Journal Posts: Drawing

In Which He Tries to Walk the Line

Posted 24th January 2015

My five minute "blind" drawing challenge.

My go at the tricksy Five Minute Drawing Challenge. . .

Fancy a Five Minute Drawing Challenge™? It’s guaranteed to shake up your visual thinking. (And you know how us copywriters just love our guarantees.)

The idea’s simple. Scrunch up a ball of paper, and place it on your sketch pad.

Concentrate for a minute. Think about the shape you see.

Now pick up a pen in your non-drawing hand. Start drawing the ball, without looking at the line you’re making. Don’t take your pen off the page. Draw for five minutes. And remember, only look at the ball – never at your line.

When your time’s up, look at what you’ve drawn. What do you see? How does your line feel to you?

(You can see my attempt above.)

Thanks for reading.

And a big thanks to Mr Dean Melbourne and Miss Laura Pollard for setting me today’s challenge.

If you have any other visual experiments of your own, please get in touch.



In Which He Ventures into the Woods Lovely Dark and Deep

Posted 24th December 2014

Prep work for a project on forests and magic

Rough Sharpie sketch of a stag

Here’s a rough sketch of a stag I did with a Sharpie yesterday. It’s prep work for a project on forests and magic I’m planning with international fine artist Mr Dean Melbourne.

We’re not sure what shape the project will take yet. So we’ve decided to follow Mr David Lynch’s advice and listen to the idea. Hopefully it will lead us to some strange and enchanting places.

I’ll keep you updated on our progress. In the meantime, have a very Merry – and magical – Christmas.

Thanks for reading.

You can discover more about Mr Dean Melbourne here. Instagram fan? Then feel free to follow him.

Guest Post: Get Into Shape and Bring Your Colour Up (by Caitlin Watson)

Posted 16th December 2014

Can visual thinking helping you write better copy? Are colours and shapes the keys to more creative ideas? Guest poster Caitlin Watson shares her thoughts. . .

As a medical writer rather than a copywriter, I’m a bit of an interloper here, really.

I am, however, almost evangelical in my desire to get people thinking more visually.  To me, the key to an engaging story/portrayal of the facts (which, ultimately, is the aim of both professions IMO) is the marriage of words and pictures.

I love words.  It’s why I left the lab – as much as I liked planning experiments, etc., I derived much more enjoyment from finding a stimulating way to discuss the results, including graphs and pictures.  I used to leave the diagrams til last; firstly, to allow my thinking on the matter to crystalise…but also because finding a neat visual way of explaining something is a fun game.  It’s a similar satisfaction I feel when I find an every day analogy for explaining a complicated scientific concept.

The scientific part of me is most likely responsible for my levels of organisation, and some people can be a little intimidated by my colour-coded systems etc.  What they don’t realise is that these approaches are actually pre-emptive laziness (or efficiency, if you want to use kinder language).  If I work out a good way to do something once, why would I waste my time thinking of it all over again? 

It’s fine to revisit ideas with a view to improving them, but starting from scratch each time uses up time that could be spent in other directions.  A great diagram or visual concept has the same effect – you don’t need as many words, as things become self-explanatory. 

Brave and effective writing

I think we’ve all read bad copy, where you feel the person doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about, and is just throwing lots of big words at the page in an attempt to cover it up.  Braver, more effective writing is concise and to the point, and can really be boosted by a great figure <wolf-whistle, cartoon eyes on stalks>.

Decisions I have to make most frequently, such as determining the best type of graph to show data are perhaps less likely for copywriters deal with, but there is plenty of cross-over where both could benefit from flexing different parts of the brain to think in pictures, particularly when it comes to presentations.

I did a bit of research into visual thinking a while back, and unless you’re willing to spend a lot on some books, most of the stuff on the internet tells us about not having more than 5 bullets on a slide, not to just read the slide out yaddah yaddah.  But what I’m really interested in is to dissect how one could start thinking in a more creative way.

Shape it

After sitting down and having a bit of a think whilst looking back at previous effective diagrams/presentations, here’s a few points that struck me:

1) Are you struggling to describe a concept? Is the paragraph you’ve written meandering and dissatisfying? A sure fire clue that you either need a diagram to figure out how you’re going to explain it, or that the diagram should actually go into the piece

2) Are you discussing a few different elements? How do they relate to each other? Is there a way to visually represent this?

