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Core Art Skills: Part 4, Working in Traditional 3D

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Read Time: 6 mins
This post is part of a series called Core Art Skills.
Core Art Skills: Part 3, Life and Figure Drawing
Core Art Skills: Part 5, Traditional Media Techniques

By now you should be feeling supercharged with creativity and ready to unleash your ideas on a new project. In the fourth installment of Core Art Skills, Ben Mounsey will be showing you the benefits of getting your hands messy and developing a feel for 3D! You will learn how working in 3 dimensions can be used as an outlet for creative exploration and how it can help you better understand your two dimensional work. Let's get started!

Core Art Skills Series

When I was at College I was encouraged to work in 3D, not using CGI software, but using clay and other mediums. At the time I was reluctant and didn't see the point in it, today I'm extremely glad I did. I can see now how greatly it has effected and influenced my 2D work. Working with your hands in 3 dimensions subconsciously helps train your mind to be aware of several key principles which can transfer across mediums, into 2D and even into digital work.

The Key Principles of Traditional 3D

All of these principles are present when working in 3D. When working in 3D you have to be aware of your work from more than one viewpoint, this encourages you to think about dimensionality.
I think it's really important to get out of your comfort zone every now and then and dive into something like this. Getting your hands dirty and not being quite so controlled is great for creative thinking. Before I was introduced to 3D I was quite safe, clean and controlled with my illustration work, this forces you to work differently. 3D needn't be all about clay either, card construction, metal work, basically anything can be used. Its more about the principles, the physicality and understanding the nature of dimensionality.

Space, Perspective and Depth of Field – Just as with drawn work, you have controll over how you object is seen. You can photograph your 3D work and direct the perspective, depth of field and the inherent 3D space that the object is viewed in. Training your brain to think within a three dimensional space can have some surprising applications. For instance, I found that it helped me understand the principle of Layers in Photoshop.

Lighting – You can observe and crontrol light faster and easier in 3D. If you have to photograph a 3D object you've created, you want it to be seen in the best light. Using directed light in a controlled environment lets you throw shadows, pick out details, even disguise mistakes. This experience can be used to apply the same concepts to your 2D work. Images are more dramatic and engaging with lighting effects!

Texture – If you work with materials like clay or plasticine you get a tangible sense for surface and texture. Texture is about more than visual appeal, an integral part of that appeal is the subconscious link with touch. As with the rest of your artwork, you're communicating with your textures and you need know first hand where, how and what your communicating with them. I'll talk more about the power of textures and how to apply them to digital work in Part 5 of this series.

Structure – Structure is another abstract concept in 2D, but in 3D its very real. Structure in card construction for example, is intrinsic to having a working stable construct. As consequence of this, when things feel solid and stable, they look solid and stable. In 2D work, things can look flimsy and paper thin. If you think about what structure an object would need in your drawing, in order to remain stable and upright, it will ground your drawing and look convincing.

Weight – In Part 2 I talked about how a figure drawing can help you define weight in an illustration, similarly, working in 3D makes you aware of these principles too. By virtue, real world objects have weight and volume, it's easy to observe these principles at work when using materials in 3D. Picture a lump of clay, it has a relationship to the space it's in with a contact shadow at its base, a cast shadow to one side and describing that space extends beyond its form.

Traditional 3D/Digital Harmony

As well as being a great learning tool, working three dimensionally can also be a style of its own (I know this better than most). During my time at University, my work was predominantly Plasticine based, and I had a whole process and workflow from hands on work to digital manipulation. Some examples are below, and as you can see I created a hybrid of 2D and 3D styles. I would use the computer to unite the 2D and 3D elements, enhance them with textures and tweak the overall color and lighting effects.

The 3D/2D Working Process

As you can see, this working process involves many of the key principles you learnt before. I hope it serves as a good example of how to apply the skills I've shown.

  • Sketchbook — Idea generation, layout composition and plan the structure of your artwork.
  • Create the plasticine elements.
  • Light and Photograph the plasticine artwork.
  • Using my Photographs as a guide, design and Illustrate 2D elements.
  • Use Photoshop to tweak the color and lighting.

Project — Sculpt a Picture

Using a media of your choice, create an object. Your object can be anything you like, but be sure to instill it with a sense of weight and then play with the lighting. You can use whatever lamps or other directed light you have available to you, once you're happy with your creation, interpret it as a drawing.

Conclusion: 3D is a Great Outlet for Creativity

A lot of the 3D concepts can seem abstract when working two dimensionally, but intrinsic values are a huge benefit to the look and feel of an artwork. 3D needn't be something you do as part of your portfolio or body of work, but as a hobby it can be a very rewarding creative outlet. Below I've included some examples of plasticine and cut paper paper being used as an illustrative effect, I'm sure you'll agree that it lends itself to some interesting effects. I hope you give it a try!

Eugene Rudyy
- Joulu Birthday Card

Natalia Averyanova - How to Behave in The Moscow Metro

Ana Villalba - Mili Goes to the Zoo

Irma Gruenholz - Museum (series)

Polymer Paula
- Flight of the Conchords

Andy Hixon - Various Posters

Lauren Pritchard - Paper City

People Too - The King

Kira Shaimanova - Chivalry is Undead (series)

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