Become the Dragon Warrior of Graphic Recording!
Here are some tips to help your Live Illustration skills flow better - my recipe for a successful Digital Graphic Recording session. I’ve been journaling for 15 years now - analysing and summarizing is a fundamental part of who I am. Whether I follow my recipe or not, thinking about my work and process is helpful, that's one of the key reasons I started this blog! Why journal just to myself if I can share my findings with you?
When it comes to Live Graphic Recording, I feel that the actual result will depend on your ability to be in the present moment, and whether you can successfully mute the inner critic in your mind; however, this article shares some practical tips that can help you achieve this! Whether you're a fellow graphic recorder or from any other field, I hope you will find this both useful and interesting. I might have to re-write this every couple of years as my experiences continue to shape my thoughts, but here’s my wisdom as it is right now...
1. Prepare your canvas for Live Illustration!
Plan the layout
I'm sure many of us go in without any solid plans, and I've been forced to do so a few times myself. Unfortunately, this can lead to a hectic performance and poor result - a visual map full of information that doesn't necessarily connect in logical ways. If the conversation itself is lacking a logical flow (as most do - that's the nature of it), I can do my best in the given time and space, but my canvas may mirror any inconsistencies. These events rarely go as planned; even the most scripted panel discussions will deviate for a bit, in a way that often messes with our visual vision.
We don’t always get lots of details prior to an event, but we’ll usually know the length and style of the session (keynote speech, panel discussion, etc.) and subsequently plan the composition around that. With further information around the content and structure, I can even plan the canvas in advance. The more confident I am in the agenda, the sooner I’ll realize when we go off track and I'll know where to leave space for what hasn't been said.
The more we prepare,
the more confidently we’ll surf the waves.
Draw a good-looking title and anchoring graphic
I find the least and best I can do is to come up with the title and a feature piece ready for the event. I can really indulge in creating these - a beautifully designed title and a nice graphic will set my canvas (and mind) up for success.
The ‘anchoring visual’ is ideally a creative visual metaphor based on the content of the event to come. I like this name, 'anchoring visual', as I think it not only anchors my canvas, as in providing a focus point by drawing the attention to itself, but also anchors me; knowing there is already something beautiful, logical, and witty on my canvas relaxes me and frees me up to create the rest.
Make some choices ahead of time ...and practice beforehand!
Some things are just meant to be improvised, but we can save ourselves a lot of energy by making some of the creative decisions in advance. Not only choosing the right colors (often using the clients’ brand colors, which makes this much simpler), but assigning a use and function to each of them. Visual Hierarchy throughout the canvas will be essential for our map to be easy to follow and understand. Inconsistent colours and sizes can confuse our audiences, leaving us with a messy map that won't be easy nor pleasant to read. Planning the colours and sizes of our fonts, containers, and imagery will truly facilitate our visual note-taking experience.
2. Practice your event-specific Visual Vocabulary!
For there are things you’ve never drawn before....
Whether by pre-drawing or just practising in advance, it’s really helpful to know how to draw the topic.
I was invited to capture ID Nuclear’s Annual Conference and it was my first time working in the Nuclear Sector. I did my research first but then asked the client what imagery they appreciate, and what might be too cliché for someone in the industry. They shared an entire folder with nuclear-related images they love using, some of which I had never encountered before. They also shared a list of symbols they don't like, and I definitely would have used those had they not warned me. Fair to say that was all incredibly helpful.
I know that some colleagues don’t even take a job if they are not given the information to prepare with - they don’t want to embarrass themselves by not providing the quality they had promised in their portfolio. Fair!
My most hectic event ever was an unusually short one (30 minutes) where I wasn’t provided with any content in advance… I felt like a virtual noteboard, expected to capture everything added, and that’s where I learned this lesson; we must prepare what we can and we must align on what’s possible before the event takes place.
Some of us join these virtual events with a great set of pre-drawn visuals. Based on the information we have prior to the event, we can create a few (hopefully) thoughtful and witty visual metaphors we think we’ll need, and then we can just pop them in like stickers throughout the session. Some of us pre-draw with a light pencil and trace it over during the event, whatever works for you and your event!
There are some downsides to this though…
The risks of overplanning
It’s rather like the Buddhist practice of non-attachment, if you will. You can make all the plans you want, but you can’t hold tight to them. As the event flows, you will need to tweak or erase illustrations you’ve created, and if you were happy with them, it’s going to be painful for your artist's soul.
Generally, the more we prepare, the better our chances of being satisfied with our work. However, to be honest, I don’t find it helpful to have the entire script and all the slides to an event. If I know too much then I’m joining the event with lots of expectations and preconceptions. If I have a clear vision of how things ‘should go’, I run the risk of failing to properly capture the reality.
Arriving with many pre-drawn assets, one could argue, is a generous way to approach a live recording event. Instead, I find that the more I create of these pre-drawn graphics, the more limiting they can become in the moment. In lieu of listening and drawing, I could find myself scrolling through my layers of images, looking for one that could fit the moment and the space, only to find that it’s not even that suitable.
It’s nice to prepare a few complex images in advance and it’s great practice even if we don’t end up using them… But at the end of the day, we just need to trust in our Live skills.
3. Bring your playful spirit to the event you're visualizing!
Your mood will shine through!
As a graphic recorder, you are set up for challenges when capturing Live during an event. We have to improvise all the time, no matter how well we prepared. Leading a life with plenty of space for playfulness can help to practice this muscle. I find that playing boardgames, especially imaginative ones, such as Dixit, Codenames Pictures, or Cranium, helps to keep me in a playful mental state. That’s also what inspired me to attend Improv Workshops - I’m finding that the scenes, characters and objects emerging in the acts can randomly provide inspiration during a Live Graphic Recording session.
To be in a great flow, you’ll have to be in a great mood. If only for a few minutes before the event, I recommend creating a little ritual that puts you in a fun mood ~ whether it’s catching grapes in your mouth, dancing to a fun song, or listening to a bit of stand-up comedy, it could really make a difference in how much of your infinite mind you will be able to access.
What's not to love about this?