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An incomplete harvest

PuzzleTo my mind, there aren’t a lot of rules in graphic recording. You listen, you distill, you write and you draw – how you do that is up to you. But one thing I often worry about is whether I’m doing my job properly if I don’t finish my charts when the session ends – or at least very shortly after. I take a lot of pride in my work and think I do a good job for my clients. And the feedback I get suggests I’m not overestimating my abilities. But I’m not super-fast. I envy those of my colleagues who can wrap up a chart shortly after a speaker finishes: honesty compels me to confess that I’m rarely able to match their speed. Which means that sometimes, at the end of the day, my charts aren’t finished. I’ll stay till I’m done, of course – but am I doing my clients a disservice if they don’t see the “big picture” as soon as the meeting ends? No one has ever complained to me when that happens, but still – I worry.

Yesterday, though, something interesting took place. I was graphically recording an event I had designed and was facilitating myself. The bulk of the session was a modified World Cafe with three rounds of table conversation around three separate but related questions. The process I’ve evolved for mapping World Cafe dialogues is to collect the key ideas from each table after each round and transfer the information to the chart while they’re doing the next round. It usually works pretty well. It worked fine for the first round yesterday. But in the second round, the question we posed elicited such a fire hose of content that there was no way I could get it up in a coherent way before the third round began. And the charts were going to be used to present to a government ministry later on, so it needed to be coherent! What to do?

I did the only thing that seemed realistic: I told them I was going to listen carefully to what they said, put everything on sticky notes, and then finish the chart in my studio a couple of days later. It felt like it would be a disservice to the group to simply list things as they came up without distilling and theming them properly. But I still felt badly. I wanted them to be able to take away a completed chart at the end of the day, and I wasn’t going to be able to deliver.

Then my client – the person who was spearheading the whole process and who was very much involved in it – did something wonderful. She stood up and said, “Thank you for being so honest and flexible, for recognizing what we need, and for being willing to shift your process to give us what we need.” Far from being upset that she wouldn’t have a finished product at the end of the day, she was impressed that I wasn’t a slave to my original design and that I would put in extra hours in my studio to deliver a chart that was legible, organized and usable. Well. That flipped my anxiety on its head. And it reminded me yet again that being upfront and transparent and – yes – vulnerable is sometimes the best service I can render. A good lesson to keep relearning.

So – would I like to have been able to finish the chart at the end of the day? Of course I would! I still want to be superwoman, dazzling my clients with my speed as well as my virtuosity. But all I can be is me – and I’m glad that yesterday that was enough.

A different lens

Version 2There are those who argue that we should look at the world through our eyes and not through our cameras – that we’re less present in the moment when we’re viewing the world through a lens. Having a mediated rather than a direct experience. Distancing ourselves from the world rather than immersing ourselves in it. And there is probably some truth in that – especially when we just snap away mindlessly, treating the world as nothing more than a backdrop for our selfies or as scenes to add to our scrapbook – and having shot, moving on.

But the opposite can also be true. When I look at something familiar through the lens of my camera, the familiar can become quite wonderful and strange. I close in on it, step back for a wider view, look at it from a variety of angles, play with exposure and effects, and actually give myself a deeper experience of the thing (or person) I’m looking at than I would have if I weren’t framing the image through my viewfinder. By the same token, when I look at something unfamiliar through my lens, it gives me a chance to become familiar with it as I engage with it for longer than I would if I were just passing by it, and puts a kind of exclamation point on the scene, where otherwise there would just be a period.

And then when I upload the photo to my laptop I can play with it again: crop it to my satisfaction, tinker with the lighting and colour, and create something that is both a memory and a work of art. OK, a minor work of art – Ansel Adams I’m not! But still something creative and satisfying, and I’ll dare to call it art.

