5 Types of 3D Art and Their Processes

The term art instantly conjures images of colourful paintings on a wall but this is just one small facet of the vast ocean of art techniques and styles.

Whilst some artists prefer a flat surface to work with, whether that is a canvas for painting or a paper for drawing, others prefer three-dimensional art for which there are various styles. Here are some forms of 3D art:

Clay Modelling

Traditional clay techniques require a kiln so air-drying clay may be an easier option, but is soft and more malleable making it unsuitable for some items for which traditional methods are more efficient. Made from clay mineral and other raw substances, ceramic clay is a water-based substance which is fired to produce earthware, stoneware, porcelain, and terracotta. Ceramic clay has been used by civilisations all over the world for centuries.

Oil-based clays on the other hand are made from a combination of oils, waxes, and clay minerals; the oils in the clay do not evaporate like water allowing oil-based clay to stay malleable even when left for a long period of time in a dry environment. The malleability of oil-based clay can be influenced by heating or cooling as high temperatures decrease oil viscosity.

Oil-based clay is used by animation artists who frequently have to move and bend their models, it can be used as a modelling material for prototypes and the reproduction can be constructed from more durable materials.

Here are a few famous oil-based clay trademarks:

Plasteline (or Plastilin) was patented in Germany by Franz Kolb in 1880, was developed by Claude Chavant in 1892, and trademarked in 1927.

Plasticine in 1897 by William Harbutt in England.

Plastilina (Roma Plastilina) uses a one-hundred-year-old formula.

Paper clay has a small percentage of processed cellulose fibre added increasing the tensile strength of the clay and allowing dry to dry and wet to dry joins. Paper clays form a firm, lightweight sculpture and can be used unfired.

Polymer clay, which actually contains no clay minerals, cures when heated from 129°C to 135°C (265°F to 275°F) for fifteen minutes per six millimetres. It is used by artists, hobbyists, and children, it is also popularly used in animation.

Pottery

The process of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials which are fired in order to harden them, pottery is one of the oldest human inventions predating the Neolithic period. Archaeologists generally refer to pottery as being clay vessels, models, and other products of the same material are known as “terracottas”.

  • Some of the oldest pottery remains date back to 29,000-25,000BC discovered in the modern-day Czech Republic
  • Ancient pottery remains were also found in China (18,000BC)
  • Eastern Russia (14,000°BC)
  • Jomon Japan (10,500BC)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa (94,00BC)
  • South America (9,000-7,000BC)
  • Middle East (7,000-6,000BC)

The fact that pottery was produced at such an early age shows the importance of owning vessel for humans, whether it be for storing food and drink or for use in religious rituals, pottery has played a major role in the lives of humans even before settlements were established.

The process of producing pottery involves forming a clay body into the desired shape and firing it at high temperatures ranging from 600-1600°C in order to increase its strength and rigidity. Clay-based pottery can be categorized into three groups: earthware, stoneware, and porcelain.

Historic specimens of all three groups were either glazed or unglazed for various purposes and regarded as either “fine” ware, expensive, well-made, and decorated vessels generally used by wealthier city folk, or “coarse” ware, rougher, normally undercoated vessels commonly used by poorer villagers.

The reason why clay pottery has been useful to man throughout the ages and even today lies in its properties. Clay, which is the basic material of pottery, can be molded into almost anything and retains the shape. The process of firing hardens clay making it indestructible to the substances that corrode metal and damage organic materials.

Water will eventually destroy a simple sun-dried clay vessel if stored within, however, when fired to about 500°C (900°F) a chemical change takes place allowing water to be stored in the vessel without it being damaged.

Clay vitrifies at temperatures of 1,600°C (2,900°F) but if mixed with a substance that vitrifies at a lower temperature, the will retain its shape while the other substance vitrifies forming a nonporous, opaque body known as stoneware.

Clay with added feldspar or soapstone heated to a temperature of 1,100°C-1,450°C (2,000°F-2,650°F) forms a translucent product known as porcelain. Earthenware generally isn’t vitrified and is coarser.

It should be noted that stoneware and porcelain are descriptive terms and not definitive; in the western world porcelain refers to a translucent substance whereas stoneware is not, in China, however, porcelain refers to any ceramic that gives a ringing tone when tapped, besides, some thinly potted stoneware are slightly translucent and some heavily potted porcelains are opaque adding further complication to the terms.

Pyrography

From the Greek words pur (fire) and graphos (writing), Pyrography means “writing with fire” and is also known as wood burning. Pyrography involves decorating wood or other materials using an object heated in fire enough to be able to apply burn marks.

Generally light coloured woods like sycamore, basswood, beech, and birch are used and after the design is burned in they can be coloured. Hard-shell gourds are commonly used for pyrography and vegetable-tanned leather can also be used but not regular leather, modern tanning methods use chemicals that are toxic when burned.

Traditional pyrography uses any metal object, such as a poker, heated in a fire to be used on wood. Modern pyrography machines exist however, here are some of them:

Solid point burners – this machine has a solid brass tip that is heated via an electrical element and operates at a fixed temperature.

Wire nib burners – features a writing nib heated via electricity, and has temperature control options. Some models have interchangeable nibs for different effects.

Laser cutters – Although normally used to cut objects with precision, laser cutters can also be set to scorch. With the software facility allowing images to be burned directly on to wood and the capability of burning thin materials such as paper, laser cutters are the most efficient machine for pyrography.

There are different categories of wood that pyrographers use for different purposes. Softwoods from coniferous trees have a finer texture and require less heat to burn than hardwood from broad-leaved trees, making them perfect for beginners.

Wood Carving

A form of art involving wood being cut with a knife or being shaped with a chisel and mallet to form a figure or sculpture. Since wood is vulnerable to decay, insect damage, and fire, little evidence survives of ancient wood carving even though the practice is known to be extremely widespread as it is easier to work with than stone.

Wood is light and can take very fine detail but does not last long, it is unknown how the totem pole tradition developed as a way of presenting stories of ancestors. Most of the important sculptures of China, Japan, Africa, and Oceania are made from wood. Elaborate masks, particularly in Africa were wooden and intricately designed.

There is much that is unknown about ancient wood carving, making it one of the hidden and mysterious facets of art.

3D Papercrafts

Paper is very versatile and can be folded, curved, bent, cut, glued, moulded, stitched, or layered. As of modern times, the mass production of inexpensive paper which was unknown to the ancient world has led to papercrafts being a vital part of the education of children.

Not only is paper very cheap, but it is also the easiest material for children to work with for making 3-dimensional objects as opposed to wood, ceramics, and metals. Paper provides children with a safe platform to express themselves and most schools around the world incorporate 3D paper crafts in their curriculum.

Paper is also used for creating beautiful 3D models in Japanese origami.

Quilling which involves rolling, shaping, and gluing strips of paper has been popular since ancient times where paper taken from the edges of books was used. The origins of quilling are disputed however with some historians believing it started in Ancient Egypt whilst others claim it started during the Renaissance. 

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