Chapter 4: Transition from 2D to 3D – Elements of Design Suit

Chapter 4: Transition from 2D to 3D 

Take a look at Brandi’s 360 degree video of the suit at the end of her writing!

Why is it important?

It’s not easy having to start thinking about your art piece as a 3D form instead of a 2D flat piece of paper. One of the reasons thinking of your art piece in 3D is challenging is because usually before you start the final form you start by doing drafts in 2D. It’s during this process where your brain is thinking in both 2D and 3D. You have to think right now I’m getting my idea down in 2D but most importantly how will it look 3D. Sometimes your art piece isn’t in its 3D form until it’s time to present it, so the whole work and process was done in 2D but your mind was thinking of its 3D form. An example of working in 2D but the final presentation being 3D is the Tyvek suit. The suit is drawn on flat but once it’s worn the suit becomes 3D. With a hung painting it’s flat against the wall with the viewer looking at it straight-on, but with a 3D form the viewer is able to walk all around the piece in a 360 degree circle. As an artist working in 3D you want the viewer to be so interested in the piece that they walk all the way around the form, instead of just looking at it straight-on. Another example of working in 2D but the final product being 3D is the Inflatable Form in Chapter 5 (this assignment required the dual mindset of 2D and 3D, and not knowing exactly how the 3D form will look until presenting). The most important technique you can use when creating in 3D is asking yourself the question “Currently I’m working in 2D, but how will this action make the piece look when it’s 3D”? 

Assignment description: 

This is the assignment so that you can go through the process. Here you can access this link to get a PDF form of the directions, Elements of Design Suit


Elements of Design Suit

(Yes, you will be wearing these!)

Using what you know about the 3D elements of design, a Tyvek suit, Sharpie markers and a Theme of your choice, design a suit that will draw the viewers eye around from one side of the suit to the other.  Remember this suit will be worn and is Three-dimensional (even though when you work on it, it is flat).

  • You must cover the whole suit (Draw big!)
  • Use repetition and contrast
  • Use pattern
  • A linear element

RESEARCH: Find 3 Different Themes

Here are a few things that might help to get you going:

  • Examples of different types of Themes (general will get you going in the right direction).

  • A long list of themes.

  • Helpful flow chart about coming up with ideas (For high school students but applies to everyone!) Check it out.   Actually pretty helpful!

            Once you have your 3 Themes do these steps:

LATERAL THINKING: Brainstorm lists of the elements in a theme. For example if your theme was “Sea Life” you could make a list of the different things that live in the sea. Fish, whales, sharks, Plant life etc. Then…you could make a list of all the kinds of Fish (web search might help with this), list of different kinds of sharks…you get the idea. Now you have lots of visually material for the next step!


SKETCH: Fill up 10 pages of your sketch book exploring different possibilities,

Maquettes: then using a large sheet of paper cut out 3 paper doll type shapes that will be maquettes of your suit. Draw on these to play with composition that is not only 2D but wraps around to the other side.  They should be different from each other, with the goal being to explore different possible paths for you to take with this assignment.


WRITE: Free write a list of what is most interesting about each of the 3 cut outs, and what might be rewarding or compelling about making each one.


IN CLASS: Bring your research notes, drawings, and free write lists to class along with Drawing materials and any other supplies you need.


IN GROUPS: Work with a partner to share your research, drawings, and ideas about proceeding. Advise each other about which paths seem most likely to yield a visually successful project. After you are both satisfied about which drawing you will work from, you may start.

Student examples:

These two students go into depth with their writing and images to show you the process of coming up with an idea, and the art piece from start to finish.

1st Example:

Project description: This project required me to draw a design onto a tyvek suit that incorporated the elements of design and a theme of my choice. The goal was to come up with a composition that encouraged viewers’ eyes to move around the entire suit from the front to the back. A difficulty I anticipated for this project was the fact that I had to think two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally — working on the piece would be done on a flat surface, but the suit will ultimately be displayed on a human body. I knew I had to keep in mind what it would look like being worn while figuring out how to execute and illustrate my idea with a 2D perspective. This was my first time working with tyvek material so I was nervous about what the outcome will look like considering that it would be different from simply drawing on paper. Another challenge I anticipated was drawing big enough to execute my idea accurately and ensuring that the objects were wrapping around enough in order to be visible in both the front and the back.

Research/lateral thinking: To come up with the possible themes I wanted to work with, I did some research to generate some ideas by looking at examples and lists online. For one of the themes, I wanted to explore elements that displayed the beauty of the natural world. I then proceeded to choose a racing/NASCAR theme as I thought that the possible elements within that theme could allow for a dynamic composition with a windy road and checkered pattern. The first theme that I considered inspired me to come up with the theme of metamorphosis and change. I thought that it would be interesting to work with the idea of showing the cycle of a butterfly’s life to represent how nothing is permanent and that we are constantly changing throughout our lives. I then listed the elements that pertained to each theme. I later explored different kinds of things within each listed element and the various ways to illustrate them during the sketching stage.

