Author Archives: Liz Coman

Wild Things


The children of Little Learners DALC meet ‘Wild Things’!

Written by Anne-Marie Dixon

The children of little learners DALC were introduced to ‘Wild Things’ in our setting on June 29th. The children were first introduced to the lovely Seodin, Liz and Natalie, who greeted the children through song and actions. The children were instantly intrigued. There were nine children present ranging in ages from 2 years 3 months to 4 years and 2 months. Our setting, for the occasion was stripped of furniture to ensure no additional stimulus would take away from the session. Due to Irish weather we were unable to meet at the Lab studio so were very grateful the team could join us!

Seodin, staff and the children gathered in three groups on the floor where they were introduced individually to natural materials for play; media included a generous amount of lentils, kidney beans and chick peas. The children were encouraged to touch, feel, and allow the grains sieve through their fingers. Every child and adult participated in this sensory and explorative play. Large sheets of white paper were provided for the children and adults to create together and individually. We made hand imprints, flowers, people, wind, snow, dinners, rainbows and so much more. The children’s imaginations were ignited which led to them taking the lead in developing and expanding the play. The children ventured from group to group mixing and playing with all three media.

Seodin then introduced the children to clay, she captured their attention by using exaggerated movements when pulling, and teasing the clay apart. Every child was given a piece of clay. This more robust natural material invited more physical play; the children pulled, rolled, squeezed and manipulated the clay.

The adults stepped back and the children were allowed to play uninterrupted for a period of time with no restrictions, no instructions, just the freedom to play and explore with the natural materials.

One major observation in the introduction to ‘Wild Things’ was the surge of language used during the session. The children were keen to show and tell you what they had made, they discussed shapes, planned their play, and used language associated with mathematics such as ‘heavy, light, big, small, etc…


Some children were involved in deep play until asked questions about what they were making:

Halle was observed to be playing quietly by herself using all three media. When asked what she was making she said it was “fire”. She pointed to the lentils (orangey, red in colour). Rolled pieces of clay were placed carefully on top of her fire which she described as sticks and she talked about how playing with fire was dangerous and her Daddy says she is ” not to touch” (Photo 1). Jerome Bruner, a child psychologist, talks of play as ‘memory in action’ and discusses how ‘children play in order to remember and think about events and experiences in the lives… in order to make sense of them’ (cited in Smidt, 2011:15).

The children participated in dramatic and symbolic play, this promotes abstract thinking. When we saw Leo use rounded clay as a football, and Davin talking on the phone using a large piece of clay they are using symbols. This shows the preliminary stage of learning through symbols, the next stage for some of our children is primary school where the children will use letters, numbers and words as these are real symbols for real objects and quantities.

Sam created his own sculpture where we, being adults, presumed it was a snowman or person. However this was a real lesson for adults not to make presumptions about children’s play, just because he made something doesn’t mean it needed to be something. Sam had no name for it, he pointed to specific parts and named them as a window and a door. (Photo 2) Davin’s masterpiece was also ‘a secret’. (photo 3)

“…[the] process of play is more important than the product”

(Sylva et al, 1976:244)

The session ended when the children came together to discuss what we all created with the materials. The children had a fantastic morning, and enjoyed ‘playing’ with Seodin, Liz and Natalie. We all came together to say goodbye through song again and a promise of playing together again.

Anne-Marie Dixon




We are Kirsty Marsden, Huan Zhang and Tatjana Trogrlic, the design team of the DIT MA in Professional Design Practice 2016.


We were lucky enough to be given this great opportunity to design a creative and informative piece for Project 20/20, to hand to the audience of the MuseumNext event 2016.

During our meetings with Liz Coman, of Project 20/20, at The LAB, Dublin, we discussed various concepts that would represent both a fun and an informative delivery for our solution in order to promote Project 20/20, a project that centres around working with young children, by means of Visual Thinking Strategies, with contemporary art as its focus.


