Category Archives: Visual Thinking

Drawing the Learning Organization

Dear Dave,

My wife, Marie-Clare, and I decided to read The Connected Company together and have our own little discussion group.  She’s a training and communication specialist in human resources.  I’m an academic department chair.   This morning, we were talking about the first couple of chapters, and I began to sketch out my understanding of what a connected organization might look like.

Here’s the first sketch I made as we were talking.

Learning Notecard First

And the second one just after we finished our discussion.

Second Sketch

Because we work for a university, I was trying to think of what a “connected learning” organization might look like.  I realize that’s probably redundant.

Learning Organization xy

So yeah, I began with multi-variable chart.

Learning Organization xy  with flexible

And I was thinking of the vertical axis representing the degree to which a company can be flexible in understanding and responding to the needs of its customers (and employees or students).  I thought originally this would be called something like “responsiveness,” but Marie-Clare rightly identified it as the organizational structure or company hierarchy.

Learning Organization 3

And then I was thinking about the degree to which it might be too rigid in its organizational structure or bureaucracy to understand or respond effectively.

On the horizontal axis, I was thinking of the available resources a company employs, such as its people, materials, equipment, and financial assets.

Learning Organization 4

In the worst of situations, we experience the inability to hire and replace personnel or we don’t have access to the resources we need to manufacture or serve our customers effectively, or even to invest in new projects.

Learning Organization 5

At the other end of the resources spectrum, we are fluid, not only in the sense that we have the resources we need, but that we can easily access the resources we need for the customers we want or as customer needs change.

Learning Organization 6

Then I began to think about the quadrants on this chart and what might be located within those relationships.

Learning Organization 7

I was thinking about the emotional effects on employees when working in a company with the lack of resources it needs and an organizational structure unable to serve itself and its customers.

Learning Organization 8

On the opposite end of that emotional spectrum would be the feelings we might have when working for a responsive organization with the resources to fulfill its vision, mission, and strategic goals.

But what about those other two quadrants?

Learning Organization 9

I would think it would have to be quite frustrating if an organization has a flexible structure but no resources to fulfill its objectives.  But if the organization is working to gain the resources necessary, leadership would have the opportunity to point to the courage necessary to follow the company’s strategy, to speak hopefully about the potential for new engagement with customers, and the new opportunities and freedoms that would come with success.

Learning Organization

In the final quadrant is a reminder that even though resources may be plentiful, a rigid organizational structure can result in stagnation via unresponsiveness to customer needs, as well as the resulting decline in revenue, leading eventually perhaps to further oppressive rigidity, fear, despair, and isolation from its customers.

I’m guessing, Dave, you’ve probably thought of all of this before, or perhaps you’ll be talking more about these ideas and the emotional terrain in chapters to come.  But I just wanted to share how your book has prompted our thinking so far here in West Texas about the responsiveness of learning organizations.  (In addition, because any family or relationship might be considered a learning organization, it’s possible this visual might also be applied to those as well.  Marriage, for example.)

Onward in kindness,




Illustrating My Song

After reading at the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers conference last week in Dallas, I had several nice comments from folks on a poem I read “My Song.”

My Song another version

Last night, I talked to my daughter Myra about illustrating it and turning it into a picture book or poster or both.   Here’s a draft sketch I drew this morning of a comic version (with the poem divided by line or phrase) for what might be a color 11X17 poster with images drawn by Myra.  Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

My Song Design Draft


My New Drawing Table

I have for some time been wanting a drawing table in my office here at school.  However, my office is already pretty crowded with furniture: my desk, a conference table, bookshelves, and a storage cabinet. I was even thinking about getting a portable drawing stand could put on top of my conference table.

Then last week, in preparation for classes, I was cleaning out a closet in one of our classrooms, and found this old abandoned dictionary table.

Book Table Before

“That,” I said to myself, “has some potential.”  So I took it home, glued and hammered some new trim on the front, and painted it black to coordinate with my other furniture.  I now have a little drawing table that I can roll anywhere, and it’s just the right size for drawing my Tex cartoons.

