How to Draw 3D Art

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Use value to create 3D effects in drawing.
Use value to create 3D effects in drawing. (Image: hand drawing image by Christopher Hall from Fotolia.com)

Form is the element of art that describes the 3D qualities of an artwork. In drawing, you can create the illusion of form by using another element of art called value. Value is a range of darkness to light or, simply put, shading. Three-dimensional objects reflect light in the areas where they are closest to us. They recede into shadows in the parts that move away from us. Before beginning the steps below, take some time to look at things you like to draw. Notice in the mirror the shadows under your nose, the highlights on your cheeks. Notice how the tree trunk is darker on the edges and lighter in the middle where its roundness comes toward you.

Things You'll Need

  • 2B or 4B graphite pencil
  • Gum eraser
  • Drawing paper

Sketch your entire drawing very lightly. Give yourself a clear map of where objects are on the page, but keep in mind that it is only a map. This sketching shows you the shape of your artwork just like a real map shows you the shape of a place. Determine the position of the light source. You do not have to draw your light source, just know its location. The parts of objects in your drawing that protrude the most and are closest to your light source will be the lightest. The parts that are farthest from your light source or from you as a viewer will be darkest. The parts that are in between will be medium.

Shade gently in the areas that will have medium shading. You always can darken them more later on. Working in layers gives you the most versatility and reduces the need for erasing. For example, assume the sun is shining down on a tree from the top right corner of your page. The branches and section of the trunk that are getting some light off to the side, but are not directly facing that top corner, would have medium shading. Also, consider texture as you add your shading. Objects far away will have less visible texture than those close up. On the tree, you would notice the roughness of the bark and tiny details in the leaves as you got close.

Darken the areas of deepest shadow. In the tree example, these would be the parts of the branches and trunk that are facing completing away from the sun. Continue to work with the object's texture where shadows are not so dark that they obscure surface detail.

Go back with a gum eraser and lift the graphite to create highlights or leave highlight areas untouched. On your tree, leaves and branches facing the sun would obviously be the lightest and show the greatest detail. You also can fill in gray tones and dark shading around the highlighted areas, making them stand out even more.

Tips & Warnings

  • Start with simple geometric shapes: a ball or a box, for example.
  • Draw from observation as much as possible. Although it may seem harder at first than drawing from your imagination, you will always have a reference in front of you when you are not sure how things should look. The more you practice this, the better all of your drawings will become.
  • Try using a cover sheet or a fingerless cotton glove to avoid getting graphite on your hand and smudging your drawing.
  • In addition to shading the objects themselves, create more depth by shading the areas around the objects, such as the ground or walls.

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