The Semantics of 3D Form


Prompt: translate natural and manmade forms through various mediums, considering the level of abstraction and the function in relation to the form.

Natural form: spiral seashell; Manmade form: computer mouse

Materials and Tools

Subtractive Material: Foam; Tools: Olfa knife, X-Acto Knife

Additive Material: Clay; Tools: Clay modeling tools

Sheet: Illustration board; Tools: Olfa knife, X-Acto Knife

Clay Shell

I studied the form of the shell through sketching. I identified important axis and noted the aesthetic rhythm of the shell’s outline. I also thought about how its form relates to its function, for example, the hollow of the shell allows for the shell to lie flat on a surface, which can protect it from getting broken. It could also be a doorway for hermit crabs. Lastly, I categorized the main elements within the shell into dominant, sub-dominant, and subordinate.

I decided to use clay as my first iteration, because it is the most forgiving material out of the three. I also decided to omit the subordinate elements within the shell—the thin spikes, because it would not translate well into clay.


I chose to use an additive method because it’s easier with clay, making the dominant element, the top of the shell first, then adding the thin tail and the hollow later on.


Tue 2.24.20

After class discussion on today, I decided to add spikes to my clay form. Even though I categorized the spikes as a subordinate element, I realized that the spikes are a prominent characteristic of my shell, and clay may be the best medium to capture that.

I also added a little bit of the ridging that comes with the spikes


Foam Shell

I also started on my foam version of the shell. The foam model took me a lot longer than the clay model. Unlike clay, I have never worked with foam before. And because modeling with foam is a subtractive process, it is a less forgiving medium, I was very careful with it.


With foam, I chose a higher level of abstraction than I did with clay, because harder to put in details on foam, at least for me. I was able to make the shape and proportion pretty accurate, however I can’t make the surface smooth without sanding my model. I’m worried that the coarseness of the surface will be mistaken for texture, which is a detail I do not want to include.

Working with foam was very challenging for me, because it’s a new medium. Also, the subtractive nature means that I cannot afford to make mistakes. In addition, my shell has a lot of curves, and I find that it is hard to make smooth curves with foam.

I’m wondering if next time I should try an even higher level of abstraction, utilizing straight edges instead of curves. Will that remove too much of the shell’s characteristic, or would that highlight the shell’s geometric structure more?


Clay Mouse

I chose clay as one of my mediums because the computer mouse is a very ergonomic form. In addition to observing the form, another dimension is added through touch.The clay can be worked and reworked to capture the subtlety of the curves and how these curves feel in my hand. It is a very malleable medium.

Again, I studied the proportions of the form through sketching the side, top, and bottom view. To understand the axis in the form better, I also sketched the front and back view. I found that it is harder to capture the likeness of this mouse than it is the shell because the mouse is a much simpler form with subtler curves.

Mouse interaction with hand

I learned it the hard way that choosing the right medium is half the battle. I ran out of the clay we were given in class, so I started using Sculpey, a polymer clay I have at home. I started out with SuperSculpey which can get more details in but is also super hard. Even after I tried rubbing vaseline on it to soften it for an hour, it was still super hard. I gave up and used the normal Sculpey instead.

Final for today:

I’m done with the basic form, but I haven’t added any details. That is my next step.


Paper Mouse

I was surprised at how hard it is to make the paper model, which required a lot more planning than clay or foam models, which are more intuitive.

I plan to use all three planes to construct my paper model. It helped me a lot to sketch out the side, top, front, and back views of what I imagine the paper model to be. I wanted to incorporate slanted planes to capture the flow of the curves on the mouse. After sketching, I traced the mouse on a piece of paper.

I used tracing paper to transfer the shapes onto Bristol paper, which I cut the shapes out of. For this first iteration I decided to use Bristol paper rather than the thicker illustration board, so I can prototype faster. To connect the pieces together, I put little rectangular shapes on the bottom of some of the pieces.