I took several photography courses back in art school, which was (ahem) a rather long time ago: way back before iPhones made everyone a photographer; back before digital cameras were even thought of; back when you bought film in 24- or 36-shot rolls and composed each picture carefully because that was all you got, and if you failed to load your film properly, you got…nothing. (Yes, that happened to me a few times!) I shot almost exclusively in black and white in those days, and loved the magic of watching the image emerge from nothing as it soaked in its chemical bath. I still don’t feel the virtual images I shoot on my digital camera are entirely “real” – though maybe I’d take them more seriously if I got them printed. But I still love taking pictures, and I still believe the act of doing so helps me be more, not less, present in the world and gives me a different angle on reality than I’d get from seeing things only through my eyes.

I’ve started uploading some of my photos to Flickr. If you’d like to see them, please go to my Flickr page. Let me know what you think … and if you like what you see, come back from time to time because I’ll be uploading more at regular intervals.

Something new for you!

BestI’ve created a new page on my website! It’s called “Goodies“, and that’s what you’ll find there: a growing set of resources I’ve created that you’re welcome to download for your own use. For starters, I’ve included a 2-page PDF of lettering samples I put together a few years ago (see the page for more details), and a poster of World Cafe Guidelines I created ages ago that has long been available for download on the World Cafe’s website and is now available here too. Come back often, as I’ll be adding new goodies from time to time – and might even be inspired to (gasp) blog about ideas that have been rolling around in my head. The easiest way to know when to look, of course, is to subscribe to my blog, which you can do by filling in your email in the Subscribe box at right. (I guarantee it won’t fill up your inbox in a hurry unless I change my habits drastically!)

CLICK HERE to go to the Goodies page – and have fun!

Paved with good intentions…

That would be “the road to hell”. The one that’s paved with good intentions, according to the proverb. Ahem.

I started this blog with the very best of intentions, something over a year and a half ago. I was going to post regularly. OK, at least once a month. By my blogging standards, that’s regular. I made a list of topics I was going to share my thoughts about. They were interesting! They were worthwhile! Some of them even related to my work! I’m sure you would have found them enjoyable to read. I might even have found them enjoyable to write.

But life intervened, the days turned into weeks and then months, and…yikes…the last post I wrote wished you happy new year. In January 2014. Oops.

So I’m writing this very short post simply in order to push “Happy New Year 2014” off the home page of my website and spare myself further embarrassment at being so publicly out of date. And I’m hoping it will spur me to write at least once in awhile. Because I really do have some thoughts I want to share on various topics, and I created this blog as the space to do just that.

But I’m going to refrain from making rash promises. I’ll just say: stay tuned. You might see something new here before the end of 2015. You might not. And if you don’t – well, at least no one can accuse me of flooding their inbox. That’s gotta be worth something in this age of information overload, right?

“A goldmine of graphic facilitation take-aways”

That’s a quote from a participant at my Artful Visual Facilitator workshop last week. (I paid her to say that.) No, but seriously: it was a blast. We had an almost full house, with 15 enthusiastic participants digging in for 2 very full days to learn the fundamentals of graphic recording and a few ways of incorporating visual facilitation into their work. Preparing for a workshop is hard work – no matter how many times I’ve done it, there’s always something new to add, elements to tweak and refine, and of course a million little details to attend to that wake me up at 3:00 in the morning in a cold sweat. But once we’re all in the room working and playing together, the class is always a joy! Each group is different, with its own collective personality, and I always learn at least as much from them as they learn from me.

One thing I changed last year (thank you, Lisa Arora, for the idea!) was to create a Do-It-Yourself agenda for the second day of the workshop. I lay out all the options on sticky notes, like a menu of possibilities, and the students get to vote on which pieces they most want to cover. The ones with the most votes get top priority, and others are added as time permits. I did that again this year, and it was great. The students get what they want the most, and I don’t have to sit up till 2am the night before, rejigging the Day 2 agenda based on what shifted on Day 1! (Because something always shifts, right?)

Here are a few pix from the workshop.

DIY  Day 1  5 things        Groupwork   WorkingSketchbook    GR    Lettering