Sketch 10: Tell a True Story

Due: 04/20

Tag: sk10

In the week or two leading up to this assignment, be on the lookout for a moment that is worth representing in a comic — watch for some sort of small adventure you might take, or a conversation you are part of, or a conversation you hear, and as you come upon them take notes for yourself and maybe make quick little sketches or take photos to capture images for later. Your story does not need to be momentous. You do not need to be able to fully grasp its significance, such as it is. But watch for a story that seems to be a little window into some sort of meaning or that might show something interesting to readers.

Then create a short comic that portrays that moment as truthfully as you can in a way that combines both words and images.

If you’d like, you can make a comic with words to only a few images. Or you can make a comic with only a few words. You can use photographs or draw something or create some other sort of visuals. You can tell a funny story or a sad one, or draw on other emotions.

The only two firm requirements are that your comic needs to have words and images and it needs to show something true … with the full understanding that “truth” is a complicated and contested state of being. (Your story does not have to be a true war story; it only needs to be true.)

That said, I’d like you to try to make your comic in 5 panels. Take a sheet of 11×17 drawing paper if you have it (you can do this with 8.5×11 instead, simply adjusting the measurements that follow) and fold it in half along the longest side so you have a folder page that is now 8.5×11. Fold it again along the longest side, so you’ll have a booklet that is 8.5×5.5. Then fold it again in the same manner two more times.

Think of the front cover of that tiny booklet as your first panel and draw the initial image and words for your story. You don’t have a lot of room to hook your reader, and you have to compel her to unfold to section 2. So make it good.

Then open that booklet and draw the second panel on that space that is twice the size. You’ve got a little more space — use it wisely. Fold it open again and draw the third panel on the space that is doubled again. Write something that earns the space. Give the reader enough they they want to flip to the next part. And again for the fourth panel. You should try to not only use the space, but to also ramp up the excitement in each section. And then again, as the fifth and final panel now takes up one side of an entire page. The largest section should contain not only the largest number of words, but also the most exciting content.

Once your comic is completed, publish it to your site as a post. If you follow the method above to create a five-panel comic, scan each panel and upload it as a series. Feel free to include some pictures of your entire book too.

Write a brief reflection about your writing process for this post. How did you know when you had found the right story for your comic? How difficult was it to tell a true story in a brief comic? What were the most important choices you made along the way of creating your comic?

Sketch 8: Human Document

Due: 10/27

Tag: sk8

The British artist Tom Phillips is probably best known for a project that he began in 1966 and which he has continued ever since–he set himself the challenge to buy the first book he could find at a secondhand bookstore for threepence and to alter every page using drawing, painting, collage, and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version.

He found W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document and combined the words in the title to create A Humument. Phillips not only created new art works from each of the 367 pages but has now completed five different editions of this altered book.

You can view pretty much the complete series of pages on Tom Phillips site here. You can choose pages, view the original and then view different versions of that page.

For this week’s assignment, I want you to create your own visual poem-thing. You can find your own page to alter if you’d like, but I’ll bring in an old used book that you can take pages from too. Think of it as sort of a collaboration between yourself and the book’s original author or think of it as a game where you get to create new text but within the strict confines of the text available on the page.

Obviously, Tom Phillips has been doing this for almost 50 years and I’m not expecting you to produce work that is as polished or complex as his – nor that is necessarily as visually compelling. And it will probably feel very strange to you as you begin, but just let yourself be playful and experiment with your task. You do not need to be a professional artist to make these pages, but you probably do need to be able to relax your desire to be in control of what you produce and you probably need to turn off the self-critical voice that will tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

Alter your page using whatever methods or tools you prefer, then scan the page in color at a high resolution as a JPG or PNG file and load it to your site. You might or might not include in your post the text of your altered page.

 

Sketch 8: Data viz from everyday life

Due: 4/4

Tag: sk9

When Mason Currey wanted to understand how he could manage to produce more creative work despite the challenges of everyday life, he set about studying how a bunch of other famous creative people organized their daily lives and what routines they established for their own creative work with the assumption that there were valuable lessons there. Daily Rituals was the result of that research — and then a number of different people and organizations have set out to visualize the insights of that book so that we can see larger patterns in the midst of all this biographical information. Podio’s graphic, which is the feature image on this post, is one of those (check out their site for the interactive version)

For this sketch assignment, you will choose one concept in your life that you want to analyze, something that is not already easily and obviously measured, or doesn’t vary within the span of a day or a week (good categories: awesomeness, mindfulness, healthiness, creativity, productivity, and similar … bad categories: number of steps, hours of sleep, caloric intake, how good is my eyesight?). Decide on a set of about 5 categories that you can use to measure that concept in your life and track those categories for a week or more, then you will produce a visualization of the data that you have gathered and use that visualization to help you understand something about your own life that might not be obvious from your own day to day activities.

Tracking Data

If you’re looking for suggestions about what to track, browsing the “quantified self” tag at Lifehacker might be worthwhile.

Once you’ve got categories, create a spreadsheet where you can track those categories throughout the day. Either take notes in a journal or on your phone and enter the results into your spreadsheet at set intervals, or make the spreadsheet in Google Drive and access it from your phone, or use the site Trackthisforme, or install a tracker app on your mobile device (I found some by searching for “quantified self” apps).

In “How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy” and “Fill Out This One-Minute Form Every Day and Find Out Why Your Life Sucks (or Doesn’t)” Adam Dachiss has some useful suggestions for measuring stuff in your life. “Why You Should be Tracking Your Habits and How to Do It” by Belle Beth Cooper is also useful. However, all three of those articles are a few years old now and might not be perfectly applicable.

Whatever method you use, the key activity is to decide what you are going to pay attention to and then to create a system that is manageable for your life for the span of a week wherein you will quantify information about your self or your behavior.

For example, one step of this process might be to decide to measure how happy you are and to create a spreadsheet with a column for “Happy.” Then when you wake up in the morning, while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew, you’ll pull up the spreadsheet and enter a number between 1 and 10 indicating how happy you feel. You will continue adding rows at some set interval (every hour maybe). You will probably have some columns that are a little less subjective than “how happy do I feel right now?” (like “how many times did I talk in class today?” or “how much time did I spend studying?” “how many minutes have I spent looking at my phone in the last hour?”). You can decide how objective or subjective your categories are, but recognize that those decisions will impact the sorts of conclusions you draw from this process.

For now, you just need to decide what you will track and then to be as meticulous and careful as you can be about actually tracking this information either directly into a spreadsheet or in a format that can easily be transferred into a spreadsheet at the end of the week.

Visualizing that data

Now that you have gathered your data, it’s time to analyze it further and visualize it.

With the data set that you’ve gathered, which is just for a week or so and only with a handful of variables, you probably won’t need a computer or special tools to analyze it. However, you might find loading your data into a spreadsheet (like in Excel) if you haven’t already been keeping it in that format will help you a lot to analyze it and see patterns in the data.

Because this is an assignment about collecting data about your own life, there is room for you to decide how “scientific” you want to be with your project. Even if you have never used spreadsheets for much of anything, try to quantify your data as much as you can and make an effort to be detailed and accurate with your information, but that said the types of data you chose to collect and the category you’ve decided to study will have a huge impact on the type of analysis you undertake. It is okay for you to have some more subjective categories and it’s okay if your final analysis or visualization is somewhat subjective too.

Tools

There are numerous methods you can use to create your visualization — anything from paper and crayons/markers/pencils to sophisticated data visualization software like Tableau. MS Excel also has some pretty sophisticated charts that you can create from your data. And there are also lots of free online tools that you can use too — it’s admittedly been a year or more since I really surveyed the set of free tools available, but I’d probably still recommend Infogram if you want a free web-based infographic maker and aren’t sure where to start.

For help deciding what type of chart or graph might be most effective in visualizing your data, consult the Data Viz Catalogue (it might be most helpful for you to switch to the “sort by functions” view at the top of the page).

Digital Images

Hand-drawn charts and graphs are perfectly 100% acceptable, if that’s what you prefer. However, please do not spend lots of time carefully crafting hand-drawn charts and then snap a crappy picture of them on your cell phone to post to the web. There are lots of scanners available on campus that you can use to scan your chart into a high-quality JPG image — I’d suggest that you take a quick trip to the Media Lab on the 4th floor of the library and scan your drawings. That space is underutilized and an excellent resource that you should know about.

If you create your visualizations with an online tool, just make sure that you can export them as a JPG image, or that you can at least take a good screenshot of your work.

Publish

Publish your charts as a sketch post to your site. Identify what conceptual issue you were tracking or what question you wanted to answer (or begin to answer). Include 2 or 3 paragraphs explaining what conclusions you have drawn from the data that you collected. Were you able to answer the question you had posed for yourself? What sorts of judgement calls did you face while gathering the data? Why did you choose to visualize your data in the manner that you did? What do these visualizations say about your own life? If you were to continue this project into the future, would you go about it in pretty much the way you have done this week or would you do things differently now that you have looked at the data to this point? Have you found this to be a valuable tool for self analysis?