To produce a design strategy and physical piece that would be delivered in conjunction with a presentation about the project, at the MuseumNext event, April 2016.


We started with research in order to ascertain if there were similar projects of this nature in and around the Dublin area and, further a field, in order to evaluate how they present themselves visually. Furthermore, we discovered visual literacy appeared in various establishments all around the world, but the biggest discovery was the great benefits it provides to its participants.

After extensive discussions of this topic, the team started to develop several concepts and produced various design solutions, assessing which of them would prove most effective to communicate the message of Project 20/20.

We then developed three ideas, which were as follows:

Engagement, Development and Thinking.

Even though the project encompasses all three, we felt engagement was the strongest of the concepts, as without engagement, nothing can move forward. Visual literacy engages children and teachers alike, and is beneficial in terms of learning, communication, development of critical thinking and, creativity. Development is also suitable, since children can develop a varied range of skills through visual literacy that can prepare them for the future. Visual literacy also inspires us to think divergently and encourages us to consider different solutions for one problem.

We came to the realisation that, having the ability to think in many different and critical ways was truly a gift, and therefore, built up our concepts around this.


When we next met with Liz, we presented our three potential concepts, explaining each in turn. After much discussion, the idea of the ‘gift of thought’ was decidedly the strongest solution to develop, and the idea of a gift, that could be produced in an engaging and fun manner, that would represent the essence of Project 20/20, would indeed an exciting challenge to accept.

We had explained that some people in this world are not blessed with freedom to think for themselves and due to the nature of visual literacy and its benefits, as an alternative form of education, it aided such things as; self expression, development of individual thought processes, and, enablement of interpretation. Therefore, the gift of thought seemed like the most viable concept with a sincere message.

However, considering how the gift of thought could be presented and worked into something that could be rolled out across a number of platforms proved a little difficult at first, as thoughts are something that really only exist in our minds and aren’t tangible, so we needed to first decide how the gift of thought could be represented.

Throughout our presentations, we used an infographic of the brain to show which areas were stimulated by art and creativity. This gave us a perfect starting point, as we decided a representation of a brain, in some form, could be utilised to show thought, and for the gift, would be presented in some form of gift packaging.


Gallery owner and designer, Oonagh Young, sat in on some of our design sessions as our industry specialist, to discuss our progress throughout the project. She mentioned one thing that stuck our minds…

“not all art is flat, don’t be afraid of it. It can be whatever you want it to be”.

Bearing this in mind, we started to look at things from another perspective and took a different direction.


We started to think a lot differently about everything as this was the point what seemed to shift things and open up new possibilities to us.

During our research, we had stumbled across a pop up book and even though we were quite drawn to the simplistic and childlike idea of its contents, we hadn’t thought there was any way that a pop up element could be relevant to the promotion of Visual Literacy and our gift concept.

Instead we had still been thinking in the terms of flat and unusual visuals, to create a focal point for the MuseumNext event. We were thinking so hard on how to design something that was aesthetically interesting in a flat and traditional way, we hadn’t thought of designing something where the shape and physical appearance was the interesting part.


In one of our previous briefs, we had introduced a pattern into the design work which, had opened up many possibilities for the visual side of the design solution.

Thinking back, a pattern had previously given us a grid system and a framework to build upon, so we employed the same train of thought with this brief, as having a framework, gave us massive scope for the visual solution.

There were the recurring questions we asked of ourselves regarding this brief, how could it prove fun and bring joy to the viewer, how would it relate to contemporary art, how do we transport the viewer to a child’s mindset in order to provoke empathy and remember how they felt as a child. How did they see the world, what were their hopes, what did they want to be when they got older, what did they find fun, did anyone listen to their ideas, were they given the freedom to think for themselves?

We needed to feed and satisfy all of these thoughts into a concept and design which would give us adaptability, longevity and aesthetical appeal throughout the life of Project20/20.

There were also, many things we demanded of our work throughout the design stages and by asking such questions, we were able to narrow our solution and focus.

