Inspiration – the Rubin’s Vase
Developed around 1915 by the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, this famous optical illusion demonstrates the figure ground relationship. While the positive space forms a vase, the negative space forms the profile of a face. This phenomenon gives insight into how our brains process information – recognizing a shape that actually isn’t there.
Student work examples
Here are two examples of Rubin Vases designed by students, based of photos of themselves.
Creating the face vase trace
Find a suitable image. In this case we’ll use a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, but students love snapping a photo of themselves and using those for this process.
Bring the image to a new Google Drawing
In this example we will use Google Drawing to make a vector trace of an image. Depending on student experience and skill level, Adobe Illustrator or other vector tools are options.
There are many ways to add an image to Google Drawing, but one is to drag the image over the Google Drawing Tab, then drop the photo on the canvas.
Flip the Image so the face is facing left
If needed, use the side handle to drag the image so it’s facing left
The face is now facing left
The image should look similar to the one below
Use the Polyline tool
Select the polyline tool from the tools list
Zoom in if needed
Adjust the zoom as needed. In this example we’ll zoom into 200%.
Carefully trace the face
Using the polyline tool, carefully create a shape similar to the one in the following step. Be careful to move slowly and give enough room between clicks.
While the polyline tool only creates straight lines, a curve can be created by carefully using many small lines to create a fairly smooth curve.
You may need to repeat this a few times to get the feel for the process. Practice makes perfect!
The Face once completely traced
Once the face is traced, your image should look similar to the one below.
Zoom out if needed
Adjust the zoom as needed.
The final trace
Here’s our final trace – if you’d like to download this to follow along rather than trace your own, you can access this Google Drawing here.
Download as SVG
In Drawing, go to File -> Download as -> Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg)
The SVG file format is a vector format that works well with most CAD packages. We’ll now use this svg in TinkerCAD to create our 3D model.
TinkerCAD: Creating the 3D vase
Log in to TinkerCAD (tinkercad.com) and Create a new design.
Open the Featured Shape Generators
On the left, open the featured shape generators
Open the SVG Revolver
Open the SVG Revolver generator
Add your SVG
Drag the SVG you created in Google Drawing to the generator
The default rotation
Your rotation follow the default settings. Let’s modify those to create our vase.
Modify the settings
Change the settings as needed to create a vase:
- Set the height to a level that works well for the design.
- Set the Inside Diameter to the minimum (1)
- Set the Number of Sides to the maximum for the smoothest vase
- Change the rotation if needed. This will likely only need a very small adjustment, if any.
- Set the Revolve Angle to 360
Plug the bottom hole
If you rotate (Control and drag), you’ll notice there’s a hole in the bottom of the design. Let’s fix that.
Add a Cylinder to fill the hole
Resize the cylinder
Align the cylinder
The hole filled and properly aligned
Group the object
With both objects selected, merge the shapes into one by selecting the Group icon
The shape succesfully merged
Your shape should look similarly after merging.
Export your design for printing.
Export your design for 3D printing by clicking the Export botton.
Download the design as an .STL file
Download the design as an STL file.
The example completed vase
If you’d like to download or view the example Face Vase, you can find the design on TinkerCAD here.
Print your design
Using your 3D printer’s software, upload the STL and prepare it for printing.
In this case we are using an NVBot, which offers a web based file submission workflow.