Drawing Table After


A Comic Article Submission

Back in June I mentioned I was drafting an article in comic format for a journal.

And the 10 page draft looked like this:

First Draft of Comic for JAEPL #20And after struggling with the drawing of the comic for awhile, I decided it made more sense to contact my daughter Myra, an artist/illustrator living in Brooklyn, to see if she would like to be my co-author and translate my ideas into comic format.   Well, this last weekend, we finished a 12 page comic (show below) titled “Drawing is Learning: To Understand and To Be Understood,” and I sent it in to the editors of JAEPL this morning.

Drawing is Learning on TableAnd here below are a couple of pages in more detail: page 2 and the notes/resources page for which I decided to use notes rather numbers for the notes.


DisL11 (1)


Now we wait!

Final Comic Expo in Reading Graphic Novels

About two weeks ago, I described my summer Reading Graphic Novels course and my students’ remarkable midterm comics.


Today, they submitted their final comics to share with the class.  And WOW!


We also had donuts.


For this assignment, I asked my students to compose a comic of at least 2 pages and 12 panels and 3 colors that communicates a thematically or emotionally unified personal narrative.

Final Comic 4381 Summer 2014_005

There were also to include annotations on the comic vocabulary they used while drawing their comics.


The annotations would appear on a separate page, typed or handwritten, that detail the comic vocabulary used in panels selected for annotation.


They were to refer to the comic vocabulary used by panel number and page number.  For example, the comic vocabulary of a motion lines used in panel 1 on page 1 would be signified as follows:  P1P1: motion lines.


They were required to include at least 10 annotations from the following list, and none could be repeated. 

  • Bordered panel
  • Panel border
  • Panel with no border
  • Gutter
  • Motion lines
  • Emanata
  • Inset panel
  • Panel within panel
  • Narrative box
  • Speech bubble
  • Thought balloon
  • Close up
  • Medium shot
  • Long shot
  • Polyptych
  • Image echo
  • Transition – moment to moment *
  • Transition—action to action *
  • Transition—subject to subject *
  • Transition—scene to scene *
  • Transition—aspect to aspect *
  • Transition—non sequitor *

* Each transition annotation should explain how the transition works between the panels.


Here below is a slideshow of photos of today’s class along with closer views of the amazing comics they created.  Choose fullscreen and pause for closer inspection of comics.  You can also access the slideshow here.

When I Was 6 X 6

Monday, June 30, 2014

This morning in my “Reading Graphic Novels” class, I asked students to draw a picture of themselves when they were 6 years old and then to develop a 6 panel comic based upon an experience they had during that time in their lives.

Because they have a Final Comic Assignment due in two days, I thought I’d give them a chance to draft something this morning that they might develop further into a 12 panel comic for this week.

First, I showed them an example or two of Lynda Barry’s “Marlys” comics to give them an idea of what might be possible.

Then I asked them to draw a portrait of how they looked at 6.  I also asked them to think about what clothes they might be wearing, what games or toys they played with, and the relationships they had with siblings and friends.

Next, I asked them to draw a narrative box in which they wrote, “I am [their name], and I am [some activity].”

After letting them draw and write for about 10 minutes, I then passed out blank 4 X 6 inch note cards and asked them to draw a 6 panel comic based upon their portrait and brief narrative.  After 15 minutes, I asked them to share their comics with each other, and then asked if anyone would like to share theirs with the class on the document camera.  About 8 students volunteered.

Here’s the one I sketched quickly;

My Job My Job_001 My Job_002 My Job_003 My Job_004 My Job_005I’m happy with what my students were able to sketch out for comics in the limited time I gave them.  Now I see that this is an exercise I could use in any class to prompt personal narrative writing.  I will definitely use this exercise in my creative writing class in the second summer session starting next Wednesday.  I’m also happy with what I learned about myself at the end of my comic.

Drawing is Learning

Monday, June 23, 2014.  San Angelo, Texas.

Today in class, I led my students through an exercise in which I asked them to remember one of their earliest memories, to write about that memory, and then to draw a 6 panel comic that captured the emotional content of that memory.