Shaping up table3) Might seem like a bit of a shortcut, but have a look at the “smart art” options within PowerPoint – they show a few different ways of representing lists, hierarchies, flow diagrams etc. that might inspire you

4) This is definitely a cheat (within reason; plagiarism is not on, yo)– have you worked up an idea before that wasn’t used, or that worked well with another client? You could easily use this as the starting point, rather than going back to the beginning of the process.  Why go from scratch when something done previously might give you a leg up? (told you I was lazy)

5) It’s important to remember that diagrams shouldn’t be MENSA tests.  Sometimes something more abstract is called for, but if it’s too obscure, it’s going to detract from the copy.  Run them past someone, and if it requires too much explanation, you might need to think again

Experiment with colours

Finally, colours and diagrams can also make running projects easier – don’t save all the fun for your deliverables.  If there’s a project with a few looming deadlines, taking the time to create a quick table/spreadsheet by week (or day if the timescale is shorter), colour coded in a traffic-light system means you can see at a glance which bits of the project require immediate attention internally, or which bits are the client’s responsibility, rather than yours.

Shaping up excel sheetThis type of status sheet can also make client calls go more smoothly, as long as you keep it fairly simple.  Too many colours and you might feel trapped in a kaleidoscope, equally unclear as to what’s going on.

Hopefully these ideas might provide a starting place for livening up your copy – I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to hear other people’s tips for thinking pictorially.

Thanks for reading.

About Caitlin

Caitlin is a medical writer with a special interest in thinking more visually. If you’re not doing so already, you can follow her on Twitter here.

In Which a New Way of Creative Thinking Begins to Take Shape

Posted 25th November 2014

Here’s a one minute creative task to get your brain going.

Grab a pen and paper, and in sixty seconds draw the word “year” as a shape. Mark on the months if that helps. Go!

Finished? Nice job.

Understandably, many people set this task draw one of two shapes – a straight line or a plain circle:

Two Ways to Think About a Year

Two Ways to Think About a Year

But can basic shapes like these really convey the idea of a year? Maverick 1960s ad man Howard Gossage didn’t think so. To Howard, a year was “an irregular figure closer to a triangle than anything else.*” Here’s how he drew it:

Howard Gossage's Idea of a Year

Howard Gossage’s Idea of a Year

Like lots of folks, Howard felt some months flew by more quickly than others. That’s why the shape of his year dips, flattens, and then climbs sharply from September until Christmas.

So while Howard believed that ideas have shapes, his drawing suggests they’re often more intriguing and personal than you might first think. And that by thinking about your ideas more creatively, you may be able to have more creative ideas.

Do ideas have colours too?

Howard’s wife Sally has an equally interesting take on things. Sally sees all her ideas as colours. To her, a year isn’t like a triangle at all. Instead, Howard tells us, a year resembles a:

“child’s hoop. . .with the rim divided into brightly colored segments representing months, weeks and days. Holidays have special colours: Christmas is yellow, New Year’s is brown, her mother’s birthday is orange, and Halloween is black. I should also mention that only the holiday Halloween is black, the word Halloween is green.”

According to Howard, Sally’s visual year starts on August 4th – “halfway between the Fourth of July, which is fittingly pink and orange, and my birthday, which is emerald green.”

Follow the yellow brick road. . .

I think it’s important to be super clear about what we’re talking about here. Presenting your ideas in visual form is one thing. Chances are we’ve all used charts, diagrams, and graphs at some point.

But what we’re talking about now is thinking about ideas themselves as colours and shapes. As a creative from a writing background, this is a whole new world to me. And it feels a bit like a jump from black and white to Technicolor.

If you have a brain like Howard or Sally, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about.  But if you’re lucky enough to think in colours and shapes as well as words, what’s to stop the rest of us learning to join you?

I’ve already been chatting to Dean Melbourne, Jenny Theolin, and Cait Watson about putting this new insight to practical creative use.  As always, this talented trio have given me lots to ponder. Updates to follow soon.

In the meantime, why not try shaking up your own way of approaching ideas?

Thanks for reading.

All of Howard’s quotes come from his article “The Shape of an Idea and How to Draw One”. You can find it in “The Book of Gossage”.

To discover more about this remarkable advertising man, check out Steve Harrison’s outstanding book “Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.

The technical term for thinking in colours is synesthesia.

In Which He Enjoys a Damn Fine Cup of Coffee and Draws a New Conclusion

Posted 24th September 2014

David Lynch

My sketch of Mr David Lynch

Have you read “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity” by the director and artist Mr David Lynch? It’s the great man’s guide to having more and better creative ideas.

I bought my copy recently, as recommended by the fine artist – and even finer fellow – Mr Dean Melbourne. Although I haven’t finished the book yet, already I’m feeling inspired to try new things. As such, writing a book review seemed a bit of an obvious tack for a writer to follow.

So I put down my  (damn fine) cup of coffee, picked up a Sharpie, and drew a quick sketch of Mr Lynch. You can see the results above. It’s the first drawing I’ve done since I left school back in *cough* *cough*.

And while my effort isn’t all that, it certainly shook up my way of thinking about creative problems.

Maybe you could try a different tool for your next job too?

Thanks for reading.

Mr David Lynch is the man behind Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet (to name a few). You can buy his book here.

You can explore Mr Melbourne’s work on this website.