Visual Thinker - head opt2


Tedx talk - a single story
There was a time when I didn’t think in pictures.

I mean, I think like I’ve always thunk, and I haven’t had the opportunity to step inside someone else’s head yet, so it’s not like I have a benchmark.

But if you were to say to me “Picture the Scene: You are on a remote island, walking barefoot along a white sandy beach on a gloriously sunny day…” I’d have trouble picturing it as such. But there are snippets of experience in there, and my brain is already running around trying to gather up my own experiences to match what’s being described. It’s a hodgepodge of feelings and glimpses and blank back-of-eyelids.

I could start to draw it through - as drawing anything is a journey with a hundred decisions along the way. I’d start with the sea, and draw a horizon, then some waves. The creation then starts to tell me about the details that surround it - the dhow a little way out, the coconut palm leaning towards the dhow. My eyes start to tell me what’s not right - the dhow’s sail, the flatness of the horizon line. The page starts suggesting what’s missing. I think about where the light is coming from and what that means for the shadows. Bright sun = dark shadows. And I realise I’ve dug into a memory from Zanzibar - a few days breather when my wife and I worked in nearby Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The remote island - scribble version
Then I’ll take a photo of what I’ve drawn and add it as a layer to a blank canvas in my drawing app on my iPad. I knock down the opacity, create a blank layer and start drawing over the top. This time, the proportions are already there, so I can think more about details, and take the rough ideas further. There’s a notion that to call yourself an artist, you should be able to draw something perfectly at the first time of asking. (Where does that come from?) But give yourself a break. If Leonardo needed sketches, then so do I.
dhow - ipad version
Once I’ve created an illustration - it’s there in my head - not because I took a photo with my eyes (I don’t know how to do that) but because I went through the process of creating it. It has become my experience.

When it came to giving a Tedx talk a few weeks ago, I decided to create a visual map of my talk, in order to remember it. And serendipitously, I tripped over a new drawing app for the ipad - “Concepts” - boasting of an infinite canvas feature. After spending an hour or two on a long train journey experimenting with it, I began to turn the narrative of my talk, consisting of 6 interlinking stories, into a visual story canvas.
Tedx talk opt
The story canvas itself is nothing. The process of creating it (and by doodling, encoding it) is what helps me remember it - but not in a photographic sense, more as a knowing or a sense of familiarity. It’s more like feeling your way around your own house when you get up for a pee in the middle of the night. There’s not much light, but you know where the doors, handles and - most importantly - the toilet is. You know how many landing steps there are and which door frames require ducking under (but maybe that’s just me…)

Thinking in pictures is something I’ll continue to experiment with. Ultimately, this one proved successful, as the TedX was the first memorised talk I’d given. But oh, how I wished I’d carried out these experiments whilst at school. In those days, I was under the impression that there was only one way to learn - the way the teacher had learned…



In the previous missive, I mentioned a place on Ireland’s wild west coast called Dog’s Bay. Thanks to Fintan who wrote in with this story:

The original name in Irish is Trá na Fheadóg (pronounced Tra na ah-DOGUE) which means Plover’s Beach – the machair is a site for nesting Plovers. When mapping Ireland in the 1800’s, the mappers were mainly English, who had the geographic expertise. They anglicised the names of places from the sound of the name in Irish and into what was the closest sounding word in English. So in this case “Fheadóg” sounded like “A Dog”, and it became “Dog’s Bay”. (Derry playwright Brian Friel has a famous play based on the English Victorians mapping in Donegal, called Translations).

So…. It became known as Dog’s Bay. About 20 years ago, someone stole the sign for the beach that had both the Irish and English names on it. Then about 10 years ago, Galway County Council decided to replace the stolen sign. Remarkably, and incredibly stupidly, they put a sign saying Dog’s Bay/Trá na Madra !! Madra is the Irish word for a Dog !!!!

So the poor beach has lost its name for the nesting plovers, and is now considered a mecca for Dog Owners who feel it is essentially a place to run their Madraí around on !!
Gone to the dogs
bryan in the canon


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