Going Visual – The story telling edition

 Going Visual – The story telling edition


In this hands on design studio, we focus on aspects of storytelling that utilize drawings, icons and other visual practices. Participants will explore different 2d techniques to represent time including; the interplay of panels, sequencing frames, storyboards and icons to unleash their story telling skills.
Why we tell stories

The Shape of Stories

Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

by mayaeilam. From Visually.

In this telling lecture author Kurt Vonnegut puts forward a grand idea on the shape of stories. He purports that if a story could be interpreted “by a computer” it may reveal specific shapes in relation to the story, and that all stories essentially boil down to a few basic shapes. Designer Maya Eilam envisioned Vonnegut’s theories into some compelling in and informative infographics that reveal these characteristics, with shapes, icons and graphics. Each one is a story in itself!

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.

An example of a storyboard template

An example of a storyboard template

Important for Edmedia practitioners remember is the distinction made between comic books and storyboards.

Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition.

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

From icons to image

Screenshot 2016-05-03 09.59.59EMP_GoingVisual_IconsToImage

Four icon Challenge

Storytelling can be challenging, but boiling down the essential components of a story to its essential visual elements can help you understand whats important to keep.  One exercise you can do to help practice your visual story telling skills is the “Four icon challenge“.

Rome and Juliet as expressed in four icons. Designed by Kyle Tezak

Rome and Juliet as expressed in four icons. Designed by Kyle Tezak

Kyle Tezak, a designer in Minneapolis published the challenge as a “fun design challenge” but ended up pushing it further than expected.

This personal project attempts to boil down stories into four icons while keeping the narrative intact. The project started as a fun design challenge for me to do in my spare time, but I actually ended up learning a lot about the significance of objects and themes in storytelling. It also forced me to re-examine some of my favorite stories and gain a deeper understanding of them.

4 icons representing the film Cool Hand Luke by Tom Woodward.

4 icons representing the film Cool Hand Luke by Tom Woodward.

This idea was picked up and framed as a creative exercise for digital storytelling students by Tom Woodward.

Assignment: Reduce a movie, story, or event into its basic elements, then take those visuals and reduce them further to simple icons.

Posted in the  DS106 assignment bank.

For the EdMedia program,I have refined the instructions below and added some variations. The challenge is to find the icons, images or visuals that you make yourself, that tell the story as best you can.

  1. Four ICON instructions
  2. Choose your story. This could be a movie, or book from popular culture or a story of your own.
  3. Choose you media and consider your space.  Feel free to experiment or try some new format.
  4. Post your 4 icon story to the EdMedia website. If you want to make a game out of do not share the title, but let your audience figure it out on their own!

TIP: To find a wide selection of free icons and visual references, a great resource is The Noun Project. As we discussed in Going Visual I, icons are a powerful and efficient way to visually communicate large concepts and ideas.

More in four

Scouring the internet for more resources to tell a story in four frames, I stumbled on a few cool links. First, the style of a 4 panel comic is actually “a thing” called “Yonkoma“. A typical Yonkoma is laid our with 4 vertical panels, of the following steps.

Ki (起):The first panel forms the basis of the story; it sets the scene.
Shō (承): The second panel develops upon the foundation of the story laid down in the first panel.
Ten (転): The third panel is the climax, in which an unforeseen development occurs.
Ketsu (結): The fourth panel is the conclusion, in which the effects of the third panel are seen.


These guides get taken further on the site Instructables through a step by step activity entitled “How to write 4-panel Manga“.

Finally there is the the fantastic 4panel.ca. An ongoing collection of 4 panel comic strips, with a wide range of contributors, and styles.  Some very traditional comic book style with text and image, others getting closer to the “4 icon challenge” activity, others approaching “grids and gestures“.



4PANEL.CA is a space where a range of talented artists creatively explore the four-panel comics format in a formal, abstract, literary, conceptual and/or transformative context.


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