Drawing 3D Shapes

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11864

The world around you is not flat; objects have depth: oranges are round all around, sugar cubes are cubes, and airplanes are not plain. Your paper is flat, so how do you represent objects that aren't?


Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Draw a simple object, like a ball or a box. How do you make a ball look like an actual ball, and not just a circle? How can you make a box look like a box, and not just like a square or rectangle?

Drawing plain, two-dimensional shapes is pretty easy.

Chances are, you've been doing it since at least your grade school years. Doing it well, quickly, and with ease takes a little bit of practice, but circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles probably need little introduction. If you have not taken, or need to review, the previous Related Lessons in the Basic Drawing Skills series, find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Drawing three-dimensional, or 3D, objects, however, is more challenging. The simple shapes mentioned above are two-dimensional; that is, they have two dimensions: height and width. Two dimensional objects appear flat. Three-dimensional objects possess one more dimension in addition to height and width, which is depth.

The classic example of depth: Imagine you are standing between a set of railroad tracks (do not try this at home). If you look down the tracks to the horizon, the tracks appear to get closer and closer together until they appear to meet off in the distance.

They appear to meet — this is an important distinction. The tracks never actually meet, but it only seems so to our eyes. This is useful to us because it helps us see depth and get an idea of how far away things are in relation to one another.

When we draw 3D objects, we are really producing an illusion. All our drawings on paper are actually two-dimensional, but we use a few easy tricks to produce the illusion of 3D.

Let's look at some of those tricks by turning 2D shapes into 3D shapes. You will read a tutorial about making 3D shapes from the familiar 2D shapes like triangles, squares, and circles. As you read, follow the techniques for each shape and create:

  • a pyramid
  • a cube
  • a cylinder
  • a sphere
  • a cone
  • another 3D shape

Read the tutorial How to Draw 3D Shapes That Look So Realistic, They Pop Off the Page by Sara Barnes for bluprint.

Share your completed 3D drawings with your parent or teacher, then reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • What is the difference between 2D and 3D objects?
  • Why are 3D objects useful in art? Can you think of any examples?
  • When are 2D objects useful in art? Can you think of any examples?

You have practiced some of the basic skills needed to create 3D drawings. Many objects in the real world are variations on these simple 3D shapes, or they are composites. That means they are irregular combinations of two or more of these 3D shapes.

In the Got It? section, take a look at some examples of 3D objects used in real works of art.

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