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How To Show 3D Volume in 2D Space Using Spatial Devices


How to create space… specifically, how to create the illusion of volume in 2-dimensional art and design. In this tutorial I present 3 spatial devices, or methods, for creating spatial depth.

The methods for creating spatial depth — the illusion of volumetric (plastic) space — you can use in your designs and art are:

Open form: the image “bleeds” off the edges of the design, giving the viewer the impression that what they are seeing is part of a larger scene;

Vertical position: Things that are positioned lower in the picture plane are understood as being closer to the viewer if they are below eye level, and higher in the picture plane if they are above eye level;

Diminishment: Things that are smaller in scale are understood as being farther from the viewer. Extreme foreshortening pushes the limits of diminishment to create depth;

Linear perspective: Uses the principle of diminishment in relationship to eye level and how we organize information in our visual field;

Atmospheric perspective: Things that are closer to the viewer are more detailed and saturated in color;

Value: light colors advance on a dark background, dark colors advance on a light background, light colors on a light background recede and are not distinct, dark colors on a dark background recede. Manipulating value contrast creates the illusion of depth;

Overlapping forms: When a form is understood to be in front of another, we automatically assume spatial depth.

Proportion: objects are depicted in accurate proportions based on how they appear in reality.


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.