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Draw a 3D Invention Inspired by Rube Goldberg

Draw a 3D Rube Goldberg Invention

Drawing a 3D Invention inspired by Rube Goldberg may seem overwhelming at first. But when broken down into smaller steps, it’s completely doable – and totally fun!

Kids and adults alike are fascinated by the creativity of cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and the humorous cause and effect relationships that his creations display. This lesson provides a creative way to practice drawing and shading a variety of 3D forms and using them to create a clever contraption!

How to Draw a 3D Invention Inspired by Rube Goldberg


  • Students will practice drawing 3D forms with shading.
  • Students will combine their shaded forms in unique ways to create their own “inventions”.


  • Rube Goldberg – (1883 – 1970) an American cartoonist, engineer, and inventor who received the Pulitzer Prize (1948) for his political cartoons. He is best known for his cartoon drawings that depict “Rube Goldberg Machines”, contraptions that were deliberately over-engineered to perform (by way of a chain reaction) a very simple task in a very complicated way. Competitions, known as “Rube Goldberg Contests”, challenge students to build complex machines that will perform simple tasks. The popular board game, “Mouse Trap”, was modeled after a “Rube Goldberg Machine”.
  • 3D (or 3 Dimensional) – having (or appearing to have) length, width, and depth. (A drawing may look 3 dimensional, but can only have the illusion of being 3D, since all drawings are 2 dimensional.)



1. First, on your practice paper, make 2 marks where your “eye level” is going to be.

Your eye level will affect whether you’re looking down at the top of a form, or up at the bottom of it. Lightly mark a line (to be erased later) on both the left and right edges of your paper to remind you where “eye level” is.

2. Practice drawing forms.

In a sketchbook or on copy paper, practice drawing basic shapes and using shading to turn them into forms. Start with these shapes and create the forms that follow them: circles into spheres, squares into cubes, triangles into cones, pyramids, and prisms, and rectangles into cylinders (both vertical and horizontal).

These forms all start out as shapes… it’s the shading that gives them the illusion of 3D.

3. After practicing, draw these forms on your 9” x 12” paper.  

Try to represent each of the forms in your drawing. Then connect your forms with pipes or tubes, ramps, ladders, etc., to make a single, complex “invention”. 

4. Decide where your light source will be coming from.

Choose either the upper right or upper left corner as the location for your “light source”. This will help you keep your shading will be consistent. You can lightly draw a tiny symbol like a sun or a star in that spot as a reminder and erase it later.

5. Next add shading to your drawing.

Add shading to your forms on the side of each form that is furthest from your light source. Make sure all of your shading is consistent.

6. Add some action!

Draw something going into your machine at the top to initiate the action and something coming out or “happening” at the bottom.


  • Ask, “What makes Rube Goldberg Machines so funny?  How could you add humor to your “invention?”  


  • Name your invention and write a story about it.  Who designed it and why was it built?  How will it be used?
  • Assign a simple task and have your students design a complicated “invention” to solve it (ex. an alarm clock that will get them out of bed in the morning or a machine that will make a sandwich). 
  • Draw another “invention” and try to include humor in it.
  • Watch some videos of Rube Goldberg Machines in action on YouTube. (As always, supervise students while using YouTube.)

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