The older I get, the more I realize the importance of shape. Shape is what really separates a good artist from a great artist in my opinion. Of course there are other aspects which contribute to making a piece of artwork great like composition, staging, line quality, pattern, texture, value, edge, color, lighting, pose, acting, anatomical knowledge, proportions, perspective, variation, contrast, ect. But when you really boil it all down, it's usually has a lot to do with shape. Good shape encompasses so many of these elements in and of itself.
Composition, at it's most basic level, is pretty much how one arranges shapes within the frame. Look at this background Maurice Noble (I assume) did for one of Chuck's cartoons.
It's essentially just a lot of great shapes arranged in an interesting and appealing way. Some could argue that the tree branches are linear elements, but even then, their thickness in terms of shape and how the branches break off into smaller linear shapes is what makes it look great, at least to me.
Sometimes we might look at an artist we admire and wonder how they are drawing hands so well, or what makes the way they draw a building or paint a tree look so good. The basic answer is most likely because they use great shapes and organize them well. There will be subtleties within that of course, and the artist's experience and knowledge of design, interesting proportions, anatomy, perspective, and so forth are probably big contributors to why their shapes are so good. But at it's most basic level great shapes are usually what makes an artist like Milt Kahl stand out above some one like Preston Blair. Both are great, but one arguably has more appeal in his work than the other.
That's my opinion for now anyway, maybe it will change later. I'm just trying to make the point on how important shape really is, since we tend to get stuck on anatomy, form, and all these other things so much sometimes. Solid structure on top of a bad shape, won't save a drawing. The shape is the graphic foundation, so it should be a great shape. Sometimes drawing a solid structure will create a bad shape, so we need to have the eye for a good one, and change it accordingly.
Here's one thing Chuck Jones said about shape:
It's interesting to see Jones articulate that animation is essentially dealing with shapes, he also mentions some great things about character as well. I put the drawing of the dog here because it has a great use of shapes. The shapes of his forearms with their straight sides contrasting their curved sides as well as the interesting variations of shape with his ears are all fantastic. His overall pose is a nice simple shape as well.
Again I would like to point out that these drawings and quotes are from the books "Chuck Amuck", and "Chuck Redux". Both are worth purchasing, or checking out from your local library.
Here are some drawings Jones did for a series of cartoons starring a young boy called Ralph Phillips, who has an out of control imagination. Some of my favorite cartoons he ever did.
What expresses shape more than this figure standing in silhouette?
If you really analyze this drawing there are so many great things happening with shape here. The skewed and brutish shape of his head with his asymmetrical ears is so varied and interesting. Look at the way the changes in the outside of the shape represent the material of his shirt and pants. Again, we can see the interesting contrasts of one side of the shape to the other side-- Simple versus complex, straight versus curve. This is what makes the drawing look appealing, adds interest, and gives it character. These shapes don't seem to be random or haphazard decisions either. It could be completely intuitive on Jones' part, but I'm of the opinion that he put a lot of thought into these drawings.
Finally, just a couple more examples of Jones' work that I think have great shapes.
I don't know what cartoon this was done for, but I really like it. Especially the girl cat with the stripe down her back. Talk about some amazing shapes! Her head shape, and especially her body shape down to her feet, is gorgeous. Not many people can draw shapes this well anymore.
This horse is truly awesome in my opinion. Not only does it have great shapes, but it expresses the overall character so well. You can really see that Daffy's main concern is how cool he looks riding on his horse. This drawing really expresses Daffy's pompousness, illustrates how well his horse in manicured, and all the wonderful shapes here are a part of that expression. It is a drawing worth studying, especially for its use of shapes.
So even though I was long-winded about it, I hope it's clear how important shape can be in a drawing. Shapes can be based on many things like knowledge of the form, anatomy, perspective ect., but at the end of the day it should just simply be a great shape, and I think that Chuck Jones exhibits this better than most. His shapes are really pushed and interesting, yet some how remain balanced and harmonious as well.