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In this part, we will go through the basic visual elements to- gether. We kindly welcome you to dive into the following pag- es and try whatever you read in this chapter. However, we can’t promise that you will become a professional right away—be- cause practice makes you a master—but, what you will short- ly discover is the very minimum of graphic tools and elements, enough for starting your journey in the world of Visual Facil- itation.

Before we finally get started and explore things further, there is one thing we want you to keep in mind while reading this book and for whenever you start putting your pen to paper: You don’t have to be an artist! Working more visually and applying visual tools into the facilitation process is not about drawing beautiful pictures. It is all about simple little drawings that ac- tivate people’s attention and support understanding, retention and engagement. In fact, people’s brains are more active when looking at drawings that are not perfect, but slightly ambigu- ous. Or, in other words:

Simple visualization is powerful and it is memorable even if — heaven forbid! — it looks like chickens drew it.

Sunni Brown

Basic Shapes

All you need is this (we can call it the visual alphabet): Circle, Rectangle, Triangle, Line and Dot.

These shapes are quite basic, as you may have noticed. They are the simplest and recognisable to human eye, which also makes them very popular in visual communication: road signs, buttons, arrows, banners, screens, etc. Simple navigation also uses sim- ple shapes, because they communicate to our brain even fast- er than other of images. And, what is most beautiful, is that all other images can be constructed with only these basic shapes.

Dave Gray extends this set: Dot, Line, Angle, Arc, Spiral, Loop, Oval, Eye, Triangle, Rectangle, House, Cloud.

And other teachers and experts of Visual Facilitation bring even more basic shapes, but what we all agree on is that basic shapes are your entry point to advanced shapes and with these basic shapes you can already do a lot. To prove it here, we would like to offer you some exercises you can either try out alone or with a group of people, which is of course more fun.

Playing Derrida


To learn using basic shapes for drawing bigger concepts.


Tables and chairs, pen for everyone, prepared sheets of paper with an opening picture, pre-folded.


  1. Since this exercise is built on a certain sequence of con- structing and deconstructing pictures, it is better if you have an even number of people in each group, so that the last person will construct the objects and then compare them with the opening picture.
  2. The number of people can be odd, but the number of free panels on papers should be same as the number of people in the group. Otherwise, if there are more panels, people will get the paper they started with and it is boring for them to construct the object they have seen before.
  3. It is strongly recommended to use a thicker paper, such as watercolour paper. It is essential that the paper is not transparent enough to see what is drawn under the sheet.


  1. Prepare the sheets for participants in advance. The rec- ommended width is about 10 cm. The length depends on the number of pre-folded panels; each should be about 6 cm. It is important that the number of panels is equal to the number of people per group, plus one more for the opening picture.
  2. The opening picture should consist of simple shapes: a house with triangle roof, air balloon, TV, etc. You need to draw them in advance in the first panel.
  3. The opening pictures should be different on papers at the same table. Which means, if you have two groups of six people at the table, you need just one set of six pictures and 12 pieces of paper with seven pre-folded panels each. If you have three groups of eight people, you need three sets of eight pictures and 24 pieces of paper with nine pre-folded panels.
  4. Each player receives one paper with a pre-drawn image. Now, the task is to deconstruct this image into basic shapes: triangle, rectangle, circle, line and dot (see the example picture). They should draw these shapes in the second panel, right under first.

Then fold the opening picture back and pass the paper to the right, when everyone is ready, so the receiver can only see the second panel.

5. The next person cannot see the initial picture but should guess and reconstruct, what it was or could be, by using the simple shapes first person provided. This reconstruction is drawn in the third panel. When the second panel is folded back, pass it to the right again.

6. If the number of people in the group is even, then the last round is to reconstruct the object and then everyone canunfold the paper and see the transformation of the initial picture to the final one, through a series of deconstructions and reconstructions


If you want to go deeper into deconstructing pictures and art, you should check out this guy: Ursus Wehrli, a Swiss comedian and artist. He created a book called “Tidying Up Art” and also gave a very entertaining TED talk which you can find online.

I remember this part of the training where we were con- structing and deconstructing things, so I understood that basically every drawing consists of a few basic ele- ments and that was a huge discovery for me. So, now I think that I can draw everything using all those basic elements and that is easy, actually

Solvita Jirgensone, participant at VF+ training

Playing Picasso


To learn how to use basic shapes for drawing even more nat- ural pictures.


