Simple Shapes And The Illusion Of Three Dimensional Form

The stack of simple shapes below has three dimensional form. The 3d affect comes from each shape’s value and how they’re stacked. When I moved the stack to an off-center position, I experienced an awesome art moment! The 3d look increased, the separate steps became one form, and it started to look like something I found on the beach. (Even after all these years, art still gives me tingles.)

Illusion No. One

Stacked star shapes create 3d form.

Stacked star shapes.

Values drawn side by side seem to become lighter or darker at the edge that meets the next value, and that illusion helps create the look of a three dimensional form. Each step of this computer generated drawing is a single value.

Illusion No. Two

If this image just looks like flat shapes to you, try to see the “lines” that the points of the stacked stars form. Once you find the 3d image, things can get busy as your mind switches back and forth from illusion to reality. You might even be annoyed if your mind can’t settle on one or the other. To avoid this annoying  shift as you draw, concentrate on shading one step at a time.

Peeking Under The Curtain

Flat to 3d and back again visual-flips can happen when you’re drawing anything. Although they can be distracting, these shifts are good because you are creating the illusion of three dimensional form on a flat surface after all. When you see both the illusion and the truth, you’ve peeked under the curtain and seen how the trick is done. Don’t worry though, the innocent magic of drawing will come back to you again and you’ll flip back into illusion mode automatically.

Drop That Protractor!

This isn’t an architectural drawing that has to be perfect. This is a shell. It’s organic and Mother Earth will love you no matter how crooked it looks. Your hand drawn shell will be much nicer than the computer made illustration above. That one has no character. To make sure your shell does have character, don’t trace the outline. Draw the entire thing by hand.

The shading process will be different for everyone depending on the paper, the pencil brand, and how heavily or lightly you make hatching, but here are some general rules for making very dark and/or evenly toned values.

No. 1 – Use sharp points.
No. 2 – Use the writing grip.
No. 3 – Hatch area with soft lead.
No. 4 – Hatch same area with lead 2 steps harder than soft lead.

a. The harder lead darkens the soft lead by pushing it into the grain of the paper.
b. The harder lead also evens out the soft lead’s hatching and makes it look consistent and smooth.

Here’s my shell and how I shaded it.

Hand Shaded Stepped Shell

My shell.

The top step is left untouched.

I shaded the darkest step first.

Then I added second step from the top using a 4H pencil with a very light touch.

After I had those two values added, I could judge what value to make the two in-between steps.

(Hint: Try a 2B over a 4B pencil for the darkest value first, and then move to softer leads if that’s not dark enough.)



About Carol

I'm an artist, an accidental author, and lover of life. I grew up in Yorktown, Indiana, and I've been writing (and drawing) this website since 1999.
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