Thinking In Three Dimensions

2014 Artwork 3D Drawing instinct sketch

Well, I’ve already written about the basics of drawing 3D objects, so I thought that I’d talk about something a bit more advanced. I am, of course, talking about thinking in three dimensions.

As I said, this is a slightly more advanced skill. So, if more realistic three-dimensional art still seems like a strange collection of angular lines and curves (which follow a series of arcane and unknowable rules) to you, then you’re probably best reading my other article and just practising the basics for now.

Anyway, “thinking in three dimensions” is when drawing three-dimensional images becomes so intuitive to you that, when you start drawing something that you’ve never drawn before, it’s almost like you’re just automatically tracing the outline of it rather than having to actively work out how to make it look 3D.

Basically, it’s how to go from drawing things like this:

A very two-dimensional picture I drew in 2000-2001, which only shows the very first signs of 3D drawing (eg: the driver's left arm).

A very two-dimensional picture I drew in 2000-2001, which only shows the very first signs of 3D drawing (eg: the driver’s left arm).

To drawing (and possibly even painting) things like this:

"Seas" By C. A. Brown

“Seas” By C. A. Brown

It’s kind of hard to describe exactly what this skill feels like when you have it (and I can barely even remember what it was like when I didn’t know how to do this), but the best way to describe it is that everything in your drawing feels more physical to you.

It feels like you have a physical copy of the 3D object in your mind and all you have to do is to copy it onto paper.

You draw angled edges, sides and curve lines on things not because these things are supposed to make something look 3D, but because those are the physical contours of the object and anything else would just feel unnatural.

You automatically know which sides of an object to draw and which ones not to draw because, well, that’s just what the object looks like.

To be honest, thinking in three dimensions and knowing how to copy it onto paper is probably more of a learned instinct than a “skill”.

Pretty cool, right?

So, how do you learn how to do this?

This is a skill which you can only really get from a lot of practice and a lot of close observation of photographs and other drawings. In fact, when you’ve learnt this skill, you probably won’t even realise that you’ve learnt it until quite a while later.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill that you can learn quickly, but it is something which grows with you as you continue your own artistic journey. At first, when you’re learning how to draw things in 3D, it’ll seem difficult and complicated.

You’ll make mistakes and you’ll learn from these mistakes. You’ll have to use formal techniques quite often (like perspective lines, consulting references, breaking an object down into simple geometric shapes etc…). Don’t worry, this is all part of the learning process.

One of the best ways to get started is to draw fun doodles of simple 3D shapes when you’re bored. After a while, you’ll notice that your doodles of other objects are starting to include these basic 3D shapes. I think that the first 3D object I worked out how to draw was probably a basic table, which was just a simple cuboid or cube with things on top of it.

In fact, I’d say that I owe most of my early 3D drawing skills to nothing more than doodling a lot in classes and lectures when I was younger. So, doodling is a good way to learn the basics of thinking in three dimensions. This is because you can doodle a lot of things very quickly and, since there is no pressure or expectation, you will probably be more willing to experiment too.

Not only that, you’ll occasionally see drawings or photos that you really like and you’ll want to copy them just to learn how to draw something like that.

Then, when you’re drawing an original picture, you’ll suddenly remember a technique you learnt when you were copying the other picture and add it to your new picture. After you’ve used this technique a few times, you’ll probably even start to forget where you learnt it from.

But, after making a lot of drawings, things will start to seem a little bit more intuitive to you. Very slowly, drawing more realistic 3D objects and scenery will just start to feel a bit more natural. As I said earlier, this is something which you probably won’t even notice at the time.

And, to be honest, this is something which you will never quite stop learning. Although I’d like to think that I’ve got fairly good at it, there are still times when I have to go back to basics and work out how to draw something using lots of trial and error and the few formal techniques I know. For example, take a look at this panel from a comic that I’m working on at the moment.

Yes, I didn't know how to draw THIS instinctively.

Yes, I didn’t know how to draw THIS instinctively.

In order to draw this small scene, I actually had to draw four perspective lines and think consciously about the angles of every line in the picture. When I initially tried to sketch this picture without doing these things, it ended up looking like a confusing mess.

