Visual paper: A method to improve drawing of 3D objects, particularly for students weak in sketching 

The visual paper hypothesis that sketching with see-through objects can improve the performance of novices. The fundamental difference between a novice student and an expert lies in their approach to drawing. The expert develops his ability to visualise (imagination) the hidden perspective lines, not readily available a beginner. Similar to experts, artists use rough blocking or begin with (imaginary) structural outlines, followed by interior detail to achieve a sense of proportion while drawing on paper [1]. Since novices lack this ability, practising sketching with self-created see-through objects can provide them with a method to sketch. It can improve their performance and boost confidence.
Three-dimensional drawing, sketching

Why students struggle to draw 3d objects? 

Currently, the ability to draw/sketch in design schools is honed with the traditional method of extensive practice, patience and passion. In this context, novice students who are weak at sketching three-dimensional objects encounter repeated failures in the early stages of practice. This imbibes a fear in them and they consider the skill to sketch as an innate talent, which cannot be attained through practice. Such students display reluctance to sketch and term it as an artistic ability rather than comprehending it as a tool to enhance visual thinking [1].

“Students struggle to draw 3D objects because they are not able to visualize the imaginary cuboids around three-dimensional objects”.
– Mandar Rane
Fig 1. Drawing of a large size stapler. A novice attempts to draw a three-dimensional object by following the contours. He adopts the natural way of seeing and drawing; primarily to involve the act of tracing contours of the object and then his struggle to achieve proportions and planes in which the object lies.
Fig 2. Three examples of students struggle to draw and ability to draw a 3M Scotch tape dispenser.
“To be not able to draw makes one lose confidence. Design the assignment in such a manner that at least guarantees 50% success for students weak in sketching”
–  Mandar Rane
To improve the confidence of such students the visual paper stresses the need for deconstruction as a method to teach drawing of three-dimensional objects. It hypothesises that sketching with see-through objects (transparent) can improve the performance of novices.
Fig. 1. Screenshot of visual paper explaining the sequential steps in the process of deconstruction of the 3D object.

Deconstruction [2] as a method

In this method, students do not start drawing the object directly on to the paper. They are encouraged to deconstruct the object. The idea here of deconstruction is to ignore the details of the chosen 3D object and visualize a see-through simplified form revealing the underlying core structure. After deconstruction, student recreates the visualised form to make a new simplified object, that is easy to sketch. Further to this, the visual paper documents the classwork with incremental improvement in students over six weeks using the method of deconstruction to validate its claims.

“Every 3D object is inscribed inside an invisible cuboid”. Drawing a 3D object is the ability to visualise this imaginary cuboid around the object. Deconstruction is the process of breaking down the object into simpler configurations.
Think and draw.
– Mandar Rane

Results of using the method:

  • Students realise all objects are inscribed inside an invisible cuboid.
  • Avoids the student to begin with sketching the object.
  • Begins the process by practising with see-through objects is useful.
  • Deconstruction 
simplifies the structure and complexity of the object.
  • Reconstruction: Cuts off detail, reveals the underline hidden structure.


  • Novice students are likely to lose interest if they fail early stages to draw. 
  • The method instils confidence in the weaker 
student towards his/her ability to draw.  
  • Deconstruction offers minimum correctness in the 
outcome through a structured approach.
[1]. Bradshaw Mike, Research study drawing from visual thinking, School for graphic design, London college of printing, The London Institute U.K. Cltda conference 2002

[2]. Deconstruction is this context is referred to as breaking down into a simplified form to reveal the underlying core structure of the three-dimensional object.

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Mandar Rane
Prof. Mandar Rane
Communication Design
Faculty IDC, IIT Bombay
This visual paper is an outcome of my coursework to teach drawing of three-dimensional objects to undergraduate students of product design.
Illustrations: Mandar Rane + Unmesh Nayak
Digital outlining: Unmesh Nayak + Prem Sonar
What is the difference between sketching and drawing? 
While sketching is a freehand drawing that focuses on capturing the essence rather than going into details, drawing is a slow and more careful expression that makes use of tools and uses colours too. - Koshal 
Visual Proceedings of E&PDE 2019 // Visual paper presented at the International Conference on Engineering and product design education 12-13 September 2019, Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. United Kingdom