Memorial Day

This summer I am teaching an upper division special topics English course at Angelo State University titled “Reading Graphic Novels.”  For the course, students are reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen, Joe Sacco’s Palestine, and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.  (The syllabus for this course is here.)

In the Comics

In response to the daily reading assignments, students submit responses in the form of drawings.  These drawings use the “handmade thinking” technique I’ve developed wherein students choose among 21 visual formats that will serve as the basis for their drawings.  These visual formats or templates include common icons or images, such as a portrait, a web, a before and after sequence, a venn diagram, scales, layers, and a map.  (More on handmade thinking here.)


Students also have two major assignments in which they are to draw comics.  At midterm, I asked them to draw a comic of at least 2 pages, 12 panels, and 3 colors about an influential cartoonist or graphic novelist.  (A slideshow of their midterm comics is here.)  For their final, they will draw a comic with the same formal requirements, but this comic will be a personal narrative that has a emotionally or thematically unified content.  A slice of life or snapshot of some experience they’ve had.


The purpose of today’s activity was to provide them practice in accessing memorable experiences and converting those memories into a comic of 6 panels.  Because students have been studying comics and its visual vocabulary, as well as drawing two handmade responses each day, they have become quite comfortable and adept at drawing.  They know by now that visual analysis and composition is a mode of language learning and expression that is rarely taught in school when compared to textual literacy.

Literacy Shift

But they are now, after three short weeks of practice and very basic drawing instruction, pretty proficient at using images through their own drawings to capture their responses to the comics and graphic novels we are reading.  And their midterm comics were exceptional in their representation of the lives of influential comic artists and graphic novelists.

But in today’s exercise, I wanted them to sketch a comic out of their own experience, rather than in response to another text or subject.  And just as importantly, I wanted them to visualize and represent the emotional content of that experience.

Do It Yourself

So I asked them to close their eyes and consider that the memories they hold in their visual warehouse of memories were only stored there because they had emotional significance.  And I wanted them to go back into the farthest reaches of this warehouse, to the very back wall of the warehouse, to the place where they put their earliest memories, and to bring one of those into the light so they could see it better.


I then asked them to write about this memory for awhile.  And when it looked like most had captured that memory in words, I asked them to translate that memory into 6 panels of a comic.  I told them not to worry about having to include narrative boxes or dialogue but to focus on the emotional content of the images that might best depict this memory for others.


After they had shared these comics with each other, I then asked them to add an additional panel to the beginning of their comic and to add another panel at the end of their comic.  For the new first panel, I asked them to draw an establishing shot that might help their reader get a sense of where the action of their comic was taking place.  It could be a drawing of a house or a neighborhood or a larger perspective of a room.  For the final panel, I asked them to draw a close-up of an object that was already in one of their panels, an image that might assist in expressing the emotion of the memory.  After completing these additional panels, I asked students to share their comics again and talk about the changes they made and how these added panels contributed to the emotional content of the comics.

Contact Info

All I was trying to do in class today was help them prepare for their final comic assignment by giving them a chance to practice retrieving their memories, drafting a comic, and focusing on the visual representation of emotional content.  This exercise is similar to those we often use in a creative or first-year writing class to help students write out of their own experiences.

Poetry Workshop

But my teaching experience tells me that using visual language to communicate those emotions has a different kind of power for the artist and reader than words might.  As an engagement strategy, as a tool for learning and communicating, drawing has served my students well.  And it’s a damn shame we don’t promote visual language learning and performance in schools for all students.  My faith in the word has become stronger in school, but I have had to gain faith in the image on my own, like most artists do.  I’d like to see a drawing-across-the-curriculum agenda adopted by schools and colleges everywhere.  Drawing is thinking and learning and understanding and communicating, too.  Why limit the languages available to us?  Let us expand our perspectives on learning.


A Comic Draft for JAEPL

First Draft of Comic for JAEPL #20

The editors over at JAEPL are planning a special issue for their 20th annual issue, and they invited me among others to submit an article that “either updates or takes a retrospective look at the research you’ve done and the effect you believe it had not only upon your own scholarship and teaching, but on that of others.”

