AP 3-D Design Portfolio

IMG_0164If you haven’t done so already, please visit the main Courses page here for an overview of all courses and our recommendations for the order of progression through our program.  And visit the AP Studio Art page here for a complete description of the overall AP course.



Assignment Development- Breadth and Quality-First Semester

For students at this level of artistic development, a formulaic solution for the completion of the AP Studio Art Portfolio is discouraged. Therefore, assignments vary from year to year and are based in addressing sculptural issues: elements and principles of design, manipulating three-dimensional space and objects, and composition. These assignments are also designed to encourage individual and unique solutions from students as they are encouraged to explore the realm of possibilities within a given set of assignment parameters/limitations. With this in mind, students are very aware that in any assignment, no door is truly closed, and that diverse and unexpected solutions are prized. Through in class dialogue, mentoring sessions and class critiques, teachers demonstrate this approach, while nurturing and developing these skills.

These skills are intended to lead toward more advanced approaches making three-dimensional objects and to an understanding of structure, whether the objects are sculpture, functional objects, jewelry, or architecture.

Each assignment is structured to allow students to review and apply a specific aspect of dealing with form in space, demonstrate their mastery using specific elements and principles, and utilize a specific sculptural process. These assignments are based on information found in a variety of resources. These are listed at the end of the syllabus.

Some strategies for dealing with form in space to be used include:

  • Subtraction- to simplify and omit certain parts or elements.
  • Repetition- repeat a shape, color, form idea, image or concept.
  • Combination- brings images and concepts together that might not otherwise be connected.
  • Addition- expand, develop, change an image.
  • Distortion- compress, twist, push-pull an image.
  • Elaboration- embellish, adorn, add detail, pattern.
  • Transfer- put the image in a new environment or situation.
  • Magnification- choose an area of focus and enlarge it.
  • Severing- divide, fragment, pierce, remove, tear.
  • Enclose- wrap, cover, surround, hide.
  • Fragmentation- separate and take apart your subject/image.
  • Prevarication-lie with your image, create a falseness that becomes real.
  • Animation- serialize images to create stages of action or a story line.
  • Parody- mimic, caricature, tease or make fun of the subject/image.
  • Juxtaposition- combine unlikely images, overlap or superimpose parts to create a new synthesis.
  • Collect- bundle, gather, group.
  • Tension- hang, hold, spread, suspend.
  • Transform- crumple, twist, entwine, twirl, crunch.

Conceptual approaches to consider:


  • Employ line, plane, mass or volume to activate form in space
  • Suggest rhythm through modular structure
  • Use light or shadow to determine form with attention given to surface and interior space
  • Assemble/construct work that transforms materials or objects through manipulation, proportion and scale
  • Use color and texture to unify and balance the overall composition
  • Utilize emphasis/subordination through a transition from organic to mechanical form


Sculptural Processes to consider:


  • Additive
  • Subtractive
  • Fabrication
  • Figurative/nonfigurative
  • Architectural structure
  • Casting
  • Assemblage
  • Construction



Some assignments to be used with specific strategies listed above in conjunction with elements/principles parameters and compositional rules include:


  • Forms evolving from organic inspiration
  • Clay busts based on photographs taken by the student
  • Multiples combined to make a formal 3-D design
  • Rhythmic constructions using small found objects
  • Clothing constructed from unlikely materials-wood, metal, etc.
  • Plaster casts and carvings
  • Abstraction of architectural inspirations
  • Formal design utilizing positive and negative space
  • Fabricated brooches inspired from nature
  • Welded human forms
  • Hand-built pottery
  • Kinetic forms
  • Functional furniture mad from unlikely materials
  • Ceramic animals
  • Subtractive/additive human forms
  • Figure studies capturing gesture and action line





Assignment Development-Concentration-Second Semester


While students are encouraged from the start to consider concentration possibilities, it is not until the second semester that students delve completely into this aspect of portfolio development. The concept of working in a series is a familiar one for most students due to assignments given in earlier, lower-level studio courses. Consequently, students draw upon past serial work, and the experiences from the first semester to formulate their concentrations. The semester opens with a discussion of concentration topics and a review of initial ideas. Throughout the second semester, students participate in ongoing development of their concentrations with an emphasis on process and materials. They participate in daily interactions with the instructor and other classmates, as well as weekly individual discussions/conferences and group critiques.


