Category Archives: Visual Thinking

Art in Awakening

Art in awakening

Drawing in class again.  It is the same basic whiteboard I used in the presence and mindfulness class a week or so ago, but here for an advanced poetry and poetry writing class at midterm as a reminder of the role of art in humanity; that is, why we are doing what we are doing: practicing the role of art in awakening us to our courage and freedom.

I also shared in class David Whyte’s poem “Everything is Waiting for You” as well as his reading of the poem below because of his line: “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

Also, I shared this brief quote below from Chogyam Trungpa from his book The Myth of Freedom and asked students to replace the word meditation with poetry writing.

Meditation is not a matter


Illustrating Rising and Setting Sun Attitudes

Basics Rising Sun and Setting Sun

Whiteboard from today’s English 2307: Introduction to Literature and Creative Writing class on the small topic of the basis of human suffering (from a Buddhist perspective) and the role art (poetry and short fiction in our case) plays in helping us sort out and understand the emotional worlds that we develop in response to that suffering.

We have been reading Chogyam Trungpa’s Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior about the difference between the rising and setting sun attitudes that represent impermanence-change-courage-imperfection-life-transformation-community and permanence-no-change-fear-perfection-death-cocooning-isolation, more fully elaborated upon in chapters six “The Dawn of the Great Eastern Sun” and seven “The Cocoon.”

Illustrating a Consciousness Cycle

Whiteboard on Consciousness Cycle

At Angelo State, I am teaching a freshman seminar for 25 students under the title “Presence and Mindfulness.”  This is a 1-hour 8-week course for new students.

The photo above captures the whiteboard drawings I completed today as I lectured on two ways in which we behave toward ourselves, others, and the world, with consciousness or without.

I’ve written in other places about my teaching and the values of consciousness and courage here and here.  But I’ve always discussed the benefits of wakefulness or mindfulness in positive terms.

Today in class, I wanted to contrast these behaviors with their opposites to help my students see the consequences of falling into the dream state of an unconscious life.

Ultimately, I argued, the value of contemplation practice is the development of a wakeful attitude so that we can activate our moral imaginations as we develop our decision-making capabilities, as well as our confidence, to further encourage ourselves to not fall asleep on ourselves, others, and the world.

Illustrating Buddha

Paper Buddha BW

I am teaching an 8 week general studies course this semester on the topics of presence and mindfulness.  I have already introduced these topics in class (we are in the second week), and I have talked to my students about the image of the Buddha and how it illustrates the three basic ingredients of meditation (body [bottom], mind [top], and breath [middle]).  I also emphasized that this image, though still, stands for an activity.  It illustrates the journey and practice of mindfulness, rather than a desired destination or ultimate state of being.  In other words, the image, whether it is a statue or painting or drawing, doesn’t represent an idol to worship or the result of meditation in Buddhism.  It represents the habitual practice of mindfulness, not only in seated meditation, but in every possible aspect of life.

I also asked students to draw with me a simple image of the Buddha in order to get a more personal sense of what this image represents.  I drew it on the whiteboard a couple of times, and then I asked them to draw it a couple of times themselves in their journals.

Buddha Sketch

My wife and I have also begun a meditation practice each morning after waking.  We have mats and pillows and a bench for me set up in our bedroom.  And after we get the dogs settled, we practice for about 10 or 15 minutes.  We are beginning practitioners and hope to build up to more time on the mat.

During my practice this morning, I was reflecting further on this image of Buddha in meditation and how I could help my students experience the patience, presence, and balance that it represents.  I first thought about bringing river stones of various sizes to class and giving each of my 20 students three relatively small stones (one large, one medium, and one small) to stack and balance so they could experience the patience and focus needed to stack and balance those stones.

But then, I thought about having to find 60 stones and carrying them to class for 20 students and the work that would entail.  Next, I thought about using a sheet of paper and making small balls of paper to serve the same purpose.  And here is how it worked out:

Making a Paper Buddha
So here’s what I learned about how to make a paper Buddha. Fold a sheet of paper in half three times to create eight total sections. Unfold and tear in the sheet half. Tear an eighth off one of these halves.  As a result, you have one piece with four eighths, one piece with three eighths, and one piece with one eighth.  Now make tight balls with each. Next, flatten the largest ball, and finally balance the other two on top, medium-sized ball in middle.

I’ll introduce this exercise in presence, patience, and balance to students next week.

And here is how it turned out.

Drawing Attention

Self-portraits on index cards from students on first-day of class yesterday in English 1301: Freshman Composition:

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And from English 2307: Introduction to Literature and Creative Writing:

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I distribute index cards at the beginning of each class and ask students to write their names and the date on one side and draw an image on the other.  These cards have two purposes.  I use them to track attendance, and I use the drawing exercise to help them dispel distractions and begin to focus on the work of the class to come.

As for the images, I ask them to draw all sorts of things, some related to the work of the class or what they did over the weekend or something related to their major or the weather.  What they draw is ultimately not as important as the act of drawing and the focusing of their attention.

At the end of the course, I return all of the index cards from the semester to the students as one way for them to review their journey through the class.

The Chorus in a Drunken Boat

I’m happy to say that my comic poem “The Chorus” has been published in Drunken Boat 24.

This was a poem that I wrote for my wife and then converted into a comic using Powerpoint to create the panels, text, and simple images, most prominently a small white circle that repeats throughout.  Here are the first two panels.

Sample The Chorus Comic

Thanks to Nick at Drunken Boat for accepting my comic poem.

My other comic poems have been co-created with my daughter Myra, including an alternating comic composition here, an exposition of our collaborations here, a published comic in Ink Brick 3# here and another in Ink Brick #5 here.  Our comic “Blue” is also to be included in the “Language Meets Art” exhibition at LUHCA December 2, 2016 through January 28, 2017.

Myra and I also collaborated on an academic article “Drawing is Learning” in comic format in the Journal for the Assembly of Expanded Perspectives on Learning here.

Drawing to Learn Comics

Here is a slideshow of comics from my upper division Reading Graphic Novels class. (See slideshow toggle at top right of flickr screen.)   Here’s a sample image:

Midterm Comic Sample copy

The midterm assignment asked students to draw the life of comic or cartoon artist in at least 12 panels and 3 colors. Out of the 20 students in the class, no one chose the same artist. That’s kind of a miracle.