Whatever we produced would need to make the audience feel something, make them look at the information differently and visually, it must appear different to what they view on a regular basis.

We wanted to provoke questioning and spark imagination and make the audience feel something, just as a piece of art would in Visual Thinking Strategies.


We decided to use a visual of a brain for the initial introduction of the project at the MuseumNext event, because our brain is where all thought begins.

Looking at visuals in the early education area and early learning tools, we came across many images of building blocks, a classic depiction of early education, and something that our research had shown repeatedly.

This sparked off another train of thought with regards to our framework and the visual concept. Children enjoy playing games, which related to the fun aspect we wanted to promote, they are also are exposed to a lot of technology, computer games, online games, apps, etc, and we live in an age where technology is improving constantly. However, when we were younger, games and technology were not as developed as they are now, and in relation, this is how we all start our lives, developing as we grow and absorbing information.

Taking into consideration all of our thoughts and research findings, we developed the gift concept further and produced a gift envelope, with a pattern made of coloured blocks.

The coloured blocks making up the pattern have a few meanings.

They represent early learning, (ABC blocks), early technology (8-bit games), they are brightly coloured as are most childrens toys, and, they also represent the child.

All of the different colours represent the different children participating in VTS within the area and the different colours represent the different ways in which they think. They also represent the (building) blocks of the community, as a focus of Project 2020 is to engage and connect the local community with contemporary art. The different cultures of the children involved in the project are also represented by the different coloured blocks and finally, the colouring also represents our brain activity when it is exposed to creativity and art, as the colours represent the different and alternate possibilities we are encouraged to engage with when exposed to art throughout the VTS process.

To emphasise the thought part of the concept, we incorporated a pop up of a brain infographic, (which employs the squares and is also reminiscent of early technology, before extensive programming). Therefore, the pop up represents the undeveloped brain of a child, before it has been programmed with knowledge, and uses the pop up to represent childrens books/ childlike aspect, and this pop up reveals itself when we open the envelope.

The pop up gives the gift another dimension and movement, which makes it more engaging and this also relates to the VTS, as an alternative method of education with another dimension to it. Rather than learning through the word alone, children learn visually and explore, both on their own and in a group. By creating interest, the viewer is engaged and intrigued by difference of the piece, looking at it in a different way and curiosity is sparked. Therefore, the features and benefits of the VTS process are resonated in the physical make up of the piece itself.

There is also the aspect of the ‘prominent’ piece, (the pop up detail), as this relates to the exposure of the process itself, as it is becoming more prominent as time goes on and, showing evidence to support improved academia in relation to the process.

Therefore, we felt the visuals and the concept fitted the brief and the process quite well, as this piece, in its design and aesthetics, can be open to interpretation by the viewer, just as contemporary art can be and the visual material used throughout the VTS process.


There are a great many choices of how the ‘visual brain’ could potentially be developed in order to represent our thought processes and brain activity in relation to VTS. There could be animations for digital use, installations and sculpture to occupy the gallery space and this concept, could not only be used to represent VTS and skill development, which help in other subjects, but artworks, sculptures and the visual application of this concept could also be used to facilitate teaching other subjects.

The team feel extremely privileged to have been asked to not only work on this project, but to also provide artwork for the MuseumNext event and, write this blog. It has given us great creative freedom, enabled us to experiment massively and given us the chance to use our existing skills and knowledge, as well as developing so much more throughout the research and development stages. Above all else, Brainbox has been one of the most enjoyable experiences we have had and have loved every minute of it, and we wish Project 20/20 great success over the next few years.

Thank you

Kirsty, Huan and Tanja.

2002-2016 ‘Seen but not heard’

The attached article ‘Fostering Adult Literacy in Art Museums‘ was published in 2004 in the Journal of Visual Literacy for the International Visual Literacy Association. It offers a synopsis of my Masters in Museum Studies Thesis at John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley, California. Reading the article afresh today, I am, once again, struck by how loaded words like ‘literacy’ and ‘visual literacy’ are.

