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Elements of Three Dimensional Forms


Creating pottery is creating three dimensional forms. Even tiles have height, width and depth. Beyond the actual measurements of these three dimensions, however, there are even more elements which make up the three dimensional form. These elements are shape, space, value, texture, line, color, and time and movement.


All three dimensional (3-D) forms have contours that define their shape.
Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson
A three dimensional object's shape can be defined as the totality of its mass, as defined by its contours. Contours include the outer contour of the shape, which will change as the object or the observe move. There are also secondary contours, which further define the shape but generally are not the outer edge that is observed.


Rather than a monetary value, in three dimensional form we are talking about the tonal value of the form. In particular, the value is the amount of light that is coming from the viewer.

Through the use of secondary contours, the form can be made to create its own shadows, which are than a part of its aesthetic as well as sculptural form. The greater the projections and the sharper the forms edges are, the more value contrast will be created.


The shape of a pot is created through its positive and negative spaces.
Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

Broadly, space is the limitless area bounding and surrounding the shape of the form. These are usually boundaries that are made by the artist or craftsman and can be pushed inward and outward from simple curvatures or planes.

The greatest part of the element of space is how the piece is released from its boundaries, whether it be in bas-relief, medium relief, high relief or free standing (in the round).

The convergence of shape and space can result in negative space. Negative space is any open area which are surrounded or defined by the solid physical form of the piece. Negative spaces are integral to the form and should be considered as important as the physical shape.


Texture enriches the surface of the form. It compliments and can create value. Texture can also inform and enrich the interpretation of the subject matter. As you work with three dimensional objects, keep in mind the range of textural options you have available to you in clay. Do not default into a convention, expectation, or habit.


In most pottery three dimensional forms, line may mainly be seen through the coil patterns, throwing marks, and joints that are present in a piece. These linear elements produced during the construction of the piece can be consciously used to create a design. Other linear elements can be lines incised, molded, or painted on the form's surface.


The elements of value and color may be very much entwined, but it is best for these to be considered separately when creating three dimensional work. Color should compliment and work to enhance the subject matter, content, and form.

Time and Movement

Unlike the graphic arts (two-dimensional arts), most three dimensional objects cannot be fully seen from only one position. In order to fully encompass a three dimensional form, you must move around it and see it from all sides. The other option is for the work itself to move, as in the case of kinetic art. Both of these actions take time.

The main point here, for those making a three dimensional object, is to remember to view the work from all sides while it is in the process of being produced. This is especially important for those who are hand building. Banding wheels and other turn tables are especially useful to accomplish this.

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