The Power of Visuals visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

The Power of Visuals visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

Once upon a time……

Ever since I was a youngster I have been fascinated by images. My father worked in the design business long before I was born and was a descendant of Sir John Tenniel, who created the original illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He was approached many many years ago by an author to illustrate her book, entitled Alice in Starland. So I guess you could say Art was in my blood!

Alice in Starland by Fay McGregor, illustrated by Adrian John Tenniel Lovegrove

Alice in Starland by Fay McGregor, illustrated by Adrian John Tenniel Lovegrove

Before I became a Teacher of Art, I worked as a Graphic Designer following my degree in Design for Communication Media at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. At the tender age of 13 I knew I wanted to study Graphic Design and my passion has led me inevitably to what I do today.

I cannot imagine a world without images and my daily life is populated by the icons on my phone, emojis on messages, logos, adverts and so on. Our lives are literally flooded by images and we translate and interpret emotions and ideas and knowledge through them.

Writing this week’s blog post about how I will use an image in class is slightly ironic, as I do it all the time.  Images are the bread and butter of my day, my teaching and my inspiration. Just a flick over Pinterest or google images and i am lost in the wonder of the web and where it takes me. A few hours later and i have gone down many journeys of visual discovery yet have I found the image I set out to find? Often not, but I will have stumbled on many alternatives instead! Images are incredibly powerful in evoking emotion, assisting understanding or communicating emotion or an idea. The article last week about eyes darting over a page confirmed my feeling that we scan and scroll pages of text until we see something recognisable or interesting to us.

Learning 2 Spoiler Alert

The Power of Visuals

The Power of Visuals

I am preparing for the hardest task of my current career, a dreaded 5 minute Keynote at Learning 2 in Bangkok, in less than 2 weeks time presented in front of 300+ leading educators from the region. It is on The Power of the Visual and I am desperate to connect to all delegates, from the hardened visual note takers to the sceptical art-phobics. It is during these preparations that I question my reasons for using visuals and why anyone should listen to my laments. But it is through dissecting my passion that I whittle it down to a singular indisputable concept – that visuals are fundamental in helping us remember. It’s that cognitive process that occurs when we commit an idea to paper through words and images. I recall the image of the Vietnamese girl that encapsulating the consequences on the innocent during the war and how powerful a feeling it can evoke. Do we use these triggers in our classroom to start intellegent conversation or tease out ideas and opinions? and do I do this effectively, with meaning?

Does it make a difference or change thinking?

Visible Thinking- using images to inspire thinking

Visible Thinking with Emma Freedman at UWCSEA

Visible Thinking with Emma Freedman at UWCSEA

Some years ago I was introduced to Project Zero from Harvard University and in particular to Visible Thinking. Thinking is difficult to track and even harder to see. The Visible Thinking project helps us to visualise thoughts and ideas and my favourite of the Thinking Routines is “See Think Wonder”. In Art we use images every day to inspire ideas or learn about techniques and skills, but images can go further in helping us to understand the world around, emotions, interactions or to trigger questions. It is this aspect that the Thinking routine comes into its own. Whether using students images to reflect on practice and to interpret intentions or famous and contemporary art works to develop thinking and questioning skills there is no doubt that there is a wealth of resources out there.The problem is to select the best ones for the job, and this can take time. I often find that searching for what I think I need leads me down a path of new discovery and occasionally to a gem of a find.

Recently Grade 6 were looking at ephemeral art to inspire them before their trip to the Malaysian island of Pulau Tioman and a week in pristine rainforest, living on the beach. Andy Goldsworthy captures his land sculptures using beautiful black and white photography and it was through the See Think Wonder routine that we were able to tease out their questions about his sculptures, what he might have been thinking and why he did what he did. This in turn helped them to think through what they might create using the Elements of Art to inspire direction.  For our students living in a predominantly urban environment it was crucial we helped students transfer their experience to something tangible when they returned and it is through the work of others that we can inspire and transform their own thinking and inspiration for meaningful ideas.

Stats, Sticks and Stones

A particular gem of discovery that encompasses both my passions of art and environmental issues is the work of Chris Jordan. Chris Jordan uses the power of visuals to change thinking and inspire action. He uses mathematical data and statistics in a powerful way that goes beyond an Infographic – it can truly shock or surprise us. His series Running the Numbers is not just an average Infographic of statistics and graphs, he uses repetitive photography to capture an image viewed by zooming in that connects thinking directly to American consumerism. For example the number of disposable plastic cups used every day on airline flights or the number of breast implant surgery procedures using 32,000 Barbie dolls. I urge you to click the link and see this phenomenal work and not be impressed, shocked and inspired. I intend to use this project and to connect statistics to inspire work with our young Grade 7s, following my attempts last year to integrate environmental and global issues into their studies. As in the previous year, where we tackled the problem of food sources and sustainability through sculpture and video, so too will this year’s students look at using Photography, Photoshop and augmented reality to share their findings.

