Hand drawn versus, well, not hand drawn

I’m a great believer in the power of pen and paper. Give me a slightly wonky hand drawn picture over clip art any day of the week.

As Dan Roam says in The Back of The Napkin, ‘The hand is mightier than the mouse’.

But just what is it about hand drawn images that make them so great?

Firstly, the more human our communication is the more effective it is. Hand drawn images are an outward sign of that humanity.

What an insight we receive when we see how someone draws.

How refreshing, how disarming almost, to see something that like us, is not perfect.

Secondly, when we create images on a computer we often find ourselves wrestling with a piece of software* whose functionality never quite matches up to the power of our imagination.

And it’s so small, that screen, so…confined. It can make our thinking confined too.

Thirdly (and crucially), it is the physical act of putting pen to paper that is so powerful. It engages the right hand side – the creative side – of our brain. It is that creativity that stimulates and feeds idea generation.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen delegates on my courses start with a blank sheet of paper and then think, ‘Oh hang on. Maybe we can do this. Or if we scratch that out we can do that…’ and so forth.

How powerful is it in an age where idea generation is so key to human flourishing to have a tool so cheap, so quick, so accessible.

The power is in your hands!


Do come and join me on April 26th 2019 for some in person practice. I can’t wait.

*There are software programmes which allow you to draw directly on the screen (Adobe Illustrator and SketchbookPro to name a few) which is great. Start with pen and paper though. Otherwise you’re learning how to draw and learning how to use a software programme at the same time. And despite many protests to the contrary research shows that the brain just isn’t good at multitasking!

What if people think my drawings are silly?

What if people think my drawings are silly?

One of the biggest concerns I encounter when I train people in graphics is the fear of what people will think.

What will people think? Will they think my drawings are silly?

Will people take me seriously if I go into a room and start drawing star people?

It’s maybe ok for within my team but there’s no way I’d use it with external stakeholders.

If you are wrestling with these concerns, you’re certainly not alone. Anytime we step out of our comfort zone our subconscious goes into overdrive telling us all the reasons why we should just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. But where’s the fun in that?

I hope I can help in some way to assuage your fears or at the very least encourage you to feel the fear, and do it anyway.

1. The first thing to bear in mind is that graphics are for EVERYONE. When graphics are used, everybody benefits, not just artistic people, or visual people, or people in ‘creative industries’. We’re all human, suit or no suit, and the advantages of graphics apply to every one of us. Why should we deny others the advantages of this wonderful tool simply because we falsely assume they won’t get it?

2. Graphics are as much about mindset as they are about skill. If you enter a room convinced everyone will laugh at you and it’s going to be a disaster, then you’re setting yourself up for a stressful time. Try not to focus on what people will think (after all, we have no control over this). Focus instead on you, on what you think, how you feel about about graphics and this will come across to your audience.

4. Trying graphics with a new audience? Position your audience in advance. Explain what graphics is and how you’re going to use it. You will immediately grab people’s attention and rouse interest. And making mistakes is ok. We all do it. It’s what makes us human.

5. Remember the colour rules – black for icons, dark colours for text, use red sparingly. Use colour carefully to categorise themes and this will build confidence in knowing your work is easy on the eye and makes sense to your audience.

6. Find the biting point. If you keep telling yourself you need to practice before you do it live it’s quite likely you’ll never do it live. The key is to actually start doing graphics before you feel you’re ready. Find the balance between honing your skills and getting it perfect. Because it will never be perfect. That’s the biggest lesson of all. It’s something that can be difficult to get our heads around. It’s also wholly welcoming and refreshing.

Remember, what’s the worst that can happen? People laugh? (that’s called an icebreaker) The paper falls down off the wall? (again, icebreaker…of sorts) You trip over the flip chart with Bambi-style finesse and fall flat on your face? (it’s happened to the best of us).

Above all, don’t hide your talents. The world is waiting!

Three quick cheats for drawing live

Three quick cheats for drawing live

The day of reckoning has arrived.

You’ve had some training in graphics and you’re determined to put your new skills into practice. You may have offered to take visual minutes at the next team meeting or to create a visual record of a planning session – whatever commitment you’ve made now’s the time to jump out of your comfort zone and take the plunge with live drawing.

Here are a few tips to help you out on the day.

1. Draw your title in advance.

Lettering can be tricky, especially when you’re feeling nervous, and particularly if you’re not used to writing and drawing large scale. Spelling mistakes are common. Give yourself the best start by writing your title out in advance. Add a simple graphic and the date, and you’re good to go. (Tip: Sketch out your lettering in pencil and/or draw pencil lines with a ruler to keep it straight)

2. Sketch a large drawing just before the event starts

You can kick off your recording by choosing a landscap format to begin with. With a landscap format there is a large sketch on your page which then becomes surrounded by the key nuggets you are recording e.g. bullet points of text and smaller sketches. Your large sketch can be related to the theme of the event or can represent the internal or external landscape – how the room is set up or any significant buildings or features outside the room. Doing this early on (you can always copy your drawing from a smaller sketch you make on your note pad) helps to build confidence and take away the often intimidating feeling of facing a (very large!) blank page.

