3-D models are a great way to wrap your mind around an idea. It's like any practice, do enough of it and you can envision the possibilities. Try building models out of clay and foam-core (or any substance for that matter) to view things in 360° degrees.
I'm using foam-core and clay to investigate topography based on my gouache paintings. My black lake is deep, and dark. For topographic planes, use two-dimensional surfaces to carve and layer. The more layers you have the greater the relationship to actually topography you will be able to depict.
Use 3-D modeling for character design, and even environmental displays such as setting for paintings and even film. Lighting plays a key role in conveying three-dimensional form. You can't get the values and dimension using two dimensions.