2D or not 2D?

2D or not 2D?

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I may have a whole host of certificates to prove that I’ve studied Art and Design on paper – at GCSE, Foundation, and Degree level – but I don’t recall ever really considering what art and / or design have in common or in what ways they differ, until recently that is…

My curiosity was sparked as I reflected – with a team of facilitators – on why the children who participated in the series of creative workshops, that we facilitated during the April holidays, seemed to respond differently to working in 3 dimensions vs. 2 dimensions.

It was noticeable how creative problem-solving and collaboration was more evident when children were given the opportunity to rapidly prototype their ideas through 3D modelling. Drawing and writing on the other hand tended to limit children’s capacity to express themselves; they weren’t always able to communicate their true feelings, thinking, or learning in 2 dimensions, and – once their ideas were on paper – they weren’t easily adapted, built upon, or open to experimentation, in the way that 3 dimensions allowed for.

The link between creativity and finding a medium

As students of design in the 90’s we were introduced to and encouraged to utilise Layout Pads (imagine top quality tracing paper / white baking parchment); the 45gsm paper has low opacity, which allows light – and therefore previous drawings – to pass through. It means you can sketch out a concept – roughly – lay a sheet of paper on top, redraw it, refine it, tweak it, all without having to start from scratch; I suppose it is like a 2 dimensional version of the layering of ideas / rapid prototyping that could be witnessed among the children during April’s workshops. If one were able to hold all the Pads for a design in one hand, and flick through, you’d see a moving image of the designers thoughts, from concept to final solution.

If the children who took part in our workshops had been given access to such Layout Pads – to build on, change, or improve their initial thoughts quickly – I wonder whether their 2 dimensional creativity levels would have been any different. A number of schools we visited around the world in 2018 utilised light boxes / tables which seemed to help children to draw and redraw / trace over their visible thoughts as they emerged, developed, and progressed.

A light box in a Pre School in Auckland, New Zealand

As we think about cultivating creativity we’ll certainly be prioritizing how to make it easy for children to access, discover, and explore materials, media, and / or their own mediums – plus equip each child to utilise that ‘medium’ – in the classroom. Robinson notes:

‘Discovering the right medium is often a tidal wave moment in the creative life of an individual’

Robinson (2017:140).

Thinking of my mediums today, I’d probably include photography, but as a design student it was watercolours + a colour photocopier (for presenting final designs), and black ink on lined paper (for rapid prototyping / sketching out concepts ). I don’t know why, but even today whenever I sketch a concept, idea, or quick thought with my black Parker ®, something just clicks. I can’t explain it logically, but no other brand or unbranded pen feels quite right, and sketching on plain paper has never been able to produce the kind of look I’m going after.

Exploring identity through pen and ink on Day 1 of April’s workshops

Sir Ken Robinson agrees that personal creativity often comes from a person’s affinity with particular materials: ‘A sculptor will feel inspired by the shape of a piece of wood or the texture of stone; musicians love the sounds they make and the feel of the instruments. Mathematicians love the art of mathematics just as dancers love to move; writers may feel inspired by a love of the expressive power of words; and painters by the potential of a blank canvas and their colour palette’ (p. 140). Which, if Sir Ken is correct, suggests that creativity in the classroom isn’t as simple as whether children work in 3 dimensions or 2 dimensions.

I do however think that there is a definite link between dimensions and degrees of creative collaboration in the classroom, but that, I think should be the subject of another note.

To be continued…


Robinson. K., 2017. Out of our minds: the power of being creative. John Wiley & Sons.

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