So, although it’s cool to have this skill, don’t make the mistake of feeling that you’re too confident to learn anything new. Don’t make the mistake of resting on your laurels and not trying new things occasionally. Yes, you’ll fail sometimes, but failure is an essential part of the learning process.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Turn Ordinary Pictures Into “3D” Stereoscopic Images Using MS Paint

Just cross your eyes until you see three dots at the bottom of the drawing.

Just cross your eyes until you see three dots at the bottom of the drawing.

A stereoscopic picture is a fairly clever optical illusion which uses two slightly different pictures to create the illusion of a proper 3D image. This works because we see the world in 3D because each eye sees things from a slightly different perspective and our brain combines these two perspectives in order to create a 3D image.

Looking at a stereoscopic image is fairly similar to looking at a “magic eye” picture – you just cross your eyes until the dots below the two pictures merge together. When this happens you’ll see three dots and three pictures, the picture in the middle will be in 3D.

Although stereoscopic pictures don’t give you a “proper” 3D image (they make the image look like a series of paper cut-outs/ layers placed at various distances away from you), they’re still quite fun to make. Not to mention that they’re a really cool thing to show other people too.

If you want a more detailed explanation of the mechanics (and history) of stereoscopic “3D” pictures, then check out Wikipedia.

But, whilst most old stereoscopic pictures are photographs taken using a special camera with two lenses, it’s surprisingly easy (although slightly time-consuming) to create them from any digital image using nothing more than good old MS Paint.

It’s probably best to use a graphics tablet for making stereoscopic images, but I used a mouse when I was making this guide since the shapes in it are fairly simple.

I’ll include a copyright-free template which you can download and use if you want to (although you might have to resize it, since it’s fairly small. It’s also only in portrait too.)

This template is released without copyright.

This template is released without copyright.

It’s fairly easy to make a template in MS Paint too – just remember that the dots should be below the exact same point in the middle of your picture and they should be the same size and the same height. The advantage of making your own template is that it’s a lot easier to make it the right size for your picture (since you don’t have to re-size it to fit into the template)

This guide will be using a fairly simple drawing from one of my “How To Draw” guides and it will show you how to make a very basic stereoscopic image with two “layers”. I’m using version 5.1 of MS Paint, but I guess that the fairly basic features I’m using are probably in more modern versions of Paint too.

I’ve also set the basic “background” colour of MS Paint to bright pink in this tutorial, so it’ll be easy to see what I’ve moved. Anyway, let’s get started….

Firstly, copy your picture in the left side of the template…

Stereoscopic image tutorial step 1

Once you’ve done that, copy it into the right side of the template. If you’ve re-sized the image to fit it into the template, then select the image from the left side of the template using the “select” tool and make a copy of that. This is because it is extremely important that both images are exactly the same size.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll end up with something like this:

Stereoscopic image tutorial step 2

You only need to alter the picture on the right side of the template in order to make a stereoscopic image.

In this guide, I’ll be showing you how to make everything inside the window appear further away than the wall in front of it.

Click on the “Free-Form Select” tool and draw around the area inside the window. In this guide, I’ll be leaving a large margin on the right-hand side of the window (for reasons I’ll explain later).

Notice how I've left a gap between the right side of the area I've selected and the edge of the window.

Notice how I’ve left a gap between the right side of the area I’ve selected and the edge of the window.

Once the area is selected, you can move it to the right in order to make it look further away (this is why the margin on the right-hand side of the window is so useful – since it allows you to move it without covering up any of the window frame).

As a general rule, if you want things to be further away from the viewer, move them further to the right. If you want things to be closer to the viewer, then either leave them where they are or move them to the left (and leave a margin on the left side rather than the right side).

Once you’ve moved the window to the right, you should have something like this (again, I’ve used bright pink for the “background” behind the drawing).

I've moved the selected area to the right.

I’ve moved the selected area to the right.

Now all you have to do is to colour over the space where the selected area used to be. The best way to do this is to zoom in and use the “Pick Colour” tool on the area next to the space in order to get the colours exactly right (when you click on an area with this tool, it automatically changes the primary colour to the same colour as the area you clicked on), then use either the pencil or the brush to colour over it.

You’ll probably have to use the “Pick Color” tool several times. But, eventually you’ll end up with something like this:



Well done! You’ve just made a stereoscopic image! Go on, try it out (just cross your eyes until you can see three dots below the pictures instead of two or four).

