Taking the Visual Writing and Thinking Course was one of the most reinvigorating academic experiences I’ve had in years. Not only did I achieve my goal of developing into a more refined writer, but I also learned many fundamental skills of the artistic process. Perhaps that is why I am so complimentary of the overall experience. Going into the course I was fairly confident in my ability to write, however the visual component made me nervous. I had never taken to art and was worried it might hamper my ability to succeed in the class. After reading Professor Morgen’s disclaimer on the course atlas stating that, “no particular preexisting drawing talent or expertise is required for successful completion of this course,” I decided to take my chance and give visual writing an opportunity.
At the start of the semester, the class was assigned to create a personal Literacy Narrative. I believe this addressed the first course outcome of rhetorical knowledge. Like most English courses it began as a typical essay. We were asked to strictly write and analyze how key experiences in our lives’ have influenced the ways in which we read and write. In its first iteration, I mostly focused on my early relationships to books and how certain experiences with them shaped me. I found this exercise informative because it was among the only times I had ever been assigned to write about myself. Without knowing it, the realizations that came from reflection would benefit my work throughout the semester; the most important of them being that we all have a beginning. The next major assignment of the class was Tracing Maus. Unlike the narrative, this assignment incorporated both visual and written portions. I believe this addresses outcome two: critical thinking and reading resulting in writing. This is because it required us to analyze the text in various ways. To start, we had to select two separate pages from Spiegelman’s work Mausand trace them onto our own pages. This was a surprisingly humbling experience because of the time and focus it took to simply trace an image. It also made me appreciate the mastery artists have and wonder how much time it took to create a work as intricate as Maus. Once the renderings were on a page, I annotated the rest of it with analysis of Spiegelman’s design and layout. In the scope of the semester as a whole, I feel as though this assignment was perfectly placed. It simultaneously built on the critical analysis used in the Literacy Narrative and prepared the class with the drawing experience necessary for the ensuing comic. As a follow up to the Literacy Narrative, the Literacy Comic was the symbolic transfer from written media to visual media. In regards to course outcomes, I feel this assignment most clearly addresses the third: writing is a process. For my comic, I decided to focus on one story from my original essay. It was my attempt at visually detailing and layering a single experience. Though it doesn’t capture everything that happened, I tried to capture everything I felt. The process of drawing and coloring the comic was long. I went through several phases of drafting the story, framing, and sketching the characters. Since my drawing experience was still relatively limited, I wanted to go for characters that were more complex than basic figures, yet still reproducible. I also settled on an alternating set of frames that went from landscape to dual picture frames in order to add detail and pace. I chose a bright color palette in order to give a youthful energy, but also used darker colors to highlight certain aspects within a frame. For me, this was the peak of the semester because it allowed me to showcase my visual writing skills. After this there were several assignments that included another essay and a data mapping. Near the end of the semester, I decided to revisit the Literacy Narrative Essay and rewrite it. I thought the first draft was fine, but needed to be improved after a semester of better work. Some major changes I made were adding more detail about the influence my early Judaic education had on me and how it blended into how I felt about reading. I attribute it as being one of the main influences on my reading habit, but also recognized some of its flaws upon reflection.
Outside of the class, I have found that what I’ve learned has been useful in many other areas. For example, my final project for my environmental science seminar required me to present on an online presentation site called Voice Thread. Since all of our work in English this semester was published online, I found it much easier to navigate that type of media. In addition, the site is formatted so that each slide is just a picture. This forced me to outline my presentation, script out my dialogue, record into one of the slide’s comments, and present in a nontraditional way. I felt significantly more comfortable doing so then I would have been had I not taken Visual Writing and Thinking course.
Throughout the semester I was always amazed at the deft skill that all of the authors had. The care and dedication that each exhibited was a pleasure to read through and facilitated the realization of what mastery really takes. The constant work and practice necessary to create wonderful works of art is something that remains in the back of my mind. When I read Joe Sacco’s Palestine,I did so in one sitting. One thing I noticed is that he frequently put his name and date at the bottom of his pages. While the story itself is very interesting, I couldn’t help but feel the passage of time while flipping through the pages.
When I think of this class, I liken it to being sent back to my youth. It was a time when I had no experience and didn’t care. Maybe it was naiveté, but I was always willing to try new things at that age. Now I usually feel I have experience in most things I do, so to have that feeling again was very humbling. Perhaps that is why I consider the most impactful aspect of the course to be its ability to make me start from the beginning.