How varied their interpretation can be depending on the context. Overclaiming the benefits and/or transformative impact of visual art, by pointing out the interconnection between language development and visual literacy, can be precarious. Rather, articulating nuanced perspectives by what we mean in visual arts practice about our understanding of visual literacy and how we are experiencing it happening ‘live’ in Project 20/20 best exercised as reflective practice.

It seems timely to post the article here today and to remember the early stages of this research. We are about to embark on a new phase of work for Project 20/20 with a Visual Thinking Strategies Beginners Practicum Training and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Reflecting and remembering as we continue to move and progress offers us space for more realistic expectations to emerge.

Journal of Visual Literacy – Fostering Adult Literacy in Art Museums by Liz Coman

“The Art of Remembering” – Led by 3rd Class (Room 9, Mr Wrynn)

Visual Thinking Strategies

Being able to articulate and stand up for what you believe in is an important skill.  Yesterday, we screened the premiere of the film ‘The Art of Remembering” – led by 3rd Class (Room 9, Mr Wrynn) for participating children, parents, teachers, community leaders, artists, art educators, arts office team, partners and funders.  It was an important moment for Project 20/20, illustrating how artists and and the art history of Dublin can bring together a local community to support children and how they access the arts in their local neighbourhood of Dublin 1.

As part of 1916/2016 Commemoration Programme, children from Central Model Primary School, Dublin 1, looked deeply at an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation, Irish history and the city itself using Visual Thinking Strategies.  They were supported in their journey by professional art educator Lynn McGrane and film maker Jenny Brady. The children visited The Preservation and Conservation Department of the Library of Trinity College, the GPO and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.  At their visit to the LAB Gallery, they met contemporary visual artist Bridget O’Gorman and discussed with her how she used materials in her exploration of the objects relating to 1916.

Approaching the subject of 1916/2016 was a considerable responsibility for us, as art educators and artists.  The children, the art and architecture of Dublin City were our guide.  VTS was the scaffolding which allowed the children’s perspectives to emerge, rather than us offering (or imposing) our own views & our version of our history. Many of the children in this project were not born in Ireland. Citizenship is a word and a subject of debate in Ireland – who has it, what does it mean?   The children’s fresh perspective offers us an insightful reflection on these questions and on our right to feel safe in our community and have a ‘good life’.


Agents of Change

Children and Young People – Artistic Agents for Social Change


Children and young people have immense capacity for joy, communication, and understanding of the layers that exist within truth. They have a natural sense of empathy when presented with human frailty and are hard-wired with a desire for generosity and fair play.  Children and young people experience and live with conflict – familial dis-ease, poverty, social and cultural exclusion.  Age, ability and cultural tradition scaffold their being and sense of belonging. The present day imaginings and creativity of children and young people, speak of a future that we, as adults, cannot imagine. From a very young age children naturally express this artistically – visually, verbally, and through movement and dramatic re-interpretation of their daily goings on. As art makers and art audiences in their own right, children and young people share with us, their human experience.

Project 20/20  commissions contemporary visual artists to make original work for young audiences and facilitates innovative mediation processes for children and young people’s to experience contemporary Irish visual arts and artists’ practice. Our approach to this work is set with constructivist pedagogy, and is informed by the theoretical framework of aesthetic development formulated by Abigail Housen – student of Howard Gardner, deviser of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Housen was the child of art historians at Boston College of Fine Arts, and growing up in a house surrounded by artists and art, her research question was this – “What Happens Cognitively When Someone Looks at a Work of Art?”

The focus across the different visual art strands of Project 20/20 is on unlocking the children’s voices as citizens and viewers, fostering a love, understanding, confidence and competence in looking at visual art and how contemporary artists make work.   Learning to look…slowly… offering permission to wonder…be curious…ask ‘big questions’….discuss these ideas as a group… accept that art can be ambiguous..unresolved..that every opinion is valid..that gallery spaces are for all members of the public albeit they have particular and peculiar rules and histories that are sometimes invisible.

