that the figure is empty.

Main Uses

Even though free form figures are different than geometric ones, they can appear together, such as in art. When attempting to create a piece that looks natural, flowing, soft, peaceful, or calming, organic patterns are generally the shapes of choice. To create a sense of chaos, anger or rigidity, the artist might lean toward geometric forms. Sometimes an artist will use a geometric image to create abstract interpretations of things that normally would be depicted as organic. Artists usually outline these shapes lightly in order to make sure the designs are right before filling them in with darker pencil or paint.

People also often use organic figures in gardening and landscaping. These types of shapes work well for this because their lack of linearity gives a more natural, blended look to the yard or garden. Landscapers can achieve an organic style either by how they design elements like trim, ponds and general layout, or they can get the organic feel with the specific plants they pick. It is best to plan out the design with a rubber hose to make sure it looks natural before permanently installing brickwork or planting flowers.

Engineers also make use of free form patterns, although the finished product might have a more geometric base to it. An example might be a grip on a cane or golf club that is irregularly shaped to fit ergonomically in the hand. The ability to use irregular figures means that engineers can be much more creative and artistic even if they are solving formal problems such as how to make a building stronger.

Creation Problems

Organic shapes, whether used in art or in landscaping, can be difficult to create. A curving or flowing line that curves too far can look man-made and detract from the natural look. This makes patterns of this style somewhat time consuming to make.

Whereas geometric shapes provide clear guidelines for how a person should construct them, there is no set pattern for how to make an organic one. This gives a person a lot of flexibility in terms of how he designs and what he can create, but it also makes it challenging to describe or precisely recreate an organic pattern that is already made. Descriptions tend to rely more on comparisons or the impressions someone gets from looking at the shape, not mathematical equations or numbers. This is an issue because impressions and comparisons are somewhat objective and are largely based on a person's unique experiences.

The New Role of Technology

Technology is addressing some of the issues with making natural-looking organic shapes. Developers are making computer aided design (CAD) programs for areas such as graphic design that use complex codes and algorithms to generate images that look free form. These programs are very useful in normally geometric fields like architecture, because they can calculate how stable the organic structure would be if physically built, giving designers an efficient way to save money and keep workers safe.

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Discussion Comments

By feasting — On Dec 19, 2012

I work with a computer program that has a variety of organic shape tools. I use them sometimes when doing graphic design.

There are dozens of different leaf, flower, and oddball shapes that I can use. This helps when I need a simple embellishment or an off-the-wall background shape for an ad.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 18, 2012

@JackWhack – I think it's fun to grow organic produce in an organic layout. It just doubles the natural effect, you know?

I used a garden hose to make the shape of a long snake. So, my vegetable garden is very wavy, and so is the layout of my fruit trees.

I don't like growing things in straight lines. Growing them in organic patterns makes more of the plants visible from any angle.

By wavy58 — On Dec 17, 2012

I have a friend who is all into using organic items. She even wears only organic clothing! So, it is no surprise that her house is decorated in organic shapes.

The rugs are shaped like flowers and leaves. Even her coffee table is an odd shape that looks like some sort of weird vegetable.

She despises geometric shapes, so whenever she can go organic, she does. I think it makes for an interesting interior design!

By JackWhack — On Dec 17, 2012

So, I guess there is more than one way to accomplish organic gardening. I always thought this meant not using pesticides and using organic seeds, but I suppose it can refer to the layout, as well.

By anon296095 — On Oct 09, 2012

what about geometric shapes?

By anon256695 — On Mar 22, 2012

What are some organic shapes that can be drawn easily?

By anon131239 — On Dec 01, 2010

Positive Space is the actual object(s) within the picture while Negative Space is the area in and around the objects.

By anon115876 — On Oct 04, 2010

The areas containing the subject matter in an artwork; the objects depicted, as opposed to the background or space around those objects.

By anon109265 — On Sep 06, 2010

can a peace sign be an organic shape?

By c314093 — On Aug 23, 2010

can an organic shaped pic be a pic that has three things in one, which would be bubbles, crosses and letters drawn as bubbles?

By anon55329 — On Dec 06, 2009

yeah man, organic stuff contains carbon;

and angular means it has angles. -Doctor Roxxxo

By anon52007 — On Nov 10, 2009

an organic shape is a fish. circle true or false.

By anon50060 — On Oct 25, 2009

a positive shape is the actual shape of an object.

By anon27115 — On Feb 24, 2009

what is a positive shape?

It is for art work.

Please reply. Thanks

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