Although this guide is fairly basic, this technique can be used to turn pretty much any image into a stereoscopic image.

Anyway, have fun 🙂

Today’s Art (18th November 2013)

Well, for today’s art, I decided to experiment with a few different things. One of my drawings is presented in both a 2D and stereoscopic 3D version (the background looks really cool in this version). The other one of my drawings was a (slightly failed) attempt at drawing in an anime/manga style.

As usual, these three drawings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Reality Error" By C. A. Brown

“Reality Error” By C. A. Brown

Reality Error” was a slightly generic gothic sci-fi drawing I made a while ago. However, I’ve also made a (smaller) stereoscopic 3D version of it too:

"Reality Error (3D Version)" By C. A. Brown

“Reality Error (3D Version)” By C. A. Brown

I’m quite proud of this version of “Reality Error” (especially the effect I used in the background) and I’ll be posting an article on here about how to use this technique on the 20th November. So, stay tuned.

"New House Seven" By C. A. Brown

“New House Seven” By C. A. Brown

For “New House Seven” I decided to try something slightly different and use an anime/manga style instead of my usual style. However, this didn’t really work out that well…

Drawing 3D Scenery For Beginners

2013 Artwork 3D Scenery Sketch

One of the most important and basic things to learn when you’re just starting to learn how to draw is how to draw 3D scenery. This was originally going to be part of my “How To Draw” series, but I thought that it merited a longer article, since it’s a fairly essential part of drawing and the basic principles of it are fairly easy to learn.

I’m not quite sure exactly when I learnt how to draw 3D scenery but it happened fairly early on in my evolution as an artist – yet, almost all of my very early drawings have completely 2D backgrounds. So, I’m not sure where I picked this skill up, but it’s important to learn for most types of art. If you’re new to drawing, then don’t worry – the basic principles of it are very easy to learn.

Try practicing all of these techniques on their own before combining them into a single drawing:

1) 3D Shapes

Firstly, it is important to learn how to draw basic 3D shapes (cubes, cuboids pyramids etc…) since most types of 3D art rely on these basic shapes. I’ll include a small illustration of how to draw some of these shapes:

If you're drawing a solid (non-transparent) object, then don't draw the dotted lines.

If you’re drawing a solid (non-transparent) object, then don’t draw the dotted lines.

Now look at a photograph of somewhere and see if you can find things which can be reduced to these basic 3D shapes as well as slightly more irregular 3D shapes (which are usually drawn using the same basic principles as more simple 3D shapes). If you look at it carefully, you’ll start to get a basic impression of how to draw 3D scenery.

Likewise, if you want to draw the floor or the ground, it can be drawn (in it’s most basic way) using one or two lines – kind of like the top of some of the 3D shapes earlier in this article.

The top line is the most important of the two lines (you can leave out the bottom line if you want to).

The top line is the most important of the two lines (you can leave out the bottom line if you want to).

2) Perspective

At it’s most basic – things get smaller and narrower the further they are away from the front of the drawing. This is something to remember if you want to draw something in front of something else – the closer anything is to the front of the drawing, the bigger it should be.

As for things getting narrower, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Basically, many pictures featuring a landscape can be divided into four invisible triangles (by drawing an “X” over your drawing in pencil) – any sides of anything in your drawings which are facing the edges of these invisible trianges should run parallel to these lines. Things closer to the middle of the drawing should also be smaller too.

2013 3D backgrounds figure 2

3) Curve Lines

For anything which is curved/cylindrical, you can show that it is curved by adding either a few thin curved lines or (if it is facing a light source) by making the centre of the object lighter than the edges of it. It’s that simple.

2013 3D backgrounds figure 3

4) Shadows

Drawing these properly takes a lot of practice (I’m still learning) – but, in general, they appear on the exact opposite side of an object to any light sources. The shape of the shadows can vary depending on the position of the light source, the shape of the object etc… The best way to work out how to use shadows is to look at other drawings and photographs as a reference.

2013 3d backgrounds figure 4

Generally, if the light source is above the object, then the shadow should be shorter than the object is. However, if the light source is at the same height as the object, then the shadow should be longer than the object.

If you’re not sure, just get a torch and a small object of a similar shape as the thing you’re drawing and see what the shadows look like.

I hope that this short (and rather basic) guide was useful to you 🙂 Just remember to keep practicing and experimenting.