Volume, Mass, and 3-Dimensionality


Shapes are flat. If you take a shape and give it three dimensions, it has volume.Volume (three-dimensionality) can be simulated in a two-dimensional work (like a painting).

Imagine a drawing of a glass. The drawing would be flat (two-dimensional), but it would look like it was three-dimensional (simulated or implied volume).

Now, Imagine that glass filled with water. The glass has mass, or density.


Imagine three containers. The first one is empty (filled with air); it has volume. The second container is filled with feathers. Now the container has density, or mass. The third container is filled with sand. The third container has greater density than the second one.

This self portrait by Rembrandt is an example of simulated, or implied volume. The face looks three-dimensional. In actuality, however, it is a two-dmensional (flat) artwork, a print.


embrandt Van Rijn Self-portrait in a cap, with eyes wide open, etching and burin, 1630

The sculptures by Magdalena Akanowicz have actual volume; they are three-dimensional. Because the figures are open they allow a glimpse of what the inside of a sculpture looks like.


Magdalena Akanowicz Nierozpoznani (“The Unrecognised Ones”) 2002
Cytadela park, Poznań, Poland (whole installation) photo by Radomil

These ancient Olmec sculptures iillustrate the concept of density, or mass. They appear to be (and actually are) very heavy in weight.


Monument 1, one of four colossal Olmec heads at La Venta. 9.8 ft (3 meters) tall. circa 900 BCE -400 BCE

Mass or volume can be simulated in two-dimensional work though the use of:

  • Modelling and Shading
  • Color–darker and more intense colors appear heavier
  • Placement–objects closer to the lower edge of the picture plane appear heavier
  • Size–larger objects appear heavier
  • Overlapping objects creates a sense of space

By Jung-Im Julia Jung


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