Sketch 7: Quadriptych

You’ve made a one-panel image with your avatar, combined two images with your combophotos, and made a traditional three-panel comic like those that used to dominate the Sunday funnies sections of newspapers. This week, I’d like you to make a 4-panel comic like the ones that are currently dominating web comics.

As Peter Rubin argues in Wired, “Four-panel strips have been a fixture since early 20th-century newspaper comics like Mutt and Jeff and the concomitant appearance of yonkoma (“four-cell”) manga in Japan. It’s the perfect three-act-structure: You start at one end, develop conflict in the middle two panels, and resolve with a punch line at the end. But thanks to a number of factors—not least of which is the rise of Instagram and Reddit—a gridded, two-by-two variant has come to dominate the internet.” Notice that the four-panel comic, Rubin claims, still has a three-act structure.

You probably already know examples of such 4-panel web comics. You might check out the comics of Nathan Pyle or comics such as “Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall.”

WholesomeNsuchArt

Then make your own four-panel square comic. Just like with your triptych, you should still focus on telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end and you are still free to use photographs or to draw in whatever style you’d like. Focus, again, on compact, playful storytelling.

You can combine the four images into a single one or you can publish them to your post as separate images. In order to create a square in the WordPress block structure, you’ll simply need to add 2 “columns” blocks to your post and then hover over the top of each column block to add an image.

Step one: Add a Columns layout block
Step two: Add an image to each block

Column blocks are found in the “Layouts” section of the block selector. They allow you to format your blog posts with columns, to which you can add images or paragraphs of text or embed other elements and so on.

Like with your triptych, add a paragraph of text reflecting on your quadriptych comic. Describe the composition process a little bit. What was challenging about this assignment? How is crafting this sort of comic strip different or similar to the triptych? How was it different to have the middle act stretch across two panels rather than one? Why did you tell the kind of story that you did?

Sketch 12: Assemblies

Due: 12/8

Tag: sk12

For some unknown reason, the National Archives includes a document entitled Cocktail Construction Chart, which was created by the US Forest Service in 1974, showing recipes for a group of cocktails represented in the style of an architectural diagram.

For this week’s sketch, think about the work you’ve completed in this class and your own learning and thinking processes — then break all that down into component parts, represented in some sort of an architectural diagram like this one. I’m less interested in the quality of the drawing itself and more in your analytical ability to break down something complicated into a series of steps and to represent that as if in such a diagram.

Creating this diagram should be a key step towards completing your portfolio reflection letter (and I will encourage you to use the diagram as a key image in that letter). If you think about what you have learned this semester about yourself as a writer and reader, how can you represent that understanding as a single diagram, and how do the various pieces of writing you have done fit into that diagram to construct your vision?

Sketch 11: Recreate a movie scene

Chris Pratt holds the raptors at bay in Jurassic World.

Due: 12/1

Tag: sk11

Choose a single moment from a movie or television episode and recreate that scene as closely as you can in a single photograph. Think about how you can creatively use wardrobe items or props that you already have at your disposal and the landscapes and building spaces available to you in order to create your scene. In fact, you might find that it’s best to begin by thinking about what you might be able to pull off and to work backward from there to choosing a scene.

By definition, you don’t have incredibly powerful movie cameras, cinematographers, a cast and crew, a prop and set design department, and CGI f/x staff for post production; therefore, you are never going to perfectly recreate any scene. However, with a little creativity you can still create a powerful version of a scene even without all that fancy paraphernalia, as in the version of Jurassic World at the top of this post and others seen here.

More than a decade ago, I recreated these scenes above as part of a larger photographic creative project. For my version of Lost in Translation, I rearranged the furniture in my bedroom and borrowed my wife’s bathrobe. I could never quite get the tilt of my head right. For my recreation of Albrecht Dürer’s Self Portrait of 1500, I couldn’t reproduce the proportions because I was required to make all my shots 4×3 landscape photos and my hair wasn’t long enough to quite pull off the portrait. But I bought a black plastic tablecloth for 99 cents for the background and made the sleeve decorations with crayons on paper. I used a fuzzy scarf and an old leather jacket for the clothes. Despite taking numerous shots and studying the painting very, very closely, I could never get my right hand into exactly the correct position.