One of the problems I faced when learning to draw portraits as a beginner was that my drawings looked flat. To compensate for my lack of understanding of what is required to add depth to my drawing, I tried a bunch of different shading techniques, but I was unable to suggest the shapes of the face convincingly.
Only after studying how other artists use different techniques to create the illusion of depth in their drawings was I able to improve the three-dimensionality of my drawings. So in this post, I summarize five simple ways to create more three-dimensional drawings.
How can you make a drawing look more 3D?
To make a drawing look more three-dimensional, you can do the following:
- Show objects that are nearer to view bigger than those further apart to give the illusion of depth.
- Draw contour lines that show the curvature of the object’s surface in your drawings.
- Use a wide tonal range to draw the different types of shadows that contrast well with the midtones and highlights.
- Vary the crispness of drawing for things closer to view and those receding towards the background.
- Draw overlapping forms to convey their placement relative to one another.
1. Show objects that are nearer to view bigger than those further apart to give the illusion of depth.
Everything we see is influenced by perspective, which means that anything closer to you would appear bigger than an object of similar size that is positioned farther away.
Observing how perspective affects what you are drawing is critical in making it appear more three-dimensional on paper, whether that is a building, landscape, or people.
To give you an example, if you’re drawing a portrait, the person’s perspective relative to your view will affect the proportions of the face for your drawing.
- If you’re drawing a person angled sideways, the eye closer to your view, for instance, will be slightly larger than the other eye.
- If the person’s head is tilted downwards, the three segments of the front of the face, namely the forehead, the nose, and the mouth/chin, which on average are about the same length, will appear progressively shorter even if they are precisely the same length.
Being mindful of the effect of perspective will help you draw things with more depth.
2. Draw contour lines that show the curvature of the object’s surface in your drawings.
Drawing a handful of lines over the contour of your object is useful to reveal the curvature of rounded forms especially when you don’t want to shade excessively.
This is one of the quickest, simplest, and easiest ways to show the three-dimensionality of anything you’re drawing that is looking too flat on the paper.
3. Use a wide tonal range to draw the different types of shadows that contrast well with the midtones and highlights.
When I started drawing, I was too afraid to draw the darkest shadows, making it difficult to read the shapes of my drawings. Only after doing a bunch of value studies and understanding the different types of shadows was I able to draw convincing shadows using a broader range of tonal values.
I find these couple of tips for drawing shadows that convey the form of the object the best:
- When a shadow of an object is projected onto another surface or object, it must follow the curvature of that surface.
- Balancing the darkest shadows with sufficient midtones, softer shadows, and the occasional highlights creates a more noticeable contrast that brings out the three-dimensional forms in the drawings rather than plastering dark values over the entire drawing.
4. Vary the crispness of drawing for things closer to view and those receding towards the background.
Using hard edges for surfaces and objects nearer to you and soft edges for things and surfaces further away from view can give your drawings another sense of form and depth.
The interplay between hard and soft edges creates the illusion that the crisp portion of the drawing is nearer than the blurred-out portion in a similar way that our eyes work to bring things positioned near and far from us in and out of our focus.
When painting or drawing with colors, a similar effect can be achieved by using warmer colors for the foreground, like reds and yellows, and cooler colors for the background, like blues and greens.
5. Draw overlapping forms to convey their placement relative to one another.
When drawing organic forms like the human body, it can be tricky to convey the volume of the overlapping shapes because they lack distinct outlines that are easily identifiable in things that are geometrically shaped.
The critical thing to remember when drawing overlapping shapes is that the surface in the foreground will be dominant over the one in the background.
If you try to build your drawing from basic shapes, simply suggesting a part of the foreground shape going over the background shape around the place where the two volumes wrap around is enough to create the illusion of depth and foreshortening.
Here’s an excellent resource for learning how to draw overlapping forms of the human torso using simple bean shapes by Proko if you’re interested.