After finalizing my themes and began the process of illustrating possible concepts I could go with, I realized that none of my chosen themes had anything to pertain to modern culture or the current state of the social climate. This led to a suit that was not conceptually interesting or one that critiqued society. Rather, I focused on aesthetics. Knowing that I was too far into the process to change the theme I was gravitating towards, I reverted my focus onto creating a composition that worked dynamically and utilized the elements of design effectively.

Sketches: For my sketches, I experimented with the possibilities to depict certain elements that I may want to include in the final piece. For example, I drew different butterfly wing shapes — some flying, some spanned out. The caterpillar sketch page shows various positions and activities that it could be seen doing. I explored drawing multiple types of sticks and leaves. For the race car, I played around with angels — particularly the side and front view. During this process, I was able to come up with new elements that I did not think about earlier on. Making these sketches made me realize how there are multiple ways to go about something that may be as simple or static as a piece of stick or a leaf. It challenged me to think outside the box and to look further than the basic image that pops into your head when you see or think of a word.

Final maquette for the front of the suit design.
Final maquette for the back of the suit design.

Maquettes: After doing the sketches to broaden my mind on how to go about illustrating the elements, I created three maquettes to see how the elements would be working together and how it would fit into the theme. Creating these made me see what is and what isn’t working as I got to visually see the composition as a whole which was extremely helpful in finalizing the design. More specifically, I was able to see the relationship between each object. For example, I realized that many of the elements were near or directly on the center of the suit or that there was too much weight/objects on one side of the suit in comparison to the rest of the space. The maquettes were largely useful in seeing how the objects would be placed, where it would start wrapping around the suit, and how it would function in the back in relation to the front. It was at this stage when I realized that I did not necessarily incorporate what I gathered in the sketches into the mockups so I made sure I utilized the various kinds and ways to go about drawing a certain object into my final design.

The final maquette is a revised design after realizing all of the errors or flaws in my original concepts. I incorporated different views/positions of the butterfly and made some elements more dynamic by making it diagonal rather than perfectly horizontal or vertical. I also made sure the placement of the objects was where I wanted it to be so I could easily refer to the maquette in sizing up each object on the actual suit. I also revised the concept of the theme by placing all of the butterflies near the top of the suit and the caterpillars on the bottom of the suit to represent growth.

Material studies: Before I started coloring in the clouds, I wanted to test out different illustration styles with the sharpie. At first, I thought that the filled-in cloud would work best for filling up white space and would make the design look complete. I drew this type of cloud on the right shoulder of the suit and decided that it did not work the best since it didn’t look realistic in comparison to the other objects I had already drawn out. I ultimately went with the cloud that I did in comparison to the other ones which emitted a cartoony feel. I also wanted to test out various colors for the caterpillar. Referring back to the realistic style of the suit, I went with the lime green color after researching photos of caterpillars and looking at the color that the majority of them are.

Write: Once the maquettes were done, I wrote a paragraph for each listing what was interesting or compelling about each one of them by referring to the elements of design. I thought that this was an interesting way to critique myself — looking at the good rather than the bad. The advantage of doing so is that it allowed me to see what was working and to build off of that rather than criticizing what was not working and making major adjustments/changes to the design. This method also helped me rule out which one worked the best and how the elements of design were being implemented into each design. Writing it out made me actively think about how the designs were functioning.

Halfway progress of the front.
Halfway progress of the back.
Front view of the final suit.
Back view of the final suit.

ReflectionThe final design of the suit does not fully follow the maquette in which I was basing the design off of. The proportions of the mini suit maquette in comparison to the actual suit was a bit off which resulted in a few large empty spaces that needed to be filled. In order to figure out what objects to incorporate into the design, I looked back at my sketches that explored the different possibilities of illustrating a certain object — the leaf made the most sense as the additional item I would improvise into the design. Another instance in which something unexpected occurred is the cloud illustration that turned out to be a mistake (which was mentioned in the material studies section). Even though I made a material study for the illustration style of the cloud, I still made a poor judgment in what would look the best. In this process, I learned that even though you plan things out ahead of time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will turn out how you expected it to and you will have to work around those mistakes/unplanned circumstances. As a graphic design, I am used to working digitally and have many opportunities to revise and make changes. I can easily open the file and make as many edits as I want and nothing is ever fixed. This was not the case for this project where once you start coloring something in, it becomes permanent. Therefore, I found that the planning and sketching step of this project was crucial in making sure that the design came out as I had hoped.

