Survival skills for the future (one palette knife at a time)

Art is not always pretty… Take a creative risk…


This post struck a chord with many on our socials. For us it was about sharing a series of creative sessions that excited and engaged boys as well as girls to be curious and achieve physical mastery of a different tool for artist expression - palette knives.

It reflects current trends in empowering children to be wild and adventurous and take risks while retaining an instagrammable aesthetic. We know that in order for children to analyse risks and develop reasoning skills, as well as build their agility and dexterity, they need to encounter (in a supportive environment) real problems and experiences such as fire, carving tools, knives, saws and drills and messy lamp black ink.

In order to develop grit and tenacity children need their curiosity awakened and to be challenged with projects that seem difficult, dangerous and worthwhile. And in order to develop confidence in exploring, connecting and loving their natural world they should also be supported to collect scrapes, bruises, muddy feet, dirty hands and grass in their hair. Being curious and adventurous in the creative process on their own terms means allowing space and time for exploring where materials, art techniques and ideas take them… and that is not always where our adult aesthetic and perspective has intended. We find ourselves led by our own needs and intentions rather than the child’s needs for play and playful creating.

Art is not always pretty. But after a creative studio session where your child has been exposed to new art materials, ways of working and ways of thinking about the creative process, they will always come home having learnt a lot of things which may or may not look like a beautiful piece of art.


Art and the creative process are about communication, exploring and understanding your world and growing and expressing ideas. With three active, boisterous and sporty boys between us we are always looking for projects and processes that spark both boys’ and girls’ creativity. Tools like palette knives, whittling knives, lino carving tools, drills and saws can be dangerous if used incorrectly - but they also give a great sense of agency to children who, through their creative projects, are empowered to make a mark in and on their world.

Having a go at something new, using an unfamiliar tool and giving visual expression to thoughts and ideas means taking emotional and physical risks. Parents and pedagogues around the world are recognising that learning how to cut with knives, manage a fire and use a range of tools are skills which can be safely taught, enabling children to assess and manage risks.

This is scary fun
— workshop participant (9yrs)

It’s empowering for a child to feel the kind of agency that comes with the trust placed in them to learn to use a real tool for the purpose it was intended. And even more so when they can transfer such skills to bigger and more wicked problems as they grow into adults.


Creativity is about more than imagination. It’s not an easy feat to whittle a stick to become a functional pen nib. It takes dexterity, grit, tenacity and the discipline to refine your work and finish the job. These are the skills we value as parents and as a community, but don’t often see them nurtured and prioritised. Claxton and colleagues identified 5 ‘habits of mind’ as indicators of creativity:

1. Inquisitive: wondering and questioning; exploring and investigating; challenging assumptions.
2. Persistent: tolerating uncertainty; sticking with difficulty; daring to be different.
3. Imaginative: playing with possibilities; making connections; using intuition.
4. Disciplined: crafting and improving; developing techniques; reflecting critically.
5. Collaborative: cooperating appropriately; giving and receiving feedback; sharing the creative ‘product’.
— Based on the work of Claxton et al (2005), Creativity, Culture and Education

There is a growing understanding of the skills our children need in a world that is rapidly changing, in which environmental issues are becoming critical and digitalisation, AI and automation are growing exponentially. There are wicked economical, ecological and social problems which just cannot be fixed by humans who have followed instructions and coloured inside the lines.

“Demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking and decision making, and complex information processing, will grow through 2030 at cumulative double-digit rates. The growing need for creativity is seen in many activities, including developing high-quality marketing strategies...
— World Economic Forum on the McKinsey Global Institute Report 2018

Alongside creativity, humans of the future will need highly developed visual language and visual literacy - not only to make sense of an increasingly visual world on their devices but to navigate the treacherous landscape of advertising to make good decisions based on knowledge and understanding rather than being sucked in to clever marketing campaigns and enticing ads.

Creativity, communication and critical and divergent thinking are not soft skills. They are survival skills for an uncertain future. Too often they are sidelined in curriculum and school planning, and there is little time and space to practice them in the busy schedules of well organised contemporary households.

We are constantly reflecting on our practices and have realised that our children already have skills that we need to build our own trust in, to know that these developing skills will serve them well into a future that is not-yet-defined. We wish in our children to kindle creative souls who are their best self now and have the skills to survive in their world when we are no longer holding their hands in which they will become key decision makers and leaders.


Kindling creative spaces provide a kindling pile of stuff and space and time ensuring children’s skills have space to grow and develop. And aprons and a washable, serviceable concrete floor.

For us as artists and makers, and for the adults who book a Kindling Creative catch-up with us, it’s also a reminder to give yourself permission to lose yourself in the flow of some creative play - and be curious about what you might discover.


World Economic Forum: