I have had the idea of language as art on my mind for years. This is not “language as art ” in the form of literature, rather graphic representations of words and sayings. Language is art–shapes and designs together–something that is increasingly meaningful in our image-first-in-a-glance world. I’m writing about it here today for a few reasons. First, I have been playing with Google Drawings and AutoDraw to pass the time between bomb cyclones. (I think about Drawings and AutoDraw on days with more temperate weather too.) Second, I have been impressed by the vision and deserved success of ShaoLan Hsueh’s visual gorgeous Chinesesy app. Third, I have been thinking about ways to make language study more visual–even tangible–for my students. Related to this last point, I am increasingly interested in using my Spanish classroom as space where students can develop and practice design skills as they create word art, posters, blog graphics and even 3D designs.

My most recent plan is to use Google AutoDraw to illustrate idiomatic expressions in Spanish. I played around with these four this morning. There are 71 more expressions where these came from in this post–or even a few more at the Centro Virtual Cervantes.

Students could replicate and illustrate the expressions word for word, or they could replace keywords with hundreds of AutoDraw images. (As part of this project or even as a separate one, students could create and share visual flashcards.) Whereas Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator have thousands of commands, AutoDraw has just six functions: Select, Draw, AutoDraw, Type, Fill, Shape (oral, rectangle and triangle.) These six functions plus 15 fonts give curious learners all they need to make handsome graphics. The AutoDraw interface is easy enough that students could create images start to finish in a class period. Alternately, they could work more carefully on their design and linguistic choices. At the end of the day–or period or week–students could walk away with a) a greater mastery of essential expressions, b) a class set of .png files to print or display digitally and c) a better understanding of tools they can use to create and collaborate in other spaces.

If students wanted to develop their designs further, then they could easily import them into another program for advanced editing. Options could include Google Drawing, Photoshop, Spark Post, Over, Canva, Instagram, Photofox and more. Again, this could lead to some really sharp digital signage and/or some slick post for a class newsletter, social post, etc.

Now, if they wanted to step up their skills and give their designs more life, then they could convert the .png file to an .svg file using Online-Convert. With this .svg file in hand, they could import into a program like Tinkercad to create a file for 3D printing or even laser cutting. I have not tried out the logo to laser cutter workflow yet, but I expect that it could create some amazing results. If the file were not destined for a printer or laser cutter, it could find its way onto a mug, t-shirt, poster, vinyl stickers, magnets, etc. Imagine a mosaic-tiled poster of expressions for older students or even ABCs with accompanying words for younger language learners. Imagine an annual or even quarterly design challenged where the winning design gets made into form the students choose. This could be pretty amazing! ¡A por ello!

As a postscript, it would be too difficult to imagine applications in other academic areas. These could include: idiomatic expressions in English for ELL students, quotes and accompanying images from great works of literature, ditto from famous historical figures, ionic or even ironic figures from Chemistry class, etc.

Play with the tools above and keep me posted on your progress!