As a visual learner I found this synopsis of Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time in 4,000 Years of Mapping the Universe by Maria Popova very interesting and would like to share it with you.

I particularly like the thinking that has gone into the development of illustrations that deal with very complex concepts and which aim to convey these to a broad audience. It’s a different way of storytelling though pictures.

image depicting mutliple galaxies

cosmigraphics154 – image depicting mutliple galaxies




What’s in a face?

Can facial expressions tell others something about the overall character of a person?

What’s interesting is that when we meet someone for the first time, their facial characteristics (eg face shape, eye shape and colour, hair style and colour), and expressions, are of less importance to our brain than noting their race and gender. This is because our brain tries to process a person’s identity first, and race and gender are a strong part of identity.

Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macnik write in an article titled What’s in a Face? – The human brain is good at identifying faces, but illusions can fool our “face sense”: “Facial expressions play a key role in our everyday social interactions. Even when watching movies or looking at photographs, we spend most of our time looking at the faces they portray. Our intense focus on faces is at the expense of other potentially interesting information, however.”

“Illusions: What’s in a Face?” is a slide show in the Scientific American Mind Matters series on the neuroscience behind visual illusions. It provides illustrations that demonstrate how our face-detection neural machinery can be fooled or overloaded.

Facial expressions can provide information about a person’s mood, but do not reflect their true inner feelings. Facial expressions used in social interactions, (for example during greetings, social crises or times of appeasement), can be the easiest to read and interpret.

Psychologists have long studied why people find certain faces more attractive than others. If we think that faces with symmetrical features are more attractive than others, why do many portrait artists deliberately exaggerate asymmetrical features? Stylisation such as this appears wrong and unflattering, however it often conveys something more meaningful about the sitter’s personality, mood or character than any flattering representation could.

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterised by elongation of faces and figures. He died at age 35 in Paris of tubercular meningitis. Here are some of his portraits. They seem deceptively simple in their stylisation, and yet, for me, they express an understanding of the personalities and moods of the sitters.

Woman with Red Hair

Woman with Red Hair

Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie

Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie

The Black Dress

The Black Dress

Portrait of Max Jacob

Portrait of Max Jacob

The Boy (detail)

The Boy (detail)

Portrait of Chaim Soutine

Portrait of Chaim Soutine

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Attention to details

Looking at the finer details of objects provides a new perspective and appreciation of their design, colour, texture and form. Here’s a few images that have inspired me.


Storytelling from images


Retina | Day 320365. Photographer: Marius-Vieth

Image source

Images are a great way to promote creative thinking. Find a collection of interesting images relating to a theme and then ask your students to study them, choose one or more of them, and then write a short story about what they think might be happening to the characters in them.

If you have chosen interesting images to start with the students may surprise you in their interpretations. You can then use their stories to promote meaningful discussions relating to your specific subject or workplace situation.

If you are prepared to be adventurous, don’t choose images that are targeted to a specific learning outcome or skill. To get the best results choose a theme that has no evident connection with your subject. This may sound frivolous, but if you really want to engage your students in a creative way give it a go.

As an example, look at these images:

Resulting stories from these images may revolve around:

  • appearances can be deceiving
  • some things can be overlooked
  • what’s in the detail is important
  • big versus small

Your challenge would then be to direct any resulting discussion from the students’ stories/themes back to the workplace or current subject area you are dealing with.

POSTSCRIPT: the images on this url change regularly, so what you see today may not be there next week – but the new ones will be equally interesting.

Metaphor again

I came across the work of illustrator, John Holcroft today and was impressed by the metaphorical strength of his images. I’m sure these images would initiate a lively discussion, theme, project, etc. in the classroom. The captions are not the titles of John’s work. You can read more about the context of his work and see more illustrations here.

You are what you eat

You are what you eat

Trapped within

Trapped within

Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders

Growing roots

Growing roots

London Subway

London Subway

TV overload

TV overload

The brain is slow to get going in the mornings

The brain is slow to get going in the mornings

What is a metaphor?

According to Buzzle “A metaphor is a substitution of an actual thing with its symbolism. For example, the famous line by Shakespeare – “All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players”, is an example of a metaphor where he substitutes the world with a stage and people with actors, playing their part. Not only is this a profound metaphor that connects the similarities between acting on stage and living life, but it also conveys what the author is trying to say, quite aptly. Thus, metaphors help grasp the real idea, by planting a similar symbolic idea in its place.”

