Spirals are captivating. Mysterious, too. Look closely at sunflowers, sea shells or tornado computer simulations: they are all spiral-shaped. No wonder that spirals are among the first decorative patterns.

Types of Spirals

After practicing linear Drawing 101: Lines and curved patterns Drawing 101: From Lines to Curves, it’s spirals’ time! It’s helpful here to recognize and practice two types of spirals.

First, the Archimedean (arithmetic) spiral keeps a constant distance between its turnings.

archimedean spiral
Archimedean spiral

Among the earliest spirals are the Neolithic Greek pottery’s decoration dating back to 5000 BC (Sesklo and Dimini pottery). They usually have 2 or 3 clockwise turnings. Yet, the all-spiral decoration burst out around 4 800 BC in Eastern Europe (chunks of today’s Romania, Ukraine and Moldova) in Cucuteni-Trypillia culture. The patterns are Archimedean spirals with more than 5 turnings. Their twists and turns hypnotize us as Kaa did with Mowgli. No wonder that they have been used by Psychedelic art movement in the 60s. However, the Psychedelic movement’s assumption that Neolithic people ingested drugs to produce these patterns is weak. Just try to draw them and you’ll realize how awake you need to be.

Tip: Here are some Cucuteni spirals to practice.

cucuteni spiral pattern
Cucuteni spiral pattern
5-turnings spiral

spirals pattern

Cucuteni spiral

Second, Spira mirabilis (marvelous spiral or logarithmic spiral)  increases the distance between its turnings, by geometric progression. It grows, but in the same time it doesn’t change its shape. It is widely found in nature. Shells, plants, cyclones and galaxies can be approximated by a logarithmic spiral shape.

logarithmic spiral
logarithmic spiral

However, in art, logarithmic spirals are less obvious. A variant, the golden spiral (Fibonacci spiral) is used in classical drawing compositions. They organize the drawing. For instance Renaissance paintings center the main subject, then distribute the rest of the characters on the canvass according to the spiral’s growth.

Tip: Practice just the arithmetic and logarithmic spirals and you’ll be able to approximate neatly all sorts of man-made and natural shapes. For the golden spiral, better use a ruler.

Triskelion or Triple Spiral

Triskelion is a pattern commonly found in Western Europe after 4 400 BC. In today’s Malta, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the three-legged spiral was painted on ceramics, incised in metal and stone. It seems intricate to draw, but its logic is simple.

Tip: Cut a circle in 3 equal parts. Each of the 3 resulting radiuses (construction lines) becomes the diameter of a semicircle. Trace these 3 semicircle. Here is the triskelion. 

How to draw a triskelion

Each semicircle can further turn into a spiral and here is the spiral triskelion.

Spiral triskelion
Spiral triskelion


Or each radius can turn into a leg and here is the Ancient Sicily’s symbol: a 3-legged Gorgon.

Triskelion with 3 legs and Gorgona's head on a silver coin from Sicily, around 300 BC.
Triskelion with 3 legs and Gorgon’s head on a silver coin from Sicily, around 300 BC. (source: wiki commons)

It’s easy to spot spirals and triskelions around. Gothic churches show intricate triskelions on their facades. Flags are sometimes adorned with these shapes as symbols.  Draw them to gain confidence with curvatures. Later on we’ll draw 3D spirals, that is helicoidal architecture!