Why is looking at contemporary Irish art important?

Over 60% of the students the primary schools in the neighbourhood of Dublin 1 are not born in Ireland, English is not their birth language, Irish art history or even western art history is not their history.

Many of the children we work with in Project 20/20, up to one year ago, did not know The LAB Gallery, even though they may have walked by it everyday. Working in collaboration with The LAB’s Curator, Sheena Barrett, we invited a team of artists, art educators and a philosopher (Lynn McGrane, Seodin O’Sullivan, Katie Fitzpatrick and Aislinn O’Donnell) to begin to help us to build relationships with children, teachers and parents living in our local neighbourhood. As a result, we have been learning a lot about how the intrinsic values of contemporary art connects with the children in their everyday lives.

Dublin City Council’s objective is simple….for children to access quality artists and arts experiences that are present in their local neighbourhood. Working within the context of a local authority allows our curatorial and pedagogical framework to build a community of practice slowly and be flexible around how we build relationships and resources over time. Therefore, our approach is different to formats found in traditional museums and galleries.

In Project 20/20, the adults who collaborate with children and young people, in the classroom and gallery, are brave enough to believe that children and young people are capable and competent in telling us about what they see.  We are brave enough to try to look and listen closely. We are brave enough to try to let go of the things we love if the children we work with don’t like them! Making this shift requires time and space for reflection and levels of risk taking.  It requires us, as adults, to be open to learning and receiving critical feedback.   It requires artistic ambition.  We are brave enough to try….and to fail….and to try again.

We begin this blog for Project 20/20 in the hope that new technology will support how we can pro-actively come together to deepen our understanding and connection directly with children and young people’s artistic voices in Dublin 1.  Project 20/20 marks a philosophical shift, from children and young people as cultural consumers to active collaborators, and this blog aims to share our different viewpoints on how we, as adults, support this to happen.

Project 20/20 carves out the possibility of children and young people as agents of their own cultural experience. It highlights the social mix of local and new communities in this neighbourhood and builds confidence and pride by highlighting the positive in the area in terms of character, history and artistic community. It reflects the progressive intention of the local schools and communities and challenges anti-social branding.  It fosters connectivity between contemporary visual artists living and working in the area and local schools and allows time and space for a new pedagogical practices to emerge for contemporary art and formal education. We hope it will impact how our neighbourhood nurtures their young population and influence how we, as arts and cultural organisations, teachers, youth service workers, early childcare providers, artists and local government, make decisions – holding in our collective, creative imagination a neighbourhood rich in arts and culture led by children and young people and for children and young people.



Visual Thinking Strategies with 2nd/3rd Class – An Introduction

Visual Thinking Strategies with 2nd/3rd Class – Led by Lynn McGrane and Liz Coman in partnership with Central Model Primary School

About Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

Last year, we began by working on a long-term project with Central Model Senior School, Dublin 1 (a band 1, DEIS School). We trialled a specific methodology for looking at artworks called Visual thinking Strategies with the students.

Visual Thinking Strategies is an educational curriculum and teaching method which enables students to develop aesthetic and language literacy and critical thinking skills, while giving educators a new technique they can utilise throughout their career and is used in schools across the US and Europe.

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Sharing Practice & Professional Development for Artists and Teachers

The LAB Gallery and Dublin City Arts Office present phase 1 of Project 20/20, featuring presentations on TESTING VISUAL THINKING STRATEGIES with Central Model SNS and Lynn McGrane & DEVELOPING AN EARLY YEARS RESPONSE TO CONTEMPORARY IRISH ART with KidsInc Pre-School & Seodín O’Sullivan. Also featuring a presentation from Siobhan Murphy from The College of Medicine, University College Cork, on the integration of Visual Thinking Strategies into the student curriculum. A summary overview in response to the presentations was offered by Dr Geraldine French, Early Childhood Bachelor of Education, St Patrick’s College Drumcondra.