Writing, Reading, and Thinking Visually

Welcome to Project Q, a creative and exploratory project I completed as a part of ENG 101 at Emory University during fall semester 2018. The project consists of various forms of communication and discusses the importance and effect of graphic representation. I became more aware of my writing process through practicing, analyzing, and understanding the concept of visualization and eventually utilized visualization as a part of my language coping strategy. I was also able to use different methods and techniques to communicate my ideas, shape my arguments, and eventually create my own nonfiction narrative comic.

Throughout the study of this course, I composed works using multiple media such as written texts, drawings, digital maps, data charts, photographs, 3-D artworks, and images edited using Photoshop. I was able to effectively utilize my artistic skills in the Sunday sketches and my final literacy narrative comic piece. The assignments not only allowed me to practice my writing skills but also encouraged me to think visually and turn abstract ideas into concrete words and images that accurately describe my experiences. I incorporated Scott McCloud’s five choices of comics into my comics to establish clarity and draw emphasis on visual aspects of my memory. Additionally, I learned a new skill every Sunday through making the sketches. For instance, “Data viz from everyday life” was a not only an assignment for me to qualify my habits and routines but was also an opportunity for me to practice data tracking through visualization, identify large patterns in the midst of biographical information, and discover what matters to me and influences me the most  in my daily life. As I stated in my reflection on the Data Viz sketch, “I chose to visualize my data using colorful drawings and intricate patterns, because I wanted to indicate that the data I was collecting are dynamic and complex,” I realized that I spent a lot of time on creating patterns and details that potentially represent my mood at the moment. When I looked back, I realized my visual representations are almost always related to nature and patterns. From the very first Alphabetical Literacy Narrative to my last Assemblies Sketch, I always incorporated graphic patterns such as stripes and swirls in my work.


Figure 1. Mood Tracker from “Data viz from everyday life”

My portfolio is mainly divided into three parts: sketches, literacy narratives, and reflective essays on graphic narratives such as MAUS, Stitches, Spinning, and Climate Changed. Eleven sketches were completed in total. Seven out of the eleven sketches were created using graphic patterns and reference to the beauty of the natural world. I believe patterns represent both chaos and organization in the universe. Patterns can be structured and repeated in an infinite number of ways leading to infinite possibilities in this world.


Figure 2. Avatar Qiao

From our DNA structure to the shape of the ocean waves, patterns are maintained and broken. The complexity of the nature of patterns is closely related to the practice of visualization. When I step back and look at the sketches I have created this year, I realize I was looking for spontaneity and harmony in my work. The use of leaves, the drawing of oceans, the combo-photo of a butterfly and a ballerina are all examples of me drawing connections between the human existence and their environment. This connection allows me to be more mindful of my surroundings and engage in visual thinking.

Not only have I grown as a thinker through the study of this course, but I have also developed a new writing style, practiced writing as a process, and used visual images to frame my arguments. I started writing in English at the age of fourteen. Before then, I was taught Chinese characters and was trained for 8 years to write proficiently in Chinese only. Whenever I write in English, I automatically translate the Chinese words into the corresponding English words and sometimes erase the untranslatable parts. I spent a lot of time figuring out whether if my translated argument is grammatical and culturally correct. Sometimes I become overly concerned about the format and forget what I originally attempted to say. With visualization, I can construct mental images as I think, and translate images directly into words written in English instead of translating images into Chinese and then converting the words into English. I was able to analyze, synthesize, summarize, and evaluate the ideas of others directly through visualization and produce arguments more efficiently. I started to identify visualization as a part of my language coping strategy and use visual thinking as a way to organize my thoughts. I revised and edited my analysis over and over again. Every time I stepped back and looked at my essay from a wider angle, I would have a new and more detailed imagery.

I also implemented research, revision, editing, and reflection into my writing process. One of my favorite assignments in the course is writing the comparison essay on David Small’s Stitches and Tillie Walden’s Spinning. I read the introduction section from Hillary Chute’s “Women, Comics, and the Risks of Representation” and used her arguments as a part of research to draw an analysis of the similarity between Small’s and Walden’s works. I identified my audience as someone who has read both books and thought about them. My purpose was to discuss the visual and textual components that are present in both author’s works and how they use pauses, silence, and fragmentations of memories to re-create the unspeakable events they went through in their childhood. Their arguments were solely framed by visualization. I decided to focus on Hillary Chute’s argument on the special representation of trauma established by visual components. I identified significant pauses and fragmented memories in the books that corresponded to Hillary Chute’s argument about how our brain interprets these moments of traumatic memories, eventually leading to the discussion on the purpose of representing trauma using comics. The use of silent pauses and fragmentations illustrated by the books, as I stated in my comparison essay, “opens up new possibilities for people to delineate and understand trauma.” No translation was required for me to come up with the analysis for the two books because I was looking directly at the images and using English words to represent the trauma both Walden and Small illustrated. Silence itself is complex. It exists as a form of language. The process of visualization allowed me to break the language barrier and write more genuinely and authentically. 

At the beginning of the semester, I was nervous about the idea of sharing my work using an online platform. I had always been critical of my writing and would only write to fulfill an academic requirement. However, through taking this course, I became more confident and started to trust myself more in my own writing. I took advantage of the process of visualization and truly enjoyed the writing assignments I had completed during the course. Not only did I learn how to employ technology, engage responsibly in online space, and give credits to the individuals that I had quoted from or used images from, but I also improved my writing skills through thinking visually and reflectively. The course has changed the way I think and frame my arguments, making me a more confident, creative, and proficient writer.


Figure 3. Assemblies – A Summary of What I’ve Learned This Semester