Thinking through Comics with Nick Sousanis’s Grids & Gestures


This week, comics artist and scholar Nick Sousanis has drawn many into a creative comics-making activity that can be great for thinking about visual communication in and out of the classroom. Nick Sousanis is known for his incredible comic dissertation-turned-book, Unflatteningrecently released from Harvard University Press. This exercise, “Grids and Gestures,” is a type of visual diary-making that encourages playful thinking and mark-making without trying to represent “things” as much as concepts. As Nick Sousanis explains in his announcement:

Having briefly thought about this, I want you to take a single sheet of paper (any size, shape will do) and drawing with a pencil or pen, carve it up in some grid-esque fashion that represents the shape of your day. It can be this day, a recent day, a memorable day, or a typical/amalgamation day. And then inhabit these spaces you’ve drawn on the page with lines, marks, or gestures that represent your activity or emotional state during those times represented. The emphasis here is to do your best to not draw things. (You can always do that later!) And also, you can leave space blank on your page – but that has to mean something. This isn’t writing where you can finish a final sentence mid-page. Every inch of the composition is important in comics – so be aware of that as well. Finally, when I do this in class or with groups, I give people about 5-10 minutes to do it, so they have to make decisions quickly. Try to give yourself a similar limit.

The concept is similar to approaches to napkin drawing or sketchnotes, which are great ways of visually thinking through a problem. However, the time-based structure and use of comic-esque grids that Nick Sousanis suggests also ties it to cool exercises such as 24-Hour Comic Day. I find it hugely helpful to have something clearly defined and simple to play with each day, and I can see using this exercise with my design students inspired by different prompts (what does it look like to translate a chapter of a novel into grids and gestures? A playthrough of a game?)

You can read more about Nick’s “Grids and Gestures” exercise (along with awesome examples) in the Sequential Art Narrative in Education (SANE) journal. Lots of people are posting their attempts to Twitter this week under the hashtag #gridsgestures.

Have you given it a try? Share your experiences in the comments!

[Image above is my attempt at said exercise]

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