There may be confusion between what is a metaphor and a simile. According to Buzzle “The prime difference between a simile and a metaphor is that while the former only compares the similarities between two entities, the latter goes so far as to equate two similar ideas. The sentence – ‘He was like a lion in the field’ is an example of a simile, but the same sentence when composed as – ‘He was a lion in the field’ becomes a metaphor. In the second sentence, the man is not just compared but equated with a lion for literary effect. Metaphor is substituting the symbolic similarity with the actual idea, while similes stop at identifying the similarity. Ergo, metaphors are much more powerful and potent tools in the hands of good writers as they can convey greater truths symbolically, without explicitly stating them.” Read more at Buzzle.

Contrast or harmony?

Here’s a collection of images that can be viewed in the context of contrast or harmony.

Not everyone will agree on which of these images could be categorised as contrast or as harmony (or both), and that’s the wonderful thing about imagery – it’s so individual. Most of us will perceive and interpret images based on our personal experiences, situation, mood or circumstances. Some of you will be analytical about your categorisation, most will react spontaneously and intuitively.

Look at these images and once you’ve made a choice, try to define what the elements are that helped you to decide if the image represents contrast or harmony, or if  (and how) it can be described as both.

Images are a good way to promote discussion in a learning environment. No one sees exactly in the same way – looking, re-acting and then analysing images allows us to ‘see’ through other people’s eyes and to learn about each other’s sense of perception. Initial reactions are a start, but when you take the time to think more deeply about what an image ‘says’ to you, a new level of understanding will emerge.

As an artist, the images I have chosen have an artistic appeal to me in relation to colour, space, design and form. As an educator, you could choose any range of images to promote specific discussion related to your area of expertise.

MARIMEKKO patterned hat spring

MARIMEKKO patterned hat spring 2013

Face design

Face design:

Boy and water

Boy and water lilies

Red and

Red and Paris


Super dad

Pink Orange Blue

Pink Orange Blue

Victor Vasarely

Victor Vasarely

Surma Man, Ethiopia

Surma Man, Ethiopia

George Harrison & Bob

George Harrison & Bob Dylan

Black and

Black and White

Village WindowPhotos by Tony Kearney on Flickr

Village Window
Photos by Tony Kearney on Flickr


Twigs Sculpture


Spiral stairway


Organic highway


People and their

People and their shadows



Bror Johansson




prickly pear frozen

prickly pear frozen margarita

Turkish artist Mehmet Ali

Turkish artist Mehmet Ali Uysal

a moment. a

a moment. a shift

Jonathan Delafield Cook ’s drawing “Bird’s Nest, 1998”

Jonathan Delafield Cook ’s drawing “Bird’s Nest, 1998”


Orange Blue

Explosion of

Explosion of colors

White Center.  Mark Rothko

White Center. Mark Rothko

The forms are similar, the patterns contrast, by Kelly Jean

The forms are similar, the patterns contrast, by Kelly Jean Ohl


White Birch

San Josemaría Escrivá Church by Javier Sordo Madaleno Bringas

San Josemaría Escrivá Church by Javier Sordo Madaleno Bringas


Purple yellow

H. Palleiko Designsfrom Flickr

H. Palleiko Designs
from Flickr


Botrylloides magnicoecum


Giuseppe Guadagno

Contrast or

Contrast or harmony


all images via

Beautiful grids

” Once a grid is invented it may bend, crumble or shatter, but its organising principle never disappears” Hannah, H Higgins, The Grid Book.

The grid creates an underlying structure that is used in art, graphic design, structural design, architectural design, typography, packaging, websites, maps and databases. Grids are all around us; they can be organic, man-made, natural, distorted, 2D, 3D, simple and complex. Some designers now see the grid as a conservative organisational principle, however the beauty that emanates from its use cannot be denied.

By thinking creatively, educators can build many different learning experiences using the grid as a theme.

Here are a few images to illustrate the diversity, complexity and beauty that can be evoked from grids.

Victor Vasarely

Varvara Stepanova-1920s

Varvara Stepanova-1920s

Tom Davie | Grid Posters

Tommaso Sartori

Winter Sinking Strokes: Modern architecture of Tokyo

by safa pirshiri

Light of Hope, Sheykh Lotf Allah Mosque
by safa pirshiri



pineapple skin

Pineapple skin

Mosque of Herat, Afghanistan

Morrocan Trade Bank by Norman Foster

detail from ceiling of the main mosque in Rajah Bazaar

Detail from ceiling of the main mosque in Rajah Bazaar

UK-based studio random international

Interactive light installation
UK-based studio, Random International

Indian hand-drawn patterns


#floorstract #deco #interiors

University of Oxford HAWKINS\BROWN

University of Oxford HAWKINS\BROWN


Badshahi Mosque – Lahore – Pakistan

Winter Sinking Strokes: Modern architecture of Tokyo #architecture


Alexander ceramic tile │Giles Miller Studio

Al-Rifa’i Mosque Window

Aerial views of the Dutch landscape by Gerco de Ruijter.