An aspect of the suit that I think works well is how I incorporated the elements of design and how the elements are repeated/contrasted in order to create a dynamic composition. The complementary colors of blue and orange contrast each other along with the size differences seen throughout all of the objects. The repetition and size variation of both the clouds and the butterflies create a pattern for the suit. The organic shape of the clouds contrasts the geometric pattern of the butterflies’ wings and the caterpillars’ bodies. It may not be extremely apparent through my interpretation of the illustration, but the rough wood texture found on the tree stick contrasts soft puffs on the clouds. The final design is not symmetrical and none of the elements are parallel or perpendicular to one another. Altogether, these aspects allow the viewers’ eyes to draw around the entire suit.

Looking at the final design, I could have done several things to improve it — one of them is adding value. I could have added colors by mixing colors. The current design is flat with its solid block of colors. I should have done a material study where I experimented with colors such as combining lighter and darker shades and incorporated this aspect into the design. Something else I would have done to improve the piece is the addition of a sense of depth. There is overlapping of the butterflies and the clouds and size differences between the objects, but I do not think it is extensive or substantial enough to create the feeling of depth. Perhaps adding a black shadow underneath the objects could have enhanced this aspect. I think the incorporation of both of these elements could have strengthened the piece and would have allowed for a stronger dynamic composition.


2nd Example:

Possible Themes

  • Emotions……………… many different emotions to express I different ways
  • Dreams…………………….could include many things into this idea
  • Wizard of Oz…………..just thought it would be fun
  • 80’s…………………………..great colors and patterns
  • Graffiti…………………….just saw it somewhere
  • Pattern……………………so many patterns to play with
  • Ocean………………………there are a lot of things relating to ocean life
  • Sweet and Salty…….good mix of things

From here I narrowed down the list the three themes that I thought I would have fun drawing

  • 80’s…………………………… to play around with
  • Ocean…………………………seems like a relevant problem in the world
  • Sweet and Salty………who doesn’t like a good mix of sweet and salty.

Further Planning Into My Ideas

  • Theme 1- 80’s
    • neon
    • geometrical
    • shapes
    • cassette tapes
    • Rubix cube
    • blues, yellows, pinks
    • leg warmers
    • boom box
    • party/club
  • Theme 2-ocean
    • shells
      • conch
    • coral
    • sea sponge
    • clam
    • nail
    • fish
      • bass
    • starfish
    • seahorse
    • water
    • waves
  • Theme 3- Sweet and Salty
    • ice cream
    • pretzel
    • candy
    • cotton candy
    • chips
    • peanuts
    • chocolate
    • cupcake
    • popcorn
    • donuts
    • cookies
    • crackers

Final Theme and Why…

The 80’s theme is what I went with because I feel like some of the patterns and objects are coming back around. They also had lots of fun colors and patterns to play around with that could make the piece interesting. Along with that it is just a fun decade to play around with.


These thumb nail drawings are just some of the designs or objects you would find in the 80’s. There are a lot of ways to play around and tweak these objects to make them look fun and interesting


Suit 1- the interesting things about suit 1 are: the pattern on the sleeve, repetition throughout the suit, images wrapping around arms and legs.

Suit 2- front is very different from the back, repeating patterns, diverse shapes, various sayings

Suit 3- diagonal lines, rubix cube is not only melting but is spreading the blocks around, overlapping pieces, overlapping images

Material Study

After going through my maquettes and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, I came up with my final design for the suit that I will go off of. obviously some things may change, but this is what the final will look like overall.

Halfway Through…

This is what the suit looks like about half way done. The process so far has been lengthy and pretty time consuming, overall I have actually enjoyed the process. I like the theme of the suit and think the overall elements are coming together. The only problem I have had is getting the suit to stay in the same place, other than that things are going good.

Final Product

As I finished this suit, there were many good qualities about it. The overall design of the suit came out basically as planned based off of the maquette I had drawn out. With that there were many things that worked out and many things that didn’t. The design and the way I laid everything out on the suit worked out. I may have had to add a few details more because there was more white space than intended, but it made the suit better and more dynamic. The colors also work well together as well as the repetition and patterns. The things that didn’t work out or were harder than I thought would be was the materials I used. I never thought that using sharpie would have been that hard but it was actually harder than I had thought. Then drawing on this kind of material was hard for a few reasons. The first being that there was an elastic bunching up the fabric making it hard to draw around it. Then just the fact that the fabric would wrinkle made it hard to draw on and made things kind of blotchy looking. Other than that I am happy how the suit came out.

Here is a better view of my suit since you aren’t able to see all the elements when I am wearing the suit…

Brandi’s 360 suit video


Original Writing By:

Sherry Lin, 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Brandi Partridge,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



AR 1065 Design & Meaning Handbook Copyright © by Phil Lonergan. All Rights Reserved.

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