Paper: 2D to 3D

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One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is the sort of principles one should adopt in a MakerSpace.  And one of those critical principles is this one:

Principle #2: 2D makes 3D

What does that mean? It means that a student or an adult should take a 2-dimensional material, such as paper or fabric or plywood or sheet metal, and turn it into a 3-dimensional object. (I watched a video of Adam Savage making a box using a metal brake recently, and it was inspiring to see a box made so easily. [see about 6:33 and following]).

It’s better if that object has a fold or a bend or a twist in in, or has some sort of functional purpose — but just folding or bending or shaping a piece of paper in a deliberate or conscious way can turn a flat thing into a product. Sometimes it’s a box, sometimes it’s a house-shape, sometimes it’s a bag, sometimes it’s a yarn-winder. Sometimes it’s a question of folding or stacking pieces, sometimes it’s bending them.

What does that look like?

How do we know when a student’s efforts at working Principle #2 have succeeded? How do we know when our own efforts have succeeded?

How do we succeed if we don’t have a metal brake in the workshop (or a hundred bucks of leather for each and every student to make their own Chewbacca bandolier??).

It’s worth remembering the cheapness and versatility of that key material:


Paper is enormously versatile.  I think I got a sense of that with the Paper Roller Coasters people, and the work of Rob Ives.  You can do amazing things with paper.  But pop-up cards have tremendous versatility as a way of teaching the basics of 2D to 3D thinking. In these few cards, you can see one that turns into an easel, several that turn into steps, and several that turn into folded panels. There’s even a Japanese envelope-letter: write on one side of the paper, and then fold it, and it becomes its own envelope.

What are the benefits of working with paper first, before working with metal or leather or cloth? First it’s a lot cheaper.  A sheet of paper starts at around a penny a square foot (though it can get more expensive), while fabric starts at around a penny a square inch.  Paper is the place to teach conservation of materials, 2d to 3d, and the principles of cutting and measuring carefully. This is where the work begins. This — and drawing.

If you have to equip a MakerSpace, and you only have a $100 budget for the year, start with a lot of paper in a lot of weights, and invest in cutting and folding tools like Xacto knives, rulers, and bone folders.  You can download all the origami and pop-up card designs you could possibly want from the Internet.  Measure, cut, fold — make templates ,and cutting and folding diagrams, and set up production lines.  Teach the industrial revolution, Hallmark card-style, and reinvigorate letter-writing culture at the same time.

(While you’re at it, teach students to make the Platonic and Archimedean solids — geometry learning should go along with Maker learning. That’s practically standard).

Remember: No matter what you build, it’ll be a beginning. And everything you teach about folding, cutting, bending and scoring will ultimately be useful when you do get around to having a metal brake.

Magic: 3D Mindset


One of the things I’m aware of as a teacher these days is how unskilled, relatively speaking, most human beings are at explaining or exploring 3-dimensional space in their imaginations.

This came up recently, when I saw the second of the recent Mockingjay movies, and recalled Suzanne Collins’ description of the “pods” scattered on the Capital’s streets — killing machines/traps designed originally for the Hunger Games arenas, now made into anti-personnel weapons for an ugly civil war/rebellion.  The movie did a much better job of explaining what it meant to be in a “pod” than Collins had done writing them, I thought — when I went back to the book, I found that the visualization I’d experienced in seeing the movie had led to me having a better reading experience. Which is, frankly, unusual — often it works the other way around for me.

Collins knew how to describe terror and death in other ways; but she wasn’t, in some ways, up to the challenge of writing what it meant to be confronted by a mechanical death machine in a war zone.  And I couldn’t process it when I read the book.  When I saw it in the movie, the 3-d experience ret-conned the reading experience, and made it easier.

That said, it’s been clear to me that the experience of taking a 2D material like paper or plywood, and making it 3D, is a type of magical experience. I didn’t get the idea from Suzanne Collins, because I’ve written about this before in the context of fabric, and 3D geometric forms in paper.

Paper roller coaster

click through to see the roller coaster from several angles.

