3 things you can learn from Medieval Marginalia to improve your Visual metaphors.


During the middle ages, monks made little illustrations or notations in the margins of manuscripts. The technical term for this kind of doodling is marginalia. It's not the main illustrations. They are doodles done in the margins. 

These manuscripts are somehow connected to sketchnoting because they are books written by hand 'manu' means hand; 'scriptus' means to write. They are not printed books."

You can incorporate specific characteristics about these provocative drawings to take your visual metaphors to the next level. 


1) Blend to drive attention. 

Today, we use a highlighter marker to draw attention to a key piece of text we are reading. But back in the Middle Ages, when they wanted to highlight something, they drew a little symbol called the manicule. Which in Latin means 'little hand.' As you can see in these drawings, they were not just hands many times. They blended these hand symbols with something else to add an extra hook to highlight and direct readers to particular pieces of text. 

So blending is perfect to create metaphors that drive attention to specific parts of your skethnotings or visual maps. Why do they work so well to create attention?

Because when you blend two things, you break patterns of similarity by creating something that doesn't exist. In visual thinking, a particular element can be emphasized when it's dissimilar. 


2) Inverting or world upside down

Another characteristic we see in middle ages manuscripts is the tendency to depict scenes of a 'world upside-down', which could include most of the times human, animal, and even hybrid ('haibrid') figures.

Instead of having humans rolling the world, you see animals in charge.

So we find many of these little drawings where rabbits are the hunter, not the hunted.

So this is a good technique you can use when you want to create metaphors that make people get into someone else's shoes. It's about inverting roles.


3) Be provocative playful

And last but not least, many of these grotesques little drawings were done in bibles and religious text and were a way of mocking the powerful, mocking the clergy. It's very common to see sacred text and obscene images coexisting side-by-side.

So this is another thing we can learn. It's a great reminder not to take visual notes too seriously and always keep the playful mood.

I'm not telling you to be obscene in your skethnotings but to be provocative playful. 


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