They asked for something between 4000-5000 words.  Given that I’m now teaching a graphic novels class that also asks my students to try their hand at drawing comics, I asked them if they’d take a comic from me that surveys the work I’ve been doing in visual thinking.

Here above is a photo of a 10 page rough draft of a comic I quickly sketched out today.  It’s tentatively titled “To Understand and To Be Understood: Drawing as Learning.”

Gosh, that was fun.

I’m wondering now if there are academic journals out there yet that only accept work in comic format.

What about it, Nick Sousanis?


Visual Agenda 1st Day

first day visual agenda 6-2- 14Here is the visual agenda for the first day of class next week in my summer Reading Graphic Novels class.  Given the course topic, I’m trying to draw as many examples of sequential art as possible in my teaching of this course and the lesson plan or agenda for the class is a good way for me to show that.

  • Panel 1 = introductions
  • Panel 2 = review the syllabus
  • Panel 3 = ask questions about the syllabus
  • Panel 4 = diagnostic on what students already know about graphic novels and comics
  • Panel 5 = lecture and workshop on visual thinking
  • Panel 6 = homework for next class

More on this class here.

More on my use of visual agendas here.


A Comic Syllabus Complete

In my previous post, I explained I would be creating a syllabus in comic format for my graphic novels course this summer, primarily inspired by Austin Kleon’s mention of Lynda Barry’s forthcoming Syllabus and because I would be having them draw comics as well.

Yesterday, I completed the project, and here is a photo of all of the elements I used in the process of creating this syllabus spread out on the table in my office.

Table of Show Your Work Comics Syllabus

At top are the four books we’ll be reading in the course: Watchmen, Understanding Comics, Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, and Palestine.  Top left is a draft of the syllabus in text format, and at top on the right is the extra large Moleskine notebook I used for drawing the comic pages.  On top of the notebook is the comic page template for laying out the different pages, and these pages are spread out there below the four books.  After drawing each page with my trusty Pilot G-2 07, I scanned the page into Photoshop, cleaned things up a bit, and used the paint bucket tool for simple coloring.  In the center of the photo is the 12 page 5.5 X 8.5 inch comic syllabus booklet I will give to my students June 2.

Here are the pages in color, starting with the cover.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_01

I wanted to create a version of myself as narrator to include in the comic, so I chose something simple, given my rudimentary drawing skills.  This idea of the continual presence of a narrator primarily comes from Scott McCloud’s presentation of himself in Understanding Comics, but also from Lynda Barry’s work in One Hundred Demons and What It is.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_03

OK.  Speech balloons or narrative boxes?  I couldn’t really decide.  So a mix along the way.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_04

Part of the challenge of drawing this comic was adhering to university and State of Texas guidelines about what course syllabi must include, such as outcomes and assessments above.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_05

Another challenge was to include visual information without over-explaining or being too dependent upon text, such as the bottom image above which describes the process of incorporating hand drawn responses in the life of the classroom.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_06

In the image above, I wanted to give students a quick sense of the arc of this short summer session of about 5 weeks and where the major reading assignments and projects would fall.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_07

And here is the second page of the inside spread.  It’s another requirement of course syllabi that each day’s topic or assignment be designated, so I tried to create a coding system and schedule that would augment or expand upon the previous page.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_08

This above is my favorite page.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_09

I use contract grading in all of my classes now.  A fuller visual explanation of the minimum requirements for handmade responses and comics will take place in class.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_10

And above is a little more business again required of all syllabi, but still useful information.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_12

And finally, the back cover showing the 21 formats for handmade thinking that students can easily refer to.  They will be drawing two handmade responses for each class based on these simple visual templates.  More on handmade thinking here.

So there you have it, a pretty simple little comic that will serve as the visual syllabus for the class, but also demonstrate, I hope, how simple my students’ comics can be for the course, a course–by the way–for English majors and minors, and other students interested in visual storytelling.