Unworded Letters

This workshop is an extension of a wider project in which I’ve encouraged people of all ages to  write letters without words (see Projects) and then developed the narrative of symbols further with each person. I have found it a fascinating and useful form of expression for people of all ages.

I’ve done this workshop a few times with children aged between 8 – 10 for the Inspiring Young Stars Charity:

  • Discussion about symbols, language and communication
  • Looking at examples of symbols and languages
  • Drawing symbols for the people they know
  • Making “Family Trees” out of these symbols by linking them up
  • Writing letters without words

We discussed symbols and looked at various examples; pictographs, hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, Navajo symbols amongst others. We discussed what a symbol is and how it differs from a picture (tricky line as they very much overlap)

I asked them to draw symbols for the people they know and for themselves, to use single aspects to represent a whole and to use not only the physical aspects of people but their personalities, and actions that defined them. The kids found this difficult but I gave them examples – showing them symbols for my family on the board and then they took to it.

Then they made symbols different things and each put them up on the board so the others could guess what they were for. I emphasised that what made symbols so interesting and powerful what that everybody could read something different into them – and that a symbol can hold meaning for you without other people knowing what that is. I tried to manoeuvre them past the idea of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers for these games.

Later I asked them to write letters without words. Letters to anybody, with something they wanted to say, using symbols. Some of them took the expressive side to this (very scribbly) but were able to identify the important marks in the ‘letter’ when asked. Others carefully created their own set of symbols (I had asked them to avoid as much as possible any symbol they already knew, like hearts and stars etc.)

Very varied and interesting results – i’m very proud of them and now these are hanging up in the school. They all liked the idea of a secret language of their own which no-one else can read – though there were some who were desperate to tell what they had written anyway!

What they said about it:

“It was different than normal. I had never done this before. I learned about symbols and it was fun because i got to use my imagination”

“It was very interesting because… we had to think and draw

“I made my own language

“It was interesting to learn how to write in symbols. Now I learned it I can tell my friends

“Interesting and strange because you had to represent things in strange ways

I’m very happy with their comments which show an expanded understanding of the ways of communication and representation (after all, representing things ‘strangely’ is a large part of being an artist – seeing well worn images in new ways and finding individual ways to represent them). At the beginning of the class the kids seemed to believe that art and thinking didn’t go together… by the end you can see that they have come to understand the consideration and contemplation that can go into visual communication. They also took to the idea of making their own language which is fantastic as, whether in literature, performance or the visual arts each persons creativity searches for its own language.

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