Introduction to 3D Sketching

Tom Hickson (University of St. Thomas) and Ilyse Resnick (Temple University)
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This activity provides an introduction to 3D sketching. Students sketch a cube, boxes, and cylinders. It assumes that most students have not ever had to translate 3D images to 2D sketches, a skill that we view as essential to 3D visualization. They watch a video about how to sketch boxes and cylinders, and then sketch a few more.

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Learning Goals

After successfully completing this exercise, students will be able to sketch 3D rectangular and cylindrical objects.

Context for Use

I use this as a preliminary exercise to assess students' 3D sketching skills and to help prepare them to sketch more geometrically complex geological objects and features, such as 3D ripples or geologic block diagrams.

I tell the students that sketching 3D objects is a tool for spatial visualization, and that this exercise is designed to help them become comfortable sketching simple 3D objects.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1:

On a single piece of paper, students sketch

  1. A cube
  2. A long, narrow, flat box
  3. A long, narrow, skinny box
  4. A short, wide cylinder
  5. A tall, thin cylinder

Students upload a photo of these sketches before proceeding with the exercise.

Part 2:

Students watch How to Sketch Boxes and Cylinders (MP4 Video 11.7MB Apr30 14), as many times as they like.

Part 3:

On one piece of paper, students sketch

  1. A transparent box
  2. An opaque box (one that you cannot see through)
  3. A flat, wide box (transparent or opaque)

On a second piece of paper, students sketch

  1. A long, thin cylinder
  2. A cylinder with an oval cross-section
  3. A curved cylinder

Teaching Notes and Tips

I use a Classroom Management System and have students upload photos of their sketches for each question before they can proceed to the next. Alternatively, you could simply have students turn in their initial sketches (part 1) before assigning the remainder of the exercise.

This exercise was developed as part of a set of exercises to support 3D visualization skills. These exercises had an intended order. Instructors can pick and choose the exercises, but the order we intended was as follows:

  1. Introduction to 3D sketching
  2. Sketching block diagrams
  3. Sketching 3D Ripples and Dunes
  4. Slicing cylinders
  5. Slicing channels
  6. Slicing fruit
  7. Slicing rocks
  8. Slicing fossils


I look through student sketches to make sure they draw something recognizable as a box or cylinder.

References and Resources

How to Sketch Boxes and Cylinders (MP4 Video 11.7MB Apr30 14)