Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 30 - December 2007 - by Phil Chambers


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Welcome to the December issue of the Learning Technologies Newsletter, Please continue to forward it to friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.

This month we have a request from Harper Collins to take part in a video, our regular quote of the month and the main article about how to improve the artistry of your Mind Maps.

Do you want to be famous - Seeking real people!

Harper Collins, the publishers of many of Tony Buzan's books would like to have a video clip on Amazon to coincide with the launch of a major new book. They say, "we would like to video "real people" who are keen Mind Mappers and would like to say something nice about Mind Mapping and learning with Mind Maps." You need to be in or near the London area or prepared to travel for the filming.

If you would be able to help with this project please contact me and I will pass on your details.

December's Quote of the Month

"People look without seeing,
hear without listening,
eat without awareness of taste,
touch without feeling and
talk without thinking."

Leonardo da Vinci

Drawing a Blank

On my seminars, when I mention the use of images in Mind Mapping I nearly always get the comment "but I can't draw!".   The truth is that as long as you can see and hold a pen you can draw. You may not be a gifted artist but that doesn't mean you won't ever be able to draw. It's just that you haven't leaned how to yet.

On one level it doesn't matter if nobody can recognise your drawings. If you are mind mapping for your own purposes and you know what the images represent that is all that matters. I often draw unrecognisable images when I am very rapidly getting ideas down on a Mind Map. I know what they mean.

However, if you want to show your Mind Maps in presentations, put them on the wall and be proud of them, then the quality of your artwork is more critical. Here are three ways that you can improve your drawing...

1) Learn to See

This month's quote by Leonardo da Vinci is deliberately chosen. It is very easy to look without seeing.

This is due to the physiology of the brain. As you are probably aware, in general terms the left hand side of the brain has a preference for logic, order, names and lists whereas the right hand side has a preference for space, colour and images.

When you look a face for example, your left brain starts to analyse the image. It says "There is a mouth, two eyes, glasses" and so on. When you come to draw the face you represent these characteristics in a kind of short hand. You draw symbols that stand for the features. A smiling mouth, that's a U shaped line, eyes are oval shaped, glasses are circles. None of these shapes are true if you carefully observe the face. Unless you're drawing Harry Potter, almost certainly glasses are not circles. Eyes are always far more intricate shapes and nobody has a U shaped mouth. One way to stop the left brain from taking control and analyse the scene is to copy a photograph turned upside down. It is far harder to identify features and you start to copy the shapes and lines really present in the picture.

Think about negative space. Negative spaces are the gaps between things. For example if you look at the FEDEX logo, nothing seems out of the ordinary. But look at the spaces between the letters and you will see an arrow between the E and the X.

By drawing the spaces in between objects you will once again draw more accurately. As Betty Edwards puts it, "The left hemisphere is not well equipped to deal with empty spaces. It can't name them, recognise them, match them with stored categories, or produce ready-made symbols for them. In fact the left brain seems to be bored with spaces and refuses to deal with them. Therefore they are passed over to the right hemisphere."

A good example of seeing without analysis is the work of Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic artist who specialises in pen and ink drawings of buildings. He is able to see a scene briefly and then perfectly reproduce in it fantastic detail from memory. Dr Oliver Sacks describes his abilities as follows:

There is a strong tendency to see ... the gifts of the autistic (and about 10% of these are so gifted) as stemming directly from their failures and deficits - their narrow 'hyperfocused' attention, and their supposed inability to process visual information, to pass from precepts to concepts, so that, in the visual realm, for example, it has been said that they merely 'see' what is there...

2) The KISS principle

"Keep It Simple, Stupid" - This is especially relevant in Mind Mapping. It is sometimes applicable to create a vivid, detailed image for the centre but other images can be kept very simple. Ideally your images should be clear and easy to draw. You can develop a vocabulary of icons that use to represent certain concepts. I use a letter 'i' in a circle to represent information, an 'L' plate to represent learning and a simple elephant to represent memory.

Learning to draw cartoons is a good discipline in developing your drawing abilities for Mind Mapping. Cartoons can be very simple but convey information in a humorous and memorable style.

3) Cheat!

Artists have always made use of specific techniques and technologies. A good example is the camera obscura - a darkened room with a small pin hole or lens allowing the view from outside to be projected onto the wall. The artist need merely trace round this projected image to obtain a perfect representation of the scene. It has been controversially suggested by artist David Hockney and physicist Charles Falco that that advances in realism and accuracy in the history of Western art since the Renaissance were primarily the result of optical aids such rather than the development of artistic skills.

A good practical technique for copying a picture when Mind Mapping is to draw a grid of squares over the image (or overlay a sheet of acetate with the squares on if you don't want to damage the original image). Then on your paper draw the same grid (this can be smaller or larger than the original) and copy each square in turn. Breaking the image up in this way makes it much easier to tackle and keeps the correct proportions.

Another alternative is to buy a light box. This is simply a box with a bulb or a small fluorescent tube in it with a translucent top allowing an even light to shine through. You place the original image on the box and lay your paper over the top. The light shining through allows you to trace the image. Of course you cannot easily use this method with images from books but can get round the problem by photocopying the image from the book and using the copy on the light box.

If you don't have a light box you can hold or tape the papers onto a window pane. This is especially useful for the central image of a Mind Map when you have an appropriate illustration, for example in a newspaper or magazine article. I remember one World Mind Mapping Championships where we were in room without windows and I wanted to trace an image in this way. Luckily there was an overhead projector in the room and by closing the mirror on the arm and just using the light in the base it made an excellent light box.

If you really want to create a beautiful Mind Map and don't have the time or confidence to draw your own images you can use the iMindMap computer software that contains a library of hundreds of thousands of images from the internet.

For a compromise between hand drawn Mind Maps and computer ones, draw your Mind Map on paper leaving empty branches where you want pictures, scan it into the computer and then add clip art using a graphics program such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.

Whatever techniques you choose, I hope you create beautiful Mind Maps. If you send me your work I will display the best examples on my Gallery page for the world to see.

For more information see "101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps" by Phil Chambers, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards and "The Power of Creative Intelligence" by Tony Buzan.

Christmas Visual Thinking Card

As this is the last newsletter before Christmas I thought I would include my Christmas Card for 2007. See if you can decode it (answers below)...

There is a WISHING well, ewe (YOU), hay (A), Mister HAPPY, holly and Robin Day (HOLIDAY), hand (AND), a tin of Fanta and stick (FANTASTIC), tooth house sand (TWO THOUSAND), hand + date (AND EIGHT) . So the message reads:

Wishing you a happy holiday and fantastic 2008

That's all for this month. Until January, unless you wan to contact me.

Best Wishes