Constructing it took a long time because I had to figure out how all the pieces fit together.



The process of making this paper model really reminded me of making the plastic animal. Both process required us to abstract the original form while retaining what characterizes the form. Also, as a side note I noticed how studying the proportions of the mouse was a lot like studying proportions of the foot in Visualizing. I used some of the techniques we learned in Visualizing on drawing the mouse, for example, lining up the side view and top view together so the proportions can translate over. It’s super cool to have what I learn from the two studio classes relate to one another.

What next:

This iteration captures the side view pretty nicely. However, the other views are lacking. One big problem is that I cannot tell between the front and back of the mouse. Another is that the three-quarters view looks like a steamboat. I think this can be solved by slanting the middle horizontal axis more instead of it being parallel to the ground. I have already started sketching on top my original sketch using tracing paper, and it may be a good idea to sketch on top of the photos I took of the final model as well to change up some stuff.


Paper Mouse Iteration 2

I overlaid the photos of my mouse and my paper model iteration one, so that I can see how much higher I made the side view than it actually is. Based on the feedback from last class and my own observations, I designed paper model iteration two (by drawing on top of the photo of my paper model iteration one). I decided to increase the number of vertical planes and decrease the number of horizontal planes, which would make the model look less like a steamboat and more like a mouse. I also decided to add the surface layer of the clickable parts of the mouse, to separate from the main body based on their functionalities.

I also decided to shave off the “tail” of the outermost two vertical planes because it does not fit into the silhouette of the sideview.



Hybrid Form

Using descriptive words to identify key characteristics of the natural and manmade form.

Natural Form: spiky, delicate, rhythmic, asymmetric, repetitive

Manmade Form: smooth, ergonomic, simple, symmetric, sturdy

Shared Traits: elegant, curvy, sided

Uncommon Traits: ergonomic

Sketching to get the ideas going:

I realized that the forms I’m sketching down are not very interesting. Also, one of the characteristics of the mouse I want to use is ergonomic. So I decided to try a different method.

I chose clay as my medium, as its malleability is helpful with making something ergonomic. I played around with a piece of clay, shaping it into different forms I find comfortable to hold. In the end, I chose a form that I think has some aesthetic potentials.

I sketched out the top and side views, exaggerating the curves, as one the words I chose for the shell is rhythmic. I want my hybrid form to have movement and a flowing feel to it.

Final for today:


Hybrid Form Iteration 2

During class critique, the feedback I got was that my form resembled the mouse too much. I had a new understanding of the prompt, which is to create something that doesn’t exist, shouldn’t resemble the mouse of the shell, and that we should have fun with it. So I started sketching out ideas. I wanted to get away from the mouse form, so I focused on making the vertical axis dominant instead of the horizontal.

I really liked the form on the left image in the middle row on the left. It has some nice curves and movements going on and has a lot of potential for being ergonomic. I tried integrating that idea with the form I already have (image on the right), but it looked too complex, like I was trying to integrate too many elements at once.

I went back to the shell and mouse, playing around with their proportions, trying to combined their forms. I ended up with something very similar to the idea I liked in the previous sketch.

I played around with variations on the same idea, trying different proportions and ways of orienting the vertical axis.

I ultimately decided to use the one in the middle row on the left. Having decided that, I sketched out what I imagined the from and back view would be on the third row.

Making the form with clay:

The basic form wasn’t too bad, but the finger slots took a long time.



Through this project, I learned how to generate ideas fast, as we have a very short turnaround time. I learned to use creative ways to help me ideate, such as molding clay to get ergonomic forms and getting inspired by them. I also learned that different mediums have their pros and cons, for example, clay is good for faster prototyping while modeling in paper enables a deeper understanding of the underlying structure. I learned that I should always take this into consideration as I’m make more models/prototypes in the future, choosing a medium carefully so that it aligns with my goals of studying/designing a form.

missed the train to Hogwarts.