Activity 16 - Thinking Visually

Tuesday, 06 December 2011 04:38

Maurice Gibbons (c) 2008 Personal Power Press International


1. People usually work with words, but adding images can double your powers.
2. You will learn five visual methods that will energize your thinking, your journal, and your work.
3. Use montages to create, remember, archive and provoke.
4. Use graphs to vividly summarize data.
4. Use diagrams to capture the essence of structures and processes.
5. Use memory trees to explore, summarize, and remember information.
6. Start drawing ideas now! Take 10 paces then turn and draw.
7. Build your repertoire until a major portion of your journal—and your thinking—is visuals.

Work with images as well as words.

We become familiar with thinking in words and we are taught to think in words, but images play an equally important role in all of our mental activity, communication, and productivity. At least half of our brain functions in images. We imagine, dream, create and discover in images and in our ancient beginnings, images were all we had to work with. There weren’t many quotations left on the walls of Lascaux Caves. Words give expression to a fraction of what we see; images represent much more than words can say.

Leaning to sharpen your visual skills will significantly increase your ability to think, create and remember. In this activity you will use five visual methods that will enhance your journal-keeping and your productivity. Here is the first, and the easiest.

1. Use montages to create, remember, archive, and provoke.


To put it briefly, paste stuff in your journal. Use a gluestick to paste in anything that you consider important. Print off useful information you find in a website or from your own computer creations—ideas, plans, poems, stories—and paste them in.
Montage is a composite picture. It can be many things: a collection, for instance, of family pictures from different times, or a scrapbook-style page in which you collect momentos of a particular project, trip, or event—tickets, bills, blueprints, brochures, newspaper articles, for example, which you display artfully, using wholes or parts of things, organizing and overlapping them to create a memorable picture.

Montage can also be an art form in which you choose and arrange pieces to create a new pattern or picture.

A sculptor’s provocation page

You may also choose to keep a record of the things you do, an archive of photographs of the products you create, the garden you plant, for example, or the business you launch. This can be the beginning of a portfolio of your work, which is your testament of what you have achieved.

These montages can also be provocations. Artists, architects, or designers for example, can collect pictures of works they admire and make montages of them in their journals to provoke new ideas for their own work.

Cut—or tear—and paste to make your journal more visual.

Scrapbooking is an art in itself. There are special stores selling scrapbook supplies, and there are books available full of ideas for making special pages.

Put all of these ideas to work. Make paste-in, scrapbook, and provocation pages. Make them useful. Here are suggestions if you need them:

* Find an article in the newspaper about a topic that interests you. Cut it out and paste it into your journal.

* Make a scrapbook page about your latest trip. Include a map that shows your route, pictures of highlights, and notes about what you observed and experienced.

* Choose a current pursuit or one you hope to begin. Collect or create stunning pictures of the activity and paste them on one page in your journal. Add comments or titles if you wish, although provocations usually stand pretty well on their own

2. Use graphs to summarize data vividly.

The meaning and significance of sheets of data are often much clearer when they are presented visually. That is the power of graphs—pie, bar, and linear graphs. They can also guide us by presenting information so we can instantly understand it visually.

The pie graph is useful to display the division of anything into amounts or proportions. It will show, for example, what proportion of a day that you spend on each of your basic activities; sleep, work, meals, TV, your computer-cellphone-PDA, and so on.

Try it. In your journal draw a circle. Divide it into four parts, and then divide each part into six even parts. This will give you 24 sections of one hour each. Make a list of the sections that represent what you do each day along with how long you spend doing each of them, and then record those amounts as sections of your pie graph (see the pie graph above).

The bar graph is useful to compare items on any criteria or dimension. You can, for example, let each column represent the amount that each country spends on military expenditures and show the amounts on the left hand margin.

You can also make a bar graph of military spending in sample years and use them to track the history of military spending by that country, or any other feature for which you can find data. As you can imagine, just from this example, bar graphs—graphs in general—can be very useful in communicating information quickly and clearly, and therefore, can be very helpful in making a powerful argument.

The line graph is useful to show the progress of anything over time. The vertical dimension is amount; the horizontal dimension is time. Using different lines for different things (as above) provides dramatic contrast and a picture of history. In it we see the end of vinyl records and the ascendance of CDs.

Make a quick bar graph of what you spend your money on—food, rent, transportation, entertainment, etc. And then make a line graph that traces your earnings over the last five to ten years. Use any other topics that interest you rather than these suggestions, but get the graphs into your repertoire.

3. Use diagrams to capture the essence of structures and processes

Diagrams show connections. They can present the parts of things, the organization of things, or the stages of a process much more economically and accurately than would be possible in words.

Making a diagram of a body of information forces us to think through the basic structure and content so we can present them accurately and completely.

