In 1996, one of Janice Merendino’s adult students was struggling to fix something in his drawing, so they looked at the drawing together.  Janice realized that, although the problem seemed to appear in one area of the drawing, the way to fix the problem was actually found in a different location.  Janice conveyed this idea to her student to which he said, “Wow, that’s the same thing that keeps happening to me at work!” When asked what he meant by this, the student replied, “I keep missing where problems are because I focus on the wrong thing, get stuck on details, and never see the whole picture.”

Like Janice’s student, most adults have not developed their drawing skills and their understanding of the process is limited.  These students believe, albeit incorrectly, that their lack of ability is due to an absence of talent. In reality, the inability to draw has more to do with self-imposed constraints, a lack of information, and the absence of an approachable introduction.

After Janice’s session with her student, she started looking at all metaphors related to the drawing process.  She specifically wanted to know:  how the arts teach problem-solving skills that can impact people’s lives at home and at work, how people think about their work, and how our own ideas are shared with others.  She realized that by rethinking how and to whom the arts are taught, we could expose more people to these creative problem-solving skills, and this is where the idea of Branch-Out Project was born.

So, Janice developed a fun and non-intimidating instruction process that enables reluctant learners to make a significant leap in their skill level, in a very short period of time. The “Branch-Out Process,” reverses the usual sequence in which drawing is taught, giving beginners advanced ideas and techniques almost immediately.  When learners are given “the good stuff” early on, they tend to be more motivated and invested in their work.

In 2000, Janice designed and gave a two-day seminar with Norman Clark of Altman Weil Inc., entitled “Creative Legal Management,” for the US Navy Mid-Atlantic Region’s Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs).  This seminar linked the thinking process used in drawing with creative problem-solving. (Download PDF articles for an introduction to this seminar).

In 2003, The Branch Out Project and Roosevelt Alternative High School in Norristown, PA received a grant from the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (with support from the William Penn Foundation, the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund) to introduce Janice’s drawing techniques and visual thinking skills to ninth grade students. Janice has also designed workshops for the Accessible Programs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Chautauqua Institution, TIAA-CREF, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth Ayerst, Young Audiences, Head Start, numerous schools, and other community and non-profit organizations.

Over the past twenty years, students have been and continue to be empowered with these visual literacy skills which help them to express themselves better, give them the ability to understand others’ points of view, and help them contribute to the world with more enthusiasm, depth, and compassion.