A while back, I made up this non-representational comics-making exercise I call Grids & Gestures for my class and soon started trying it in public talks. Over the last few years, I’ve found it to be a great way to get people with no prior drawing experience to very quickly start thinking about the spatial considerations comics makers attend to and at the same time, gets them to realize how much they know about drawing that they didn’t know they knew. When I was speaking at the data storytelling conference Tapestry in March (#tapestryconf), I ended my keynote by having everyone in attendance do Grids & Gestures – and while talking with people afterwards, I got to thinking it would be fun to see this tried on a larger scale – and invite people to join in over the course of a week and share your comics on twitter via the hashtag #gridsgestures and tag me (@nsousanis)? I wrote up Grids & Gestures in great detail with examples for a journal here. Below I offer a quick set up, which I think is plenty of explanation, but if you want to use it in a class or other setting, have a look at the journal version of it for much more detail.

So here’s how to think about Grids & Gestures. Quickly, have a look at your ceiling tiles or other grid-ish things around you. If you then imagine putting these features to music, you might have regular long notes on the tiles, some shorter notes, and maybe rapid staccato beats on a ventilation grill. Ok, now come back to a comics page – and think about the idea that in comics, time is written in space. Comics are static – and it’s in the way we organize the space that we can convey movement and the passage of time. Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition. The way you orchestrate these elements on the page is significant to the meaning conveyed – there are some strong correspondences between comics and architecture in terms of thinking about the way the entire space operates together.

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.
I’ve done this in classes as a diary exercise where participants do a new version over several different days, and that’s my thought for doing it here. I’d like to see if people will share their drawings starting Monday April 11 and perhaps, post a new one each day of the week until Friday April 15. We’ll see if visual patterns emerge over the week and if people try different variations from day to day. And for sure, they’ll learn new approaches from seeing what others have tried. Tag it #gridsgestures and feel free to ping me (@nsousanis) as well. (You can email it to me if you don’t use twitter!) You can see the long description of Grids & Gestures here, and find examples from my recent class comics as a way of thinking on this page. (As described in the journal version of this, I have participants narrate their comics a bit, and for classes, I have them write a few sentences to share what they were up to in the drawing and why. People are welcome to provide that contextual information as well – though it’s tricky in 140 characters!) I’ve posted a few examples from the Tapestry Conference below (and earlier examples above), though I recommend not looking at them too much – it’s often better to not have a model to follow to forge your own path. But they’re there if you want… And further down, I’ve put a video of me explaining it.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing people’s responses to this over the years and am excited to see what comes of this experiment! Thanks – N

So here’s a short video of me explaining grids & gestures. There are longer versions of this that can be found with the detailed instructions of the exercise, but I tried to keep it concise here.