Safavieh rugs paro

Safavieh rugs paro grid

All above images via

Playing with perspective

In the 1920s artists and photographers introduced a new way of looking at the world around us by playing with the rules of perspective. They called this ‘new vision’ photography.

Instead of taking photographs from a normal eye level perspective, they experimented with low angle and high angle shots to create a greater sense of drama in their images. They also rotated and boldly cropped images, emphasised angles, focused on repetitive forms and used strong tonal contrasts. These different ways of playing with perspective created new tensions and intrigue in their work. One of the most prominent photographers during this time was László Moholy-Nagy.

Today we are very familiar with camera angled shots that use forced perspective.  We see them used professionally in painting, photography and cinematography, and often in a fun and spontaneous way by ‘happy snap’ amateurs (I am definitely in the latter category). Understanding the basics of these techniques can help all of us to bring a new vision to our work.

Here are three photographs which illustrate the new vision concept. They were all taken in the 1920s by László Moholy-Nagy .

Bauhaus Balconies 1926

László Moholy-Nagy, 1926, Bauhaus Balconies

This low angle shot features repeating angles and strong diagonal lines. It’s been further enhanced by the angle tilt of the camera and dramatic cropping.

Oskar Schlemmer in Ascona, 1926

Oscar Schlemmer in Ascona

This high angle shot is given more complexity through the play of diagonal shadows that envelop the figure and confuse the eye. Strong tonal contrast adds to this dramatic effect.

Lago Maggiore, Ascona, Schweiz, ca. 1930

Moholy-Nagy_Lake Maggiore

This is simultaneously a low and high angle shot, further enhanced by the diagonal lines of the boards. We are drawn into this image via the legs of the bathers, moving on to the boaters and swimmers below, and then finally across the lake to the distant shore.

Finally, for Father Ted fans, here’s a completely different ‘play’ with perspective.

Forced perspective confusion

Using visual metaphor in the classroom

Images can be a powerful way to generate ideas and promote creative discussion in a classroom. One of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of visual metaphors.

“A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. Metaphors “carry” meaning from one word, image, or idea to another”.

A visual metaphor improves the ability to reason about complex systems.

“Metaphors help us describe, visualize, and make sense of the world around us. For example, a possible metaphor for the brain is a computer. The images this metaphor creates help us to make sense of something complex — many would consider the brain, like the computer, to have intelligence, memory, and organization, and perhaps even to be user-friendly.

“Modern advertising relies heavily on visual metaphors. For example, in a magazine ad for the banking firm Morgan Stanley, a man is pictured bungee jumping off a cliff. Two words serve to explain this visual metaphor: a dotted line from the jumper’s head points to the word “You”; another line from the end of the bungee cord points to “Us.” The metaphorical message–of safety and security provided in times of risk–is conveyed through a single dramatic image”.

Visual metaphors used in advertising are often simplistic and shallow. When used by filmmakers and artists they are usually more profound and complex in the conveyance of meaning as well as reality.

Look at these images. Each one could be used as a visual metaphor. What implied comparisons do they convey to you? How could you use images to promote complex reasoning and discussion in your classroom?

Michelangelo. Detail from The creation of Adam.


Henri Magritte. Time Transfixed

Magritte_Time transfixed

Salvador Dali. Detail from The persistence of memory

salvador-dali-the persistence of memory

Edvard Munch. The Scream

Edvard Munch-The-scream-1893

The power of association

The combination of a specific word and an associated image can deliver a powerful message. Here are 3 examples. Each one uses the same word ‘Renewal’ with a different image, resulting in 3 different messages being conveyed.


In this example the image evokes memories of domesticity and past times, maybe shattered dreams. In association with the word Renewal, the message becomes one that relates to building something new and different from past experiences and memories.


This example is somewhat similar, but this time the image and word combination convey a message that relates to the possibility of restoration: pre-loved to new.


The same word combined with this illustration evokes a message about hope and expectation, the possibility of fulfillment of dreams and ambitions.

Other image associations could change the message, eg think about:

  • renewal of vows
  • renewal notices
  • urban renewal
  • health
  • beauty
  • nature
  • fashion and decor

The image needs to be compelling enough to suggest the message you want to convey.