Consider this roller coaster for marbles, made out of paper (from  A group of my students have assembled it from template PDFs, printed onto colored cardstock, and then cut out and shaped with tape and finagling.  Three start points dump marbles through loops, around spirals and curves, into funnels and down “plinko boards” into folded origami boxes of the masu type.  (I learned how to make those as part of my Make Summer Camp project.)

Or consider the Paper Album, halfway through this entry.

All of these objects — Suzanne Collins’s description of “pods” translated to the big screen in a more clear and terrifying way; the paper roller coaster, the Platonic Solids, origami, the Paper Album — have this core set of skills in common:  the transformation of two-dimensional materials to three-dimensional product.

Now, this may not seem very important in the world.  I mean, the average practitioner of magic or philosophy has a great deal to think about and be concerned with.  Making little books, or roller coasters, or Platonic Solids, or what have you, is probably not huge in his or her mind when there are so many larger issues to worry about.


Design Lab: Rolling Cart & ClampsPlease consider, again, what is required in making something three-dimensional from a ‘flat’, two-dimensional material (and yes, I know that plywood and paper aren’t really 2D, they have thickness or depth; but we’re talking about transformation of consciousness here, not necessarily the niceties of abstract mathematics).  Cutting, folding, drilling.  Hinges. Angled cuts. Measurement. Geometry. Understanding of length and depth and height.  Division of a fixed quantity of plywood into a large number of parts of varying dimensions to make a rolling cart … efficiently.

I built a cart, admittedly from someone else’s plans, and I laughed for days.  Days, I tell you.  Here was a sheet and a half of plywood, and then, it was an object! It was…

It was magic.

UntitledAll right.  It’s not the magic of the grimoires, historically attested and full of grim warnings about your mind, heart, and even immortal soul (although the descriptions of losing a finger or an eye to a table-saw or a drill press or an Exacto Knife are pretty horrific all by themselves).

But consider some of the magical benefits of providing yourself with a genuine, real-world education in taking 2D materials and making them into 3D objects:

  • You will walk through an astral temple or a library of the akashic record with much more clarity of detail and architectural reality;
  • You will construct talismans and offerings with greater detail and accuracy;
  • you will learn to draw and sketch and doodle (which is tremendously useful in Tarot work, by the way, as well as traditional astrology);
  • You will plan big projects differently, and more confidently;
  • You will be able to negotiate with contractors more effectively, and outline your house remodeling jobs more clearly;
  • You will sell more people on your ideas, because you can present them in 3 dimensions (the balsa model above persuaded people to build the room below).

Design Lab: moved #makered

The Magic

I’ve not talked much about magic, in the traditional sense, in the above post. It’s not my way, really, to say too much about that: knowing, doing, daring, silence and all that. These days, this is 80-90% of my mundane job — and it’s a substantial part of my life overall, helping young people understand 2D to 3D modeling and design.  So maybe this isn’t magic at all, maybe it’s just me doing work in a mundane sense.

But I do have a sense, when I work on these kinds of projects, that I’m calling stuff down or out of other realms of being — that I’m doing deep work in spiritual realms and intellectual realms, before calling something into existence in this physical world of matter. I am not good at this type of mundane 2D-to-3D work; if I were, I would be an engineer or an architect or a product designer.

I’m more of a dabbler.

But we know a topic to which that word usually gets applied.

Today, I helped a group of kindergartners, second graders, and fourth graders understand axle length and wheel base as engineering concepts in car design. Along the way they learned to measure and cut wood, plastic, and metal, and to think in three dimensions — maybe four, because of course they’re thinking about their toy cars moving forward and backward… maybe next week I’ll introduce them to steering mechanisms.

And these are changes in my consciousness (and frankly in theirs, and their parents) that I have brought about through will — through disciplining myself to understand how to take parts and pieces and build things from them, and through cutting up and folding paper or screwing-and-gluing plywood, and producing objects.

And I do know, as well, that a great cloud of witnesses, aides, guides and helpers, both seen and unseen. have helped me do these things and achieve these aims. And I thank them.

I don’t know how the making of three-dimensional objects fits into your specific tradition, readers — but I genuinely believe that if you practice the arts of building and making, that your guides and allies will find ways to put your increased skills to use.  And you will do wonders with them.

What the hands build, the mind understands.