An Inquiry Into Collaborative Drawing

By Klara Huebsch

Drawing may be one of the most intimate art forms. Simple with curious intrigue, meditative with oneness in the moment. When we draw, our mind is presented right in front of ourselves. It can be a mirror into our inner world. As an art form, it is usually created by one person. Whether or not the piece is shared, there is a distinction between the artist and viewers. But could there be another way to connect with drawing where the purpose of the activity evolves beyond the individual? Is there a way for drawing to be a platform for forming deeper connections between one another, the generations, and our perceptions of the world?

In April 2021, Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society (VACS) has initiated a new intergenerational multiliteracies project, called Project Terakoya, to explore a state of intergenerational learning pedagogy, co-creation, and design for cultural change (Fig 1).​ Multiliteracies, a term coined in 1994 by the New London Group, refers to the forms of understanding beyond printed or written forms of language, involving multiple modes of representation such as the visual, oral, audio, tactile, spatial, and behavioural forms. One can express themself in a single mode or even shift between the modes, becoming multimodal. The goal of Project Terakoya 2021 is to explore how we can develop inspiring connections between generations through exploring the modes together, and as a new intern at VACS, I’m excited to help create a landscape that is rich in meaning-making beyond words.

Fig 1: Project Terakoya Poster

As a part of our inquiry into how to design mode-shifting activities that may bring intergenerational learning for this year’s upcoming webinars, we have started a weekly study group. During our Zoom meetings, we dive into an inquiry-based discussion through critically reviewing a chosen journal article for the week, just like a journal club. Our initial group consisted of a dozen people including university students and senior citizens who were interested in taking a mentoring role for the youth. In the first week we reviewed a descriptive study on collaborative drawing Intergenerational collaborative drawing: A research method for researching with/about young children (Knight et al., 2015), in order to identify viable and meaningful pedagogical strategies for our project. 

The researchers drew with children on the same page to explore the topic of social justice. They wanted to see if collaborative drawing has potential as a methodological tool for early childhood educators. The research suggests the act of drawing alone can spark new ideas, but the combined abstract meaning from drawing with another person will likely inspire ideas each collaborator would not think alone. This non-literal form of communication embodies multiliteracies as it connects people through the visual mode of communication. Exploration in this mode can bring insight that may not otherwise be found in the other forms of communication. Instead of analyzing the emergent artwork for aesthetic value, it can be used as an intentional reflective tool to prompt imaginative questions and further inquiry into views on the drawing topic. The potential purpose of collaborative art therefore steps away from purely creating meaning in art, into art as a collective process of inquiry to inspire new ideas and interpersonal connections. How can collaborative drawing be the means of uncovering our shared creative take on what matters most? VACS may embrace collaborative drawing as an approach to exploring intergenerational relationships and perceptions in a new realm. The potential realizations may bring forth completely new calls to action on the topics generations collectively care about the most. But what other factors between the collaborators need to be carefully understood to ensure they both feel comfortable in this intimate exploration?

Fig 2: Our study group’s Jamboard

In our study group meeting, we explored a wide range of these factors that may be salient to the collaborative drawing experience, including individual predispositions, interpersonal relationships, and environmental contexts (Fig 2). What is each collaborator’s openness to new experiences, and sensitivity and lived experience relating to the drawing topic? How do we help make a space where people are less self conscious about their drawing skills, and more focused on the possibilities, process and conversation that collaborative drawing brings? We also talked about factors at play between the two drawers. Do they have an emotional connection and trust? What is the nature of their relationship? What similarities and differences do they have on the drawing topic? We then thought about the factors at play during the collaborative process itself. Do they have a call and response approach or are they drawing at the same time? Are they drawing on separate pages or the same page, and how does that change the dynamic? Lastly, we talked about the post-production reflection. How do they talk about what they created? Are there prompts or questions we can give them to steer the conversation in a certain direction? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves when bringing collaborative drawing as an exploratory approach in the multiliteracy webinars. We hope participants feel inspired by this unique form of connecting with someone, and need to design collaborative drawing activities in a way that incorporates contextual understanding of the experience between drawers.

To gain more insight on the experience between collaborative drawers, I did some research on other applications in which this methodological approach is used. Although most research on collaborative drawing appears to target young children with limited vocabulary or older adults with cognitive impairment as a therapeutic intervention, it is also sometimes done in medical classes. For example, an observational study (Lyon et al., 2013) examined the impact of collaborative drawing on student’s learning, where a group of art and medical students participated in an interdisciplinary module on drawing the human body. The study found students accommodated their styles to make the drawing look like it came from one person. This may have occurred due to the context of trying to accurately copy a human body, but it still points to an important tendency that should be addressed in our webinars. It might initially feel intimidating or dissonant seeing someone else’s drawing style right beside your own. Maybe it feels visceral and vulnerable, like your inner uniqueness is on display to be compared. Could displaying this personal side of ourselves make us feel disconnected to our collaborator? 

Upon further sessions the students tried embracing their own drawing styles, exploring the feelings of dis-harmony by responding back-and-forth with different colours. They reported that it felt like having a conversation, embodying our inquiry into multiliteracies and non-literal forms of communication. Their different styles allowed them to gain new insight into their disciplines, reminding us to see our different drawing styles as strengths in bringing diverse thought to important discussions. It is much less about your “talent” or even the lines themselves, and rather about exploring your unique ideas, lived experiences, and emergent feelings, as similarly suggested by Knight and colleagues (2015). 

In the study group, we explored those dimensions by drawing on a Google Jamboard all at the same time (Fig 3). We drew our questions that emerged from our study group conversation. I found it immediately felt different than drawing alone. In the top right, I initially drew two circles representing the two collaborators. I was going to repeat them going down with a question mark in between to represent the back-and-forth process of the collaborators, but then someone drew below right where I was going to draw! I had to quickly think on my feet and change my idea. Without much space, I then ended up drawing arrows around one collaborator. Only after, it made me think about the potential power-dynamics and how they can shape the experience to center completely around one person, making it not collaborative at all. I would not have thought about that without the spontaneous element of drawing with others, showing how the process can randomly lead to insight beyond anything expected.

Fig 3: Our group collaborative drawing on Jamboard

Collaborative drawing has a lot of potential in taking us to new exciting places.This approach to connecting with others can be a platform for understanding one another’s perspectives and feelings in a completely new way, and its value can be found in the perspectives and ideas that emerge from the process itself. I think it would be beautiful to see this done in an intergenerational context where there’s space to explore mutual understanding, like a blank page early waiting for what’s yet to come. Moving forward, VACS will explore specific guidance in collaborative drawing activities so that drawers can express themselves confidently and inquisitively. I look forward to learning about where this process takes the community and how it changes our perceptions of one another and the world. []

References

Knight, L., McArdle, F., Cumming, T., Bone, J., Li, L., Peterken, C., & Ridgway, A. (2015). Intergenerational collaborative drawing : A research method for researching with/about young children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(4), 21-29

Lyon, P., Letschka, P., Ainsworth, T., & Haq, I. (2013). An exploratory study of the potential learning benefits for medical students in collaborative drawing: Creativity, reflection and ‘critical looking’. BMC Medical Education, 13(1), 86-86.

Klara Huebsch (BS in Global Resource Systems, UBC 2020) is a staff writer and 2021 Canada Summer Job Intern for VACS. 

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