Going Visual I


Drawing is a common and powerful means to convey ideas, but is often hampered by a perceived “inability to draw”. Here we explore some activities from the Going Visual (GV) workshop series, designed to practice your drawing skills, and explore strategies to apply them to your teaching, no matter where you are starting. As part of the EMP program we focus on some how sketching can be used in the course of media development.


Below, we go deeper into sketching and visual practices by sharing a series of activities designed to get you started building your own visual vocabulary. Get ready to GO visual!

Warm up

Basically humans are hardwired to see “patterns”, or to recognize familiar things (such as faces) in almost any visual representation or photograph.  This is one small argument against anyone’s perceived inability to draw, because you don’t really have to! Just the smallest gestures and marks can become recognizable “things”. If you don’t believe me head on over to @facesinthings twitter page to see an ongoing collection of inanimate objects all photographed to reveal… faces.

Still, everyone can (and should) sketch regularly to improve and build ones own practice. Here is great eg. from David Grey’s “Visual Thinking” page that can get anyone up and squiggling “things” right away, in this case birds.

#gv2 Squiggle birds from Dave Gray

Visual Vocab

Working on the basic building blocks of visual language will improve your ability to be creative and communicate in creative ways. In “The Essentials of Visual Language“, we can try a series of assignments that explore the fundamental building blocks of visual work, including; lines, shapes, faces and text.


AN animated GIG to inform and inspire variation in line quality.

An animated GIF to inform and inspire variation in line quality.


Shapes arrows and Icons

As you continue your practice, you will find you have specific needs, in what you are drawing.  Objects and characters that you return to time and again and want to have a strong and quick way to represent them. You can continue going through the resources above, or if working in groups us an “icon jam”

Icon jam

Building a Global Visual Language from The Noun Project on Vimeo.


Show the Noun project: https://thenounproject.com

  1. Perform searches to see eg. Icons.
  2. Hand out materials.
  3. Generate list of icons to draw.
  4. Gallery walk critique

#gv18 Icon Jam

Grids and Gestures

An activity which exemplifies this “representation of time in space”, was recently shared by Dr. Nick Sousanis calledGrids and Gestures”. In his blog post, Dr. Sousanis invites the internet to join him in a “non-representational comics-making exercise”  which he has been doing in his workshops and recently published article.

It should be perfect for getting warmed up and and thinking about your story visually. As Nick explains…

Grids and Gestures is an exercise intended to offer participants insight into a comics maker’s decision-making process for composing the entire page through the hands-on activity of making an abstract comic. It requires no prior drawing experience and serves to help reexamine what it means to draw.

You can read the full article for the activity, and watch the video explanation.

Our abbreviated instructions are as follows.

    1. Consider the “shape of stories” eg. above and/or the way you program a synthesizer.
    2. Consider your page. The space you have to work with the edges and constraints.
    3. Get inspired! Browse the projects hashtag #gridsgestures on twitter or, watch this feature video


  1. Grids and Gestures instructions
  2. Consider and draw, the “shape of your day”, by first creating your grid structure or ‘panels’, and then filling them with abstract shapes, lines, color texture etc.
  3. Be mindful to stay non-representational… don’t draw “stuff”
  4. Post online and tag it  #gridsgestures
  5. (for bonus points do it as a DS106 Daily create!

Grids and Gestures eg. by Jason Toal

#gv14 Grids and Gestures from Nick Sousanis


Further Practice

The best way to improve your visual literacy is through practice, but it is not always easy to know what or how to practice. Hear a re a few Daily Practice scenarios you can try out. There are many, but essentially you are committing to a predefined way of working that may have an objective such as a daily drawing, or drawing with a prompt to help guide your activities.

  • Lynda.com – https://www.lynda.com/Illustration-tutorials/5-Day-Drawing-Challenge-Diversify-Your-Drawing/413122-2.html
  • Lynda.com – https://www.lynda.com/Design-Illustration-tutorials/21-Day-Drawing-Challenge/164144-2.html
  • Inktober – http://inktober.com/
  • Kadenze – https://www.kadenze.com/

#gv30 Back of the Napkin bio


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