Semantics of 3D Form– Natural Form


I chose this starfish as my natural object, for I was immediately drawn to the symmetry and little spikes along the legs. When tasked with abstracting and constructing its form, I first made observational sketches to familiarize myself with the form. I found that the leg shape was more nuanced; the ends were rounded but the roundness tapered off toward the body. Additionally, there were subtle concavities between each leg and on the bottom of the star.

After drawing realistic representations at different angles, I began to think and draw out how I might abstract the form. Being a natural organism, the starfish had numerous tiny imperfections such as dents and crooked legs. I ignored these details in favor of capturing the essence of the form, for at its core, it was a prism-like structure.


When beginning to sculpt the form out of clay, I started with a small ball of tinfoil to start the core and conserve material. I then divided the block of clay into six equal pieces: one for each leg, and one for the top and spikes.

I then began to cover the tinfoil in clay and stick each leg on. Because I aimed for my model to be about the same size as the starfish, I was able to estimate about how much clay should go into each leg. To start, I only attached all the legs to set up the basic form before adding detail.

Once I had set up the basic form, I focused in on emulating the actual curves of the legs. I put the most effort into accurately preserving the leg forms as I felt the subtlety of the curves was important to its organic feel. At times, I used the back end of a brush to create smaller ridges and indents.

After I was satisfied with the shape of each leg, I looked to the spikes at the peak of the starfish, one of the most prominent aspects of the whole form. I took small pieces of clay and smoothed them into the existing sculpture, making sure the height was still accurate to the original. In this step, the brush handle was especially useful, as my fingers were too big for certain ridges where the connect is steep and small.

I then repeated the same actions with one set of smaller spikes, as I wanted to still give the impression that the starfish was spiky without making the exact number of spikes.

For the bottom of the starfish, I wanted to still include the way in which the center caves into itself, while combining this with the ridges on each leg. Thus, I used the brush handle to dig out clay starting from the center and out toward each leg. I then smoothed out the bottom to maintain its organic appearance.

The final clay form (for now):



I made revisions to the clay figure based on the feedback I received in class. First, I made the second set of spines more subtle, as they felt too dominant. I then added a third, even smaller set of spines after those to help the spines transition into the legs. It was also mentioned that the real starfish’s crown seems to point outward, whereas on my model, the spines point more upward, so I modified the spines to angle more outward. Additionally, I used a bone folder to smooth out the surface after heating the oil-based clay with a hairdryer to make it more malleable.


For my paper model, I used Illustrator to visualize the structure. I planned to construct the starfish out of horizontal and vertical planes of paper that intersected via cut slits. In order to try to capture the gradual incline of the form, I envisioned having five tiers, then joined together by five legs.

To plan out the layers, I drew over a top-view image of the starfish in illustrator, making each layer smaller than the rest, for the starfish’s surface area decreases at the top. I planned to make each of the legs the same shape, and I drew over a side-view image of the starfish while including each spine in a more subdued way. After making sure the leg pieces would be the correct length in respect to the horizontal layers, I printed out this template and traced the pieces onto watercolor paper, my substitute for bristol.

To join the pieces together, I cut five slits of different lengths in each of the leg pieces, then cut smaller slits in the corresponding sections of the horizontal layers. Fitting the pieces together proved to be a major challenge, As the cuts could not be completely precise and the paper pieces were a bit too small and fragile. I also realized that because I had used an image of the actual starfish, some of the legs were likely different lengths, leading to more error.

This first iteration taught me to plan more carefully instead of trying to figure out the measurements as I went along. Although I was able to fit the pieces together, perhaps removing one or two layers would make the model sit better and look cleaner. I also noticed that the paper model is smaller than the real starfish, so I plan to make the final bigger, which will make construction easier as well. In my next iteration, I will use a more precise and standardized method of measurement instead of starting with an already imperfect model.



For the second iteration of my paper model, I started by pinpointing some of the main issues with my first model, but also identifying the aspects that were working so I could build off of them I decided that the main structure of the first model–the biggest horizontal plane and the vertical legs–were strong aspects of the structure and should just be remade more accurately. Then, instead of adding four more horizontal layers, I took inspiration from my peers and incorporated a vertical aspect closer to the center of the form that would add height in a more clean and clear way. I toyed with the idea of adding additional vertical arches on the legs, but ultimately decided it was not necessary to the form.

I then planned out the main components, but in contrast to my first iteration, I used standardized measurements instead of an image reference. This way, I could ensure that all the legs would have the same length and height and the model would fit together uniformly. After making a copy of the following sketch, I cut out the paper templates and translated them onto watercolor paper.

After cutting the corresponding slits in each leg and the horizontal plane, I began to construct the model. After putting each existing component together, I felt the model still lacked some structure and did not fully capture the essence of the starfish. I struggled with deciding what else to add to the model, but finally decided to add a pentagon to the center to give a sense of closure to the top.

Although this iteration is a step up from the last in terms of craftsmanship, I still feel that it can be improved, as the pentagon in the center does not fit perfectly and is not as tall as the real thing. In addition, I feel that the vertical aspect around the center makes the secondary spines feel too prominent.




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