We are all about helping young students to be more creative by providing them with a guide to learn fundamental creativity skills, Visual Diary skills such as annotation, and most importantly learning to work like an artist. In order to achieve this, we appeal to secondary school teachers.

The author Hilary Senhanli is a secondary art teacher, a practising artist and the founder of Visual Diary Guide approach.

Hilary has built a collection of Visual Diaries going back 15 years and has been delivering Visual Diary talks since 2012 through incursion to secondary schools. That’s when she noticed Year 11 and 12 students in most schools struggle to work independently. This observation has been confirmed by an overwhelming majority of teachers she’s interviewed since.

She recalls episodes such as the following which inspired her to act:

“I stepped into the art room and saw my students avidly drawing in their Visual Diaries. A brief time dedicated to the Visual Diary at the start of each lesson was theirs; they knew they did not need to wait for permission. They were engaged! But what if they had an activity book to focus them? This would then only take a few minutes!

“Then one day, during an incursion, I was showing my own Visual Diaries in a school with disadvantaged students. One ‘tough boy’ who pretended not to be interested in any of it, suddenly perked up when he heard it took me just three days to produce six art works some of which qualified as a finalist in major competitions and that there was a viable career option with thousands of dollars in return for each piece. When he realized it was because I insisted on developing the ideas for many months beforehand using my Visual Diaries, he (and most other students) rushed back to look at my diaries with renewed interest to see how the finalist piece came about. It was clear that the employment prospect was motivating them.

“Another day, as part of a conference at the National Gallery of Victoria, I was presenting the development process for my own work as an artist to a room full of teachers. Teachers expressed their frustration to me that their students usually want to jump from concept to product in one go, avoiding the development and refinement of their ideas!

“Experiences like this led me write the guides so that what artists can do creatively is made teachable on a large scale. Yet, I could never achieve this without the enthusiastic participation of many generous Art & Design teachers, who reviewed what I produced in their own time and helped me get it right.”

"A new teaching model turns art education on its head."
"Mention the words Visual Diary to art teachers and there is an immediate response that suggests they know what you’re talking about! It’s one of those terms that is accepted without too much thought or question. Sure, Visual means it has something to do with what can be seen; and, Diary means something to do with recording what has happened or what is planned to happen. Easy! Or is it?"
Dr. Max Darby
Art Education Consultant

When so many Visual Arts courses require students to maintain and present Visual Diaries for assessment purposes, then much more is needed to meet the requirements and obligations expected. If you’ve ever had students who find it difficult to generate ideas beyond simple interpretations; have students who have too many unused pages at the end of a semester, or students who have work pages that are the same as most other students, then help is required, and at hand.

The second edition of a package, titled Visual Diary Guide has been prepared by Hilary Senhanli to assist art teachers and students in Year 7 to 10 to get a real handle on Visual Diaries. It makes clear the reality that Visual Diaries are far more complex than often thought. It outlines things that need to be included and many exciting potential ideas that students can explore both in class and at home. Most importantly it underlies the belief that student at all levels need to be involved in using their Visual Diaries positively in the present, but also as a means of developing thinking and working processes that make everything so much more valuable and individual in future years.

Both student workbooks is centred around a series of more than 95 consequentially planned and related activities and some excellent project activities. These could be used by teachers to form the basis of their program, or as idea-prompters that students can undertake as required. The demonstration and example material is of excellent quality and can be effectively used to inspire and motivate students. Like all good activities most are not rigidly age-specific although the latest series has been specifically produced for years 7/8 and year 9/10.  They can be interpreted appropriately by students working earlier in their art education and later in the senior levels. The project section outlines everything required about the how and why of using Visual Diaries. It provides the basis for planning and evaluating activities and the use of Visual Diaries in class and at home.

The exciting prospect of enabling each student to have their personal copy of the Visual Diary Guide seems the best way to make full use of the enormous range of exciting research-based Visual Diary activities provided. Regardless of your experience the Visual Diary Guide is a publication you need to check out. I have and wish I’d had it years ago.

Dr Max Darby
Arts Education Consultant

This review is originally published for Zart Extra Magazine.