A4 size tracing paper, pencil and eraser, old magazine with dif- ferent pictures for everyone.


  1. Ask everyone to find a picture they like in a magazine.
  2. Place the tracing paper on top of the picture
  3. Try to reconstruct the picture by drawing simple forms: rectangles, triangles, ellipses, dots and lines. In other words, you are going to simplify the original picture into basic shapes as far as it remains understandable, whether it is a person at a table or beautiful valley with a rising sun, or whatever else there is in the picture.
  4. When you think you are done with one, move onto the second and so on.
  5. It is called Playing Picasso, because he started with quite realistic paintings at the beginning of his career and then went on to the simplification of detailed pictures, down to just several lines, still keeping it recognisable.


  1. Don’t draw the silhouette of the picture. It would be the easiest way, but the essence of the exercise is to understand that any photographed picture can be reconstructed with basic shapes, at least to the extent that you can still under- stand what is going on in the drawing.
  2. Sometimes participants jump into details, trying to “over- shape” the picture by being very precise. Too many details also steal time for reading them. So, the simpler, the better.

What helped me here very much was to see that it’s ac- tually a low threshold to start. We used this semi-trans- parent paper on magazines and discovered that com- plex things indeed consist of simple things. So I would strongly suggest to popularise these small and easy ex- ercises so people can really see that it is a low threshold to start.

Uku Visnapuu, participant at VF+ training

Banners, Frames, Containers

Frames are easy-to-draw elements which help you to structure your content, to set focus and to increase the reader’s ability to capture an overall idea and retain information. With frames you can cluster information and put it literally “into boxes”. By doing so, you separate certain sections of information and text from each other and make it explicit that “this here is some- thing and that there is something else”.

How easy it is to make things look more interesting; new ideas on frames, connectors; got to be creative, easy things that can be useful in so many areas.

Yulia Jefanova, participant at VF+ training

You can call them frames, containers or boxes. Basically it is                                                                                                     about drawing a line around some words. They can be modi- fied, shaped and reshaped in many different ways. It is just up

to your imagination and creativity. They can give hints to what kind information you are actually dealing with. For example, speech bubbles can be used for statements, thinking clouds for thoughts and ideas, banners for headlines and titles, etc. The way you place the frame can even hint towards the “quality” of the content, e.g. on an axis between more formed and less formed.

wo tips from Brandy Agerbeck’s The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide: Write or draw your content first and then put your con- tainer or box around it to make sure you have enoughspace. And yes, boxes are nice and useful but,“Don’t become a boxaholic!”

randy describes the character of different shapes:

Arrows, “Connectors”

Simple arrows are useful visual elements to build connections between the different elements of your content. By using eye- catching and visible arrows you can make visible relations, pro- cess directions, dynamics, hierarchies, etc. Thus, you can guide the reader’s eyes and attention through a picture, story or pro- cess flow and make it easier for your audience to follow, to keep the overview and to see the “big picture”.

Characters and Figures, Emotions

Draw little stick figures and characters to liven up your content and make your posters, presentations and educational mate- rials more human. Simple figures and characters are essential to illustrate and show any kind of process, because human be- ings are usually involved in it as well!

Different people have created and used different characters. Here you can find a compilation with examples of the most common ones, plus the ones we like. They are all easy and quick to draw. Try them all, choose the one you like the most and make it your own. However, in practice basically everything which has two arms and two feet can be a character. So once again: It is all a matter of your own imagination.

You can add a nose and eyes to make clear where your char- acter is looking to. If you want to add emotions to your little creatures and bring them more to life, it is worth taking a look in the mirror and watching yourself for a while, making some emotional face expressions. Try to look very sad, super happy or wild and angry. Which part of your face is actually chang- ing and how? Which part stays more or less the same? Usually the eyebrows and mouth are changing the most, while the rest of the face remains the same. So, these are the relevant parts of the face to put emotions into your character.

The following scheme which is called the face- or expression- matrix by Austin Kleon will make this quite clear and offers you already nine different face expressions and emotion by ba- sically combining only 2 lines: eyebrows and mouth.

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