Each line, One breath

I cannot finish without returning to my favourite passion: Drawing. When we draw we focus on the mark, the feeling of connecting to the paper and the wish for it to represent what is in our minds eye.
Just last week my students were learning about line variation and looked at the work of John Franzen. In his Each line One Breath series, he uses simple repeated lines to focus his mind on the present almost in a mediative state. As the students took their breath and breathed out, they took their pencil on a downward journey on the paper surface, just as John Franzen did, to disconnect all their worries, their troubles, thoughts and focused just on the tip of the pen. In our busy lives when do we live in the moment? I am very into mindfulness yet find it tough to switch off. Yet when I draw, time is lost, I look up and hours may have passed without my noticing. I am hooked into its process. Did the students get it? On average yes. Some said it was one of the weirdest things they had done but they acknowledged the time out from thinking, from their heads in their laptops and the constant banter of talk.
…….and so in the run up to Learning 2, I too must breathe and clear my mind.

Images and Memory


Returning to my stresses over the preparation for the L2 talk, I centre on how images trigger memory and I start to build a Keynote of some 65 images to help me to remember what I want to say. It may seem excessive, even a little insane for a 5 minute talk but it feels like it may be my only way to survive. Images are my comfort blanket, the link to my brain’s recesses and hopefully will prevent me from dying on stage.

Being a fan of the British cult series Sherlock, I dabbled with the thought of memorising my “speech” through the techniques of a Mind or Memory Palace. This technique uses strong visuals travelling and connected to a journey through a Mind Palace in order to solidify memory. In this video, Maddie Moat shows us how she visualises in order to remember the wives of Henry 8th!

Has anyone tried this technique before? Is it difficult to create?

Well if it’s good enough for Benedict Cumberbatch then it’s worth a try!

  1. Reid Wilson says:

    Hey Nicki:
    I look forward to seeing your keynote at L2. I’m sure you will blow everyone’s mind. That Chris Jordan video is amazingly powerful and creative. I’d love to see what you end up doing with the Grade 7’s. Keep us posted.

    See you soon,

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks so much for the encouragement Reid, I am loving and hating the idea of standing up on the stage! Let’s hope I can pull it off!
      I have to figure out the best way to approach the unit but I will have time to plan it out once L2 is over!
      See you soon!

  2. Joe Teft says:

    Hey Nicki,

    Scott and I are thinking about looking at the visible thinking and visual literacy ideas for our final project in this course. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him, since COETAIL should be about connecting. But it made me wonder why other teachers (not just us) aren’t using visual literacy more earnestly.

    Project zero is being shared around many IB schools, and schools everywhere, so we should know about the importance of visual thinking, but we don’t often talk about the importance of using images when we teach.

    We had this conversation the other night about picking an image, and like you, I always use images too. So it was an interesting task to say the least.

    Looking forward to seeing the talk at Learning 2.0 and catching up again.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Hey Joe!
      Yes I know, why isn’t it a fundamental part of every day teaching? It seems such a basic thing so maybe a presentation/Slideshare on how to incorporate images would be a good end product – something that can be shared and understood and acted upon. It frustrates me when I see leadership or teachers present with bullet points or lists of text and not know how awful it is for the viewer, how disconnected and uninspiring. Yes it takes time, but it is time well spent if the viewers actually take in and remember what is being presented! If I use my “L2 Talk” as my Course 3 outcome I am not sure how it will come across with out me talking. Who was it that said: the slides should not stand alone and that the presenter is crucial? I’ll have a think about how I can work with that! Let’s make a pact to impart our knowledge and enthusiasm about integrating imagery back to as many in our schools as possible? In fact why don’t we all?

  3. I love love all your posts. And I am excited to see your Keynote. You will rock it. I loved the video each line one breath by John Franzen. Visuals really put things into perspective. Speaking of visual I want to share something with you about your website. I am a migraineaur, meaning I suffer from migraines. Severe ones. They suck. One of my symptoms is called sensory process sensitivity.
    I am super sensitive to color, light, sounds, smells. It is a blessing and a curse. Anyways my point is not to make you feel bad for me but to let you know that it is really hard to read white font. I do not want you to change anything for me but I just wanted to let you know as this is a visual class and I may not be the only one it affects.
    See you next week. Can not wait.

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