A language we forget to speak

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“Young children love to draw. Hours are lost immersed in the glorious world of imagination, and this activity plays a vital role in their development. But as adolescents, most of us stop. Inhibitions creep in and ideas of good and bad terminate confidence. At this point, many will insist they cannot draw, yet still turn to drawing when their verbal language fails or is inadequate. We do not hesitate to draw a map, for example, to help a stranger see their way.” Sarah Simblet – The Drawing Book

In my workshops, participants are often horrified when I suggest that they make a drawing instead of describing a situation verbally. They often claim that they ‘can’t draw a straight line with a ruler’ or apologise profusely for the quality of their sketch. However, once immersed in the task, and understanding that the artistic merit is not the point of the exercise, they remember the visual language they have always known but rarely used since early schooldays. They have retained a visual vocabulary they thought they had lost. (The fact that they’ve been reading this language in the form of advertising, art, roadsigns and so on all their lives means they’re pretty fluent already. ‘Speaking’ visually is just a matter of practice.)

Communicating the essentials works whether you’re showing someone how to assemble a piece of furniture, or describing new concepts, a conflict or a challenge. Sometimes pictures translate those essentials better than words. Try it and you’ll (literally) see what I mean.

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