What we present should be a clear and orderly depiction of the content. When it is, a diagram is a very helpful illustration of any verbal content.

What we are creating is a first-rate learning device. The diagram presents the skeleton of ideas that can summarize a book, outline a process, show the structure of an organization, or name the parts of a complex machine. In a single page, it can put all of this at your finger-tips for study.

You can also use a diagram for a quick brush-up on a topic just before an interview, test, or conference. The illustrations are pretty simple; you can include a lot more information than these demonstrate.

This section starts with three kinds of diagrams or charts—there are many more. Practice these even in simplified form.

* Make a chart of an organization that you belong to or find interesting. * Make a radial or breakout diagram of ways you can use to keep informed, or to show the parts of anything that interests you. * Make a diagram of the process you use to manage your living space, or any other process that interests you.

Milton McClaren, a dynamic educator, translates much of what he is learning or thinking about into process diagrams that show the connections among things. In the example below, note that he uses colour and pictures, too, which add emphasis and clarity to the model, and make it easier to remember.

4. Use memory trees to explore, summarize, and remember bodies of information.

Trees or webs or maps are a special form of diagram in which information and ideas are summarized and connected. Each item is usually identified with a single word or a tight phrase. The items are connected to show their relationships and sequence. For further ideas, see books by Tony Buzan, the master of what he calls, “mind-maps.”

Notice that images are used in the memory map to emphasize the ideas. Colour is often used to highlight key concepts. A little red would enliven the “Happiness” map above.

Make a memory map of your strengths (see activity #4). (If there is a subject that you prefer, use it) Select only key ideas. Use just a word for each item—at most, a phrase. Group items that go together. Organize items in sequence, if that is important to the subject. Connect items and groups of items when that clarifies and adds meaning. Add some little drawings that make the key ideas memorable.

The memory map is a great design to use whenever you have to pull everything together for projects, presentations, or exams.

5. Start drawing ideas now!

There is no way around it. If you are going to keep a journal and be generative, you have to draw. If you don’t, you will lose too many ideas.

This is not about art, unless you are an artist; it is about having ideas and getting them down in any visual way you can. The more you do the better you will become. Everybody can learn to draw.


If you need a starter, just doodle. Put your pen or pencil on the paper and let it run, making any shapes it will. Break the tyranny of your logical mind--silence it--and let your imagination guide the pencil or pen. If you see something developing in the doodle, go with it, as the doodler did with bird shapes in the doodle-page above.

Your logical left brain thinks it knows all about the object you are drawing and so will over-ride what you actually see and “correct” your drawing. Part of our struggle is to see and to get what we see onto the paper. Another way to break free and draw what you see is to work on what we call the “stare contour (see above).”

Find an interesting object. Place it before you—or you before it. Stare at this object and don’t look away from it. Place your pencil tip on the paper and begin to draw the outline of what you see until the outline drawing is complete. Your line will be all over the place but you will be doing the single most important thing about learning to draw; you will be seeing.

Contour drawing is described by the great teacher, Kimon Nicoliades in The Natural Way to Draw.

Darwin was not an artist, but that funny little drawing of a tree keeps appearing in his journals and became the guiding image for his great theory of the evolution of the species. In Edison’s notes, a scrawly sketch of a lightbulb suddenly appears almost exactly as we know it a hundred years later. A perfect visualization.

The point is, get the image down in the best form you can. Never let a good one get away.

When you draw, look as closely as possible—using your laser eye--at what you are drawing, Make a quick sketch of the basic shapes first as a guide to your careful drawing—as in the frame-sketch of a drawing mannequin below.

Get a little better every time you draw. Once you start to draw what you see and the ideas that you have, you can later look back and see how far you have progressed. This is the only measure that matters.

Find an object that interests you. Spend a great deal of time looking at the object as you did in contour. Sketch the frame, the basic shapes, the arrangement and proportion of things. Your challenge is to make it better than the last one.

Keep developing your visual thinking skills

Use these five visual-thinking techniques intentionally until they become available to you automatically when the occasion arises. There are many more visual-thinking techniques, and further refinements in each of these five. Keep adding to your visual repertoire and to your skill in using them.

As you practice and develop visual presentation in drawings, diagrams, and graphs, also practice translating presentation into

imagination in visualizing, brainstorming, and daydreaming about the projects and problems you are working on.

Try, for example, to use Einstein’s idea of mental experiments in which you imagine situations related to your activity and play them through in “What would happen if...” mind-movie scenarios. One of Albert’s involved riding light waves so don’t hesitate to be wild.

Engage your visual imagination whenever you can. Add images to words and you greatly increase your ability to think, imagine, learn, and remember.

Alright, take ten paces then turn and ....


Drawings by MAGI

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 December 2011 22:20