Like many folks, I was interested in comic guru Nick Sousanis’s call for participation in a week of Grids and 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 had it on my table a while, but it was on a plane flight last month that I finally read through a pre-print of Nick’s work (now his Unflattening book) – this section has a great representation of the grimness of school having learners in boxes:

That happened out of the sheer weird serendipity of the web. I think it was in 2014 that Nick put out a call for people to send him (by twitter or was it email) just a tracing of our foot on a piece of paper. I got drawn from that for a prize!

I think it was maybe Mariana Funes who suggested making Grids and Gestures a part of the DS106 Daily Create which makes lovely sense. We could have filled the weeks with prompts, but it also seemed like one is a good way to go, so people can try it, and if it resonated, they would do more on their own.

Twas an easy one to set up…

I aimed to try for the full week plan. What I like about Nick’s prompt, and what makes it “ds106ish” is that its not over prescriptive– there are many ways people could (and did take it on). Some (like me) drew on paper, others like Kevin did it on a device.

Amy Burvall defied convention:

Mariana sketched beautifully

Yin Wah did frame ready art too

All this says that people were free to make this assignment their own, not abide to some rules of servitude to the assignor.

For me, I wanted to experiment with reflecting on Nick’s idea of the shape of the grids, what it meant to represent time. I’m also influenced by long ago reading of Scott McCloud with some sense that the spaces between frames meant something too. I also wanted to avoid, as much as possible (though I find its impossible) trying to represent things with what’s in the grids, not try to draw them, but still I did. Oh well.

I also deliberately am NOT trying to draw a comic.

And lastly I did these quickly– this is what I could do in the time I could drink my first morning cup of coffee and before it was time to walk the dog. So maybe 10-15 minutes.

Also, after doing the first one, In my photos I ended up including a bit of the world outside my sheet of paper.

Sunday Grid

Sunday Grid

My first grids were all rectangular boxes. And I struggle to even rememner what I was representing. There was a grey heavy morning weather. I meandering dog walk. A drive somewhere. Planting stuff. Probably time spent on the computer.

Monday Grid

Monday Grid

The boxes broke on Monday. Most every one of these starts with a coffee symbol. The log dog walk is the first broken box. There are stretches of repetitive computer work, one open break for a video chat, more walks. Breaking into symbolism, there is a dog walk that includes a stop at my mailbox where I got a check ($). The last 2 rows go more into the shape of time- it represents while waiting to upload by photos to flickr, I zonked out on the couch around 10pm… and woke disoriented at 1:30am.

Tuesday Grid

Tuesday Grid

Again, the day starts with coffee and dog walk. The big half block represents the time spent at the Ford dealer getting my truck serviced (not sure if there is relief in the bill being only $550). There is getting Felix’s dog tag, a happy dog tail (for meeting people), a piece of pie at lunch, and a nice drive home where I got to talk to my friend Kevin on the phone (I did not symbolize the dropped connections between Payson and Pine). I also did nto symbolize at the gas station when Felix (the dog) jumped out of the door as I was getting out. There should be bolts of panic in a time span of 20 seconds.

The bottom left is pretty much a map of our long walk up a steep hill street (Ralls Drive). And the rest is the miscellaneous stuff that seems to fill evenings on the computer.

Wednesday Grid

Wednesday Grid

Again, start with coffee and dog walk. There is a lot of repetitive copy/paste work on a prototype (which is pretty cool, but there is a bit of manual grunt work under the hood). Some good video calls and more coding.

Then the big topographic looking blob is an approximation of the drive Felix and I did from Strawberry to Cottonwood to visit with my friend Todd before he left for a new job in Washington State. I returned home, did a bit more repetitive work… and… I was laying down on the floor in front of the heater, and felt something like a small bit, and was freaked out to find a black spider inside my t-shirt.

This is followed by a bit of disorder as I look up and tweet about black spiders, figure out it was NOT a black widow…

(Felix's) Thursday Grid

(Felix’s) Thursday Grid

Just to mix it up and experiment again, I did Thursday’s grid as a representation of my dog’s day (as I saw it). Apparently, dogs have no bounding grids! We wakes up from a slumber, has a big bowl of dry crunchy food, and goes on a long walk full of loud smells and wonders. Then he lounges most of the day, either out on the deck in the sun, or on the couch. There is play time with a ball, a tiny neighbor dog named “Bella” bones, Kongs, and more walks and more giant bowls of food.

And of course, Nick had a drawn reference…

I probably should have done one more, but… choose my own assignment? Nothing here was done as a means of trying to draw something. I found the daily practice of thinking through the day before to be valuable, as the challenge of trying to represent the shape of time and activities without depicting them (I failed often).

Thanks for triggering a great activity Nick. For anyone out there, it’s worth noting how active Nick was in acknowledging and giving feedback to people who participated in Grids and Gestures.

And because this is not locked up inside some xMOOC, you can still do it at any time – there’s a lot of examples to draw from.

Top / Featured Image: An image from the post would have done fine, but I wanted something less literal. I was nicely surprised by how many flickr photos I had with the word “grid” in them, many would have done.

The one I chose a flickr photo shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license worked on may layers (get it?), the grids are superimposed, but askance, the indiscriminate other objects, including a leaf. This was taken at the Oil Museum of Canada (in southwest Ontario) looking into a shaft of some form filled with water.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. This is a lovely post! I too mentioned to Jenny how kind and responsive Nick was. But not just this week; ever since I have known him when I roped you into sending him your foot :) and you shared your prize with me. If one can see someone modelling being a ‘good egg’ on the tweeter Nick is one of these humans. The course I am doing on comics came via him and he has always encouraged me to learn to draw.

    I am working on day 6 and may never stop now. I really liked that you added the world outside and Felix’s day was just cool.

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