3D color form (Level 1)

Goals and Objectives

  1. To gain an understanding of shape, form, positive space and negative space
  2. To gain experience constructing a 3D form from scratch
  3. To learn different color theory strategies for application(s) in three dimensions

Step by Step

  1. Begin by showing the shaped canvases of Ellsworth Kelly and the work of Richard Serra
  2. Have students create a series of thumbnails to brainstorm shapes within a square (or rectangle); I always required that their shape must touch every side and sit flat so as to not rock or wobble
  3. Get shape approved by instructor
  4. Students begin to measure and cut out the shapes they need to construct their form: this includes two 8x8" squares (or whatever initial shape/dimensions you wish)
  5. Students draw out one of their approved shapes in their square and cut it out; then use that shape to trace an identical shape on the other square so they have two shapes that are exactly the same size/shape.
  6. Students cut out as many 2x3" spacers as needed (8-10 should do it)
  7. Students then cut out "tabs" (approx 1"x2" or so) of old manilla file folders (or some other light weight material - it just needs to be heavier than drawing paper)
  8. Students attach tabs to spacers and begin adding spacers in between main shapes to create their 3D form - paying special attention to the form sitting "flat" on the table
  9. Cut out long 3" wide strips of file folders (or card stock) to cover the sides of the form
  10. Begin covering the sides by holding file folder strips to cardboard with masking tape, making sure to make it as smooth as possible
  11. Demo applying even and thin layer of white (Elmer's) glue to cardboard (I just use the tip of the glue bottle to help spread/smooth it out)
  12. When glue is wet, evenly sprinkle a layer of play sand over the glue and gently shake back and forth to create an even layer
  13. Note: if the glue is too thick it will make parts of the form warp from the wetness of the glue
  14. Once the form is completely covered in glue/sand (except the base) - and dry - they will add a second layer of glue/sand using the same process. This allows for completely opaque sand and a consistent surface to paint
  15. At this point the students will redraw their shape in a series of thumbnail squares similar to how they began brainstorming shapes, but they will have the same shape in ever square so that they can create a series of brainstorming ideas for their use of color; I required them to have a certain type of color scheme (complimentary, analogous, etc., but you can do anything you desire)
  16. Students paint all sides of their form once their color scheme has been approved by their instructor


  • pencil / eraser
  • ruler
  • utility knife
  • paper with thumbnail shapes copied on it
  • cardboard boxes
  • manilla file folders
  • masking tape
  • elmers glue
  • play sand (or any fine grain sand from the hardware store)
  • colored pencils
  • tempera paint
  • brushes, palettes, water containers and paper towels


  • This project typically takes six weeks of 90-95 minute classes that meet every other day