I spent the first 10 years and 9 months of my life as an only child. As a consequence relatives often gave me presents when I was younger which were of a solitary nature. After all there’s really no point buying an only child a board game for 2 or more people, aged 8-80.

But these presents, despite their seeming encouragement of creating an insular, shy child unable to connect or communicate with the world instead taught a child not to fear examination, exploration and expression of oneself and others; to engage with and observe the world around them.

They all helped me become a better story teller.

This series of 5 articles explores those presents I received as a child that kept on giving and keep on giving even today. Here is part 1.

Storytelling Through the Visual

I think I was about 9 years old when my Mum handed me a book saying, ‘I saw this and thought you’d like it’. I saw the words ‘coloring book’ and I inwardly groaned. Surely she’d noticed the stack of coloring books building up at home? I just had no interest in them – I found them boring.

Out of politeness I flicked through a few pages. Then I stopped. Then I took another look at the cover. I read the title again – The Anti-Coloring Book!

On some pages it started the picture but didn’t finish it for you. On others it had a background painted out and a sentence which asked you to imagine what else could be in the picture. Every page didn’t just allow the reader to create; it pretty much begged them to.

Now this was a coloring book I could get excited about!

I could let my imagination run free and unleash creativity. I didn’t have to stick with what had been given to me! Making sure I was keeping within the lines – huh – what’s the point of that?

How do you find new places or create change if you stick to the reality presented to you, rather than imagining your own? It’s easy to stay within the lines and stick with someone else’s picture but it’s more fun to examine and explore other pictures that you see in your own head or could be in the minds of others.

For the first time I saw how art was one way I could express myself to other or explain others to me; how I could use art to tell a story, express a feeling, picture an event or object, show an environment. I could evoke something in others – conjure up an emotion, trigger a memory, prompt a question, send a message – simply through the use of medium, style, color, contrast and subject.

At the same time I realized art didn’t have to fit an ideal, emulate perfection or conform to a certain style. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the best at drawing in my class, that wasn’t the point of art.

My art, no matter how imperfect it might be, it could still have or convey beauty, ideas and meaning. It was still of worth and be appreciated – it had merit and it had impact. And if my art could, then why couldn’t I? After all, my art was just me. On paper.

This is storytelling through the visual.

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