3. Keep your icon library at your feet

Prepare an icon library (bank of images) in advance that is specific to your event. Research themes and topics that may emerge on the day. Bring this with you and keep it at your feet. That way if you get stuck on what to draw reach down and have a quick look through your icon library for ideas.

Remember this is your gig. Do what you need to do to feel calm and in control. Making peace with your nerves is a good first step. It’s natural to be nervous; it’s a sign that you care. Breathe through your nerves instead of fighting them and you’ll feel a lot calmer.

Good luck and if you need a debrief afterwards feel free to drop me a line!

Er…graphic what?

Er…graphic what?

‘Well, we were calling it Graphic Communication Skills but then someone said that was a bit rude…’

I was speaking to a client about an upcoming series of workshops and I could understand her plight.

With so many different words used in the industry – graphic communication, visual thinking, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, sketchnoting, visual planning etc – where do you begin?

Here’s a breakdown of the most used terminology so that when you’re talking about it, at least you know what you mean.

Graphics – graphics simply describes a combination of simple images and words to convey meaning.

Graphic Facilitation – this describes the facilitation of a process (strategic visioning forexample) using a graphic template. The facilitator is co-creating with the group. Visual Facilitation is the same thing.

Graphic Recording – this describes real time recording of a talk (for example) using simple images and words. The graphic recorder does not engage with the group. He/she is off to one side listening to what is being said. Sketchnoting is the same thing but done on a smaller scale, on a sketchpad.

Many people get confused between graphic recording and graphic facilitation. I often get enquiries for a graphic facilitator when the client really wants a graphic recorder.

Visual Thinking simply describes thinking and working in visuals. Because there is a naturally an element of communication in all aspects of this work the term visual communication is also often used.

In Secrets of Simple Graphics I go into more detail about the differences (as well as introducing custom illustration and graphic coaching), and we get to practice both graphic recording and graphic facilitation in a fun and safe environment.

The next date is September 5th. Book your place here.

The Spanish guide to graphics

Last year I spent the month of July living and working in Spain.

Before I went I thought I’d better learn some Spanish, so I took some classes and hoped for the best.

At the end of the month I was surprised to discover my Spanish had not improved greatly.

I came back to Edinburgh and bought a book called ‘Fluent in three months’* (a girl can hope). I began to see where I had gone wrong.

I also began to see the similarities between learning Spanish and using graphics for the first time.

So here it is, my Spanish guide to graphics:

1. Find your passion.
Before I went to Spain I thought learning Spanish was a sensible thing to do. Now, having experienced life in Spain and made friends there I have fallen in love with the language. I really really want to get better at it!
The same goes for learning graphics. Where’s your passion? What’s your hook? Find it, and there’s your motivation to learn.

2. Apply a triage system to your learning.
One day I just had enough with the whole ‘esto’ ‘este’ ‘ese’ ‘eso’ etc. business. Why can’t it be as simple as ‘this’ and ‘that’?! Being frustrated with the language wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I cornered my flatmate and asked her to explain it to me till I finally got it.
Where are you getting stuck when it comes to using graphics? Are you having difficulty drawing people, using colour or coming up with icons? Spend some dedicated time working through your sticking points, and feel oh-so satisfied when you break through those barriers.

3. Have a ‘no English’ rule.
I came across a blog recently called ‘A year without English’**. It’s written by two guys who spent 3 months each in Spain, Brazil, China and Korea. They were so determined to learn the language of the countries they visited they decided on a ‘no English’ rule. Amazing!
How about sticking to a ‘no words’ rule to help you improve your visual thinking? Try to explain something to a colleague without using any words or text, just by drawing out what you want to say. I can see this being quite a fun exercise.

4. Get specific.
When I started learning Spanish my goal was ‘to learn Spanish’. No wonder I wasn’t progressing when my goal was so vague. Since my return from Spain I have made much more progress as I am now clear on my goals and my timeframe.
When I train people in graphics I always encourage them to get specific with their goals and their action plans. And by the way, ‘Practice’ is not an action plan, which leads me to my final point…

5. Speak/Draw before you are ready.
I thought I would learn as much Spanish as possible before I started to speak it. That way I would be ‘ready’ and know what to say. Not only was I not ready, I would be never be ready. In fact the more I told myself I needed to ‘be good at’ Spanish before speaking it the less likely I was to actually speak it.
The same goes for graphics. You will never be ‘ready’. You need to just do it and learn as you go along. Because learning from the comfort of your office and then trying to explain that you left your passport back in the flat (with your keys) are two very different things!

I hope you have found this guide useful on your quest to use graphics. Feedback, comments etc. welcome as always.


* Fluent in Three Months, by Benny Lewis. See http://www.fluentin3months.com/ 

** https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/myprojects/the-year-without-english-2/