Some concentration ideas for the 3-D Design Portfolio include:


  • A series of interiors with dramatic architectural aspects
  • A series of abstract forms exploring the plasticity of clay
  • A series of human forms inspired by movement
  • A series of musically inspired forms manipulated in a variety of ways
  • A series based on a specific subject matter
  • A series of images demonstrating a moral issue/statement
  • A series of images responding to a current social issue
  • A series of teapots
  • A series of images exploring growth and maturity
  • A series of forms made from disposable items
  • A series of cast rings with a unifying theme
  • A series of neckpieces based on historical figures




Sample Assignment:


Kinetic Sculpture Assignment


“Bontecou’s investigations of deep structure have blended abstraction and figuration to investigate forms and feelings inspired by nature and technology. In turn, Bontecou’s newly emerged body of work is already an important source of inspiration for the art of the future.” M. Duncan



  • Kinetic-pertaining to motion, caused by motion, or characterized by movement.
  • Mobile-a three-dimensional construction loosely linked together in such a way that its parts are movable and can be set in motion by the slightest currents of air (Calder is the father of the mobile).
  • Stabile-a three-dimensional construction designed with a variety of materials for the purpose of defining space.       Unlike the mobile, it is devoid of motion.
  • Ecorche– (or abstract ecorche) making visible the underlying features of the body (think daVinci drawings).
  • Dynamism-great energy, force, or power; vigor.
  • Primal / symbolic structures- of or pertaining to the use of first, original, or primeval (of or pertaining to the first age or ages, esp. the world) structures.
  • Visual Metaphor-refers to the use of imagery that is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance or likeness to something else


Your Sculpture Assignment

You will utilize the concepts and terminology above, in tandem with the inspiration of Lee Bontecou’s work and other resources and inspirations of your own to create a kinetic sculpture. Depending on your interests, inspirations and resources, these kinetic sculptures may be simple or complicated; be manifested in an open composition or closed, complex one; or integrate form in space or deny its very existence. Each sculpture should be designed in accordance with the principal intent of its creator (that’s you)–although one person may define space, another emphasize the relationship of form in space, and still another create works of art embodied solely in its motion, they all should theorize about the world in which we live. Consideration will be given to the overall composition of the work. Consider your use of line, shape, form, texture and color. You must also consider how these work together to create balance, rhythm, emphasis, and scale. Have I left anything out?


Plan of Action

  • Get over the initial shock and come to the realization that this is going to push you beyond your current limits and that this will take time, but you can do it.
  • Start brainstorming a list of possible inspirations and resources for your content ideas (sea life, atoms, roots, decaying leaves, microscopic life, images from electron microscopes, medical/anatomy drawings, to name a few).
  • Gather these visual resources and experiment with them (over and over again), in the form of thumbnails and preliminary sketches (do large drawings too).
  • Gather materials to experiment and play with—bring in items for your classmates as well, they will do the same for you; share the wealth.
  • Create several 3-d mock-ups –continue to experiment on paper with ideas as well (think of Bontecou’s wall of sketches-play with variations on a theme.)
  • Have your mock-ups and sketches ready for class critique.
  • Have final mock-ups, sketches and ideas approved by the omniscient one.
  • Proceed to construct final piece-knowing you will probably make some better discoveries along the way.




These must be documented. By this, I mean you must have these at your fingertips while in the planning stages, so that I, and others in class who will be commenting on your work, may see them. If you are fascinated by string theory, bring in articles and photos. It you have a penchant for molecular biology; bring in photos taken under a microscope. Think about how you can utilize the concepts listed above along with your inspirations to complete the assignment. Personally, I am fascinated by the myriad of textures, colors and patterns found on the exoskeletons of insects, also by the concept of time travel—in these are endless inspirations for my own work.


Grading Criteria

You will be graded on the following criteria:

  • Sophistication of subject matter. Are you ideas original? Or are they cliché? Excellence comes from attitude in the beginning—put in the time and effort required to come up with killer ideas.
  • Style. Use of the terminology and concepts from above, along with your own inspirations and visual resource ideas presented in a unique way.       Make these concepts your own.
  • Material usage, texture, craftsmanship.       Are your materials delicious?   Or Predictable? Varied? Or blasé? Can we tell how everything was joined together, or is the work visually cohesive? (Think Dan’s birds)
  • Mindset. Can I really grade this? —For sure, I’ll know it if you don’t have it. This project allows for unlimited creative expression through your individual solutions.       You have great opportunities to impress me with your willingness to dive into a challenge. Break the “mold”, enjoy, take risks, but also trust in your sense of experimentation and play—this is visual gymnastics!!

For more information on the 3-D Design Portfolio requirements and to see examples visit the College board 3-D Design Portfolio page here.


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