Think Visually Before Expressing Visually

Posted by | Feb 24, 2016

Think Visually b4 expressing visually
When people get excited about visuals, they grab a marker and start drawing. Then they’re surprised when they get frustrated because something feels off. The first reaction is usually to the image they’ve drawn, “It doesn’t look like an elephant,” or “My handwriting sucks.” And the inner critic inside of all of us is telling us “It doesn’t look good!” But what if it’s not about the quality of the picture or the shaky lettering? What if what really happened is that image doesn’t represent the thought or idea accurately?

The first thing we’re told when we start sketchnoting or graphic recording is to create a library of visual icons and then practice until our hands are stained with ink. That’s great for creating muscle memory, but we’re skipping a step. Remember learning math in school years ago? We learned to plug numbers into formulas before we learned the thinking process behind solving the problem. Our visual library are our formulas. Don’t memorize how to draw hundreds of icons without understanding when and how to use them.

Let’s take leadership. How do you draw this seemingly simple concept? I used to automatically draw a person with their arm up pointing at the sky in a very authoritative way. But that doesn’t describe leadership. Before drawing, ask yourself, how is the word being used? What is the person talking about? Context is critical to getting the drawing right.

Look at the drawing on the left. Two different descriptions of leadership—a leader leading others through change and characteristics that embody a leader—lead to two very different drawings.

Leadership Example

(Note the use of simple line drawings to convey leadership.)

So before you draw something 1) think about why you’re drawing it 2) think about what idea you want people to remember afterward, and 3) think about how you visually express it. Then you’re ready to start drawing. Take the time to think through a concept, and you’ll be surprised to discover what you can create.

Try this for practice:

1. Pick a 10-15 presentation. TEDTalks are great for this type of practice.
2. Have pen/marker and paper ready.
3. Sit and listen to the presentation—the whole way through. Don’t write anything, just absorb. Listen to understand the full story, the meaning, the premise. Close your eyes if it helps.
4. Now write down the concepts—the big ideas you heard—not the details. Spread them out across your paper.
5. Listen to the presentation a second time, writing the supporting ideas around the concepts/big ideas on your paper.
6. Take 15 minutes to slowly review your work and add visuals to each concept/big idea. If you like, you can use scissors to reorganize your paper.

Share your learnings and drawings on the Graphic Footprints Facebook page!

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