Learning how to doodle

One of my new adventures includes (slowly) teaching myself how to be a better graphic facilitator and visual recorder.

Elsa and me working at Design with Dialogue at OCAD

I’m doing my homework: I’m scouring the internet. I’m reading and learning from the work of others. Each and every day I challenge myself to draw something new, whether it’s drawing a cartoon panel, translating notes from a Ted talk, or copying images from RSA Animate, or creating caricatures of my loved ones. I’m keeping a notebook journal of icons and visual symbols, I’m buying Sharpie Flip Chart markers in bulk, and I’m posting my work on my Playthink website.

The payoff for all this work has been big. Over the past month I’ve had the honor of working with urban agriculture activists, neighborhood activists, climate change scientists, city government planners, academics, and designers. Within one week I found myself sketching at Toronto’s Design with Dialogue session on “Enabling Arab-Jewish Dialogue”  and scribing at a healing weekend in Dayton for the Ohio Aids Coalition. Visual recording and reflection is quite powerful for people who have grown weary of Powerpoint and word-dense, talking-head meetings.

I’m learning that doodles have the power not just to record, but to transform conversation. Connections are easy to make between abstract content and concrete action. Slippery statements are captured and quiet voices are amplified. Participants with short little attention spans (who doesn’t have those?) tell me that watching the pictures helps them to focus and concentrate.

Learning how to sketch words into pictures has been a lifelong process. Doodling was a means of survival for me in school. When I scribbled in my notebooks, lectures seemed to sink in better than if I tried to take notes. As an adult, doodling helped me to survive countless meetings that might have otherwise crushed my spirit to pieces.

As a reading specialist in public high school, I found that nearly all of my struggling students were visual or kinesthetic learners. I shared my doodles and  Tony Buzan’s mindmapping techniques with students who couldn’t otherwise sit still.  And now, it seems, visual methods enhance learning for nearly everyone. I’m receiving some of my most enthusiastic feedback from even the most  geeky, linear, sequential, verbal types.

Visual engagement is powerful. I hope to learn much more. The next step in my Slow Learning process is to connect with other graphic and visual practitioners. This is the scary part for me. I’ll need to swallow my pride a bit and show them what I’ve done. I’ll need to swallow my pride even more and ask them what I need to do.