One of the things I love about living ‘down south’, is the opportunity to follow a whim or curiosity in terms of professional development. When I saw some tweets fly by about a Sketching in Practice symposium sponsored by SFU, my interest was piqued. When I poked around a bit I found the pages and pictures from the 2016 and 2017 events and then followed the blog until the presenters for this year’s event were posted. I checked my calendar, figured out travel details and registered.
I’ve explored graphic facilitation and sketchnoting in the past but I appreciated the wider scope of SKiP2018. From a young art teacher, Meghan Parker, who had just completed the first “..thesis of an autobiographical nature in comic book form” to two academics, Dr. Kathryn Ricketts and Dr. Andrea Kantrowitz, who proposed to explore intersections between movement, gesture, and meaning, the day looked pretty full of thought-provoking experiences!
A last minute surprise was my winning a draw for a pre-event workshop with Carnegie Mellon’s Doug Cooper called “Drawing by Touch.” Thanks SKiP!
So, what did I learn? what did it change about my ongoing professional development ideas and interests?
Comics in education
I am still ambivalent about the role of comics (as most comics are drawn) in education. After listening to Meghan Parker speak her comic thesis, I realized that part of my resistance to comic strips may have been the structure (connected boxes) and the visual busy-ness I perceive when I try to read them. I was surprised at how much I learned from Meghan’s comics and how some of her simple images and complex messages stayed with me afterwards. I realized I appreciated the variation in presentation of her visual elements – sometimes she drew around boxes while at other times she had a pageful of boxes. I’ll revisit some comic strips and try reading them out loud too – might help me to understand the attraction 😉
Hand drawing on paper
I have always found that writing can help me work out ideas but I often struggle with using drawing the same way. I’ve found that the challenge of imagining an image to represent a complex idea takes a fair bit of thinking at times and my lack of any drawing automaticity means that I’m also struggling to think of how to draw the image I can picture. Sometimes that means drawing is a block to understanding rather than an aid. So, the natural drawing exercises (from author/teacher Kimon Nicolaides: The Natural Way to Draw (1941)) that Doug talked/walked/drew us through on Thursday afternoon were really helpful as he introduced me to some new ways of relaxing about drawing and finding ways to feel the shapes of what I see and to let my hand and arm relax and stay connected with the paper. Now, to make drawing a more natural part of my day so that I can use it more effectively in my practice.
I thoroughly enjoyed Armin Mortazavi’ Lightning Talk. His understated delivery and self-deprecating humour make it easy to miss the impressive abilities of this young science cartoonist. His story about juggling personal crises while holding various government entities at bay while he created a meaningful story to communicate complex health and nutrition information through his comics was hilarious but enlightening. I’m only sorry I couldn’t be part of his session – I heard it was great.
Maps for inspiration; maps for understanding
Two related afternoon sessions: Professor Chris Lanier shared some interesting examples of some of his favourite graphic novels and then pulled us into an exploration of how drawn images can inspire story narratives. An interesting use of this narrative mapping technique that certainly drew some interesting stories from the audience. Chris is currently working on a novel about the Department of Justice’s Ferguson Police Department Report (An Anatomy of Institutional Racism), using comics and infographics.
Erin Fields hosted an interesting session exploring the Information World Mapping (IWM), developed by Dr. Devon Greyson. She involved us in a brief application of the technique, having us draw our information world – mapping the process and connections we think of when we try to resolve a problem. This enriched our understanding of her story about applying this method at UBC when she participated in an application of IWM to try to understand the information-related needs and preferences of student refugees during resettlement. Erin is Liaison Librarian in the humanities and social sciences and the Flexible Learning Coordinator at the University of British Columbia.
Drawing as a form of thinking
I had read about Sandra’s use of drawing journals in a recent article from Capilano University’s Bettina Boyle so I was curious to hear her story and learn more about how she integrated drawing in her teaching. She shared her journey and her efforts to understand the evidence underlying her beliefs and practices in the classroom. Some of her examples were very compelling and a good “push” to start incorporating more drawing and journaling to support my own personal reflective practices!
Marks, movements and meanings
I think there is much more to the ideas Dr. Ricketts and Andrea Kantrowitz wanted to share with us than I was able to absorb from their Lightning Talk and interactive three-part session. Although the fluidity of movement, the variation in emotional expression and story conveyed by Kathryn’s movements was interesting, and the use of the projected overlays of line, colour and form that Andrea drew as she was inspired and interacting with Kathryn’s story were eye-catching, I never really felt the two blended or augmented my understanding, although the group I was part of during the “audience participation” piece had a lot of fun trying to use movement to express emotions depicted by tiny drawings on scraps of paper. I was grateful for the small printed booklets Andrea shared afterwards and I’ll be “unpacking” the ideas as I have time.
Whew! It was a full day and a half – had to leave early to catch a ferry home. Too bad I missed the summation and the opportunity to get together with people afterwards. But my hat is off to the hardworking, enthusiastic SFU staff that helped us all learn together – and kept it fun!
Cheers to Jason Toal’s team of sketching enthusiasts – from Simon Fraser University’s, Faculty of Communications Art and Technology; School of Interactive Art and Technology; and the Teaching and Learning Center