Hardworking pictures: Make sense

If you're familiar with our work, perhaps you first saw us working as scribes at a live event. Though we have a fair few other strings to our bow, these days  (and you can find all of our services here), scribing remains as popular as ever. 

That's because, acting as a giant, memorable, shareable sketchnote for everyone in the room (and everyone who couldn't be there), scribing is a uniquely powerful method of capturing and organising information in a way that makes sense to everyone.

What Mike Rohde, author of The Sketchnote Handbook says of sketchnotes, holds true for scribing and all sorts of methods of graphic recording: a focus on big ideas enables you to see what matters, spot patterns and make connections.

And, if you're able to make you're own sketchnotes, or be your own scribe, the benefits are even greater. The act of creating them - of listening, editing, analysing, and translating into pictures - will greatly enhance your own engagement and understanding of the subject. 

If you want to learn more about the power of hardworking pictures, visit ourAcademy page. It's full of visual thinking tips and the latest from our workshops team. Or experience the extraordinary problem-solving power of pictures by checking your team into a bespoke Inktank workshop. 

I'm drawn, therefore I am

At school, whenever rain stopped playtime and we were ushered back inside, I used to draw. At the back of the classroom, I’d find a scrap of paper or the back of a workbook and disappear into my own little world. Before long, there’d be a small crowd around me, and soon after that the requests would start. 

“Can you draw a unicorn?”…  “Can you draw a unicorn driving a tank?” Sure. Sure. 

Drawing for an audience is gratifying. My ego swells inside my school jumper and, suddenly, I’m the star-attraction of a one-woman circus.

Then, inevitably, somebody cries: “Can you draw me?”

Pretty soon you’ve been coerced into drawing a portrait of every member of the class. Everybody gets a portrait; even teachers and school bullies. Everybody wants to be included.

What fascinated me then, still does today: What is so powerful about seeing a portrait of yourself? Is there something about being visually represented that can change the way you see yourself? Or is it just about having someone pay you close enough attention to convey your personality and appearance in a drawing?

When I'm scribing, I work with a lot of big companies, often at internal events. It's not unusual to have occasion to draw characters who are struggling to be heard, or feeling frustrated. And, every time, clients approach me in disbelief (occasionally with tears in their eyes), saying: “That’s just what it’s like. That’s exactly how it feels!” 

Seeing their woes, writ (or drawn) large on a wall by a perfect stranger, can be a pretty profound experience. In that moment, they feel seen, heard, acknowledged and understood. 

That’s when the scribing stops being a mere memo of the meeting, and starts to carry real meaning and purpose for them. A good piece of scribing is an advocate for everyone in the room; a permanent record of their rarely heard opinions; confirmation of their importance.

The act of drawing someone in a real life situation requires empathy. You have to answer a lot of questions before you can do it well; What does this person do? What do they wear to work? Do they have to leave early to pick up their kids from school? Did they miss breakfast to get to this meeting? What matters to them most in their job? If the people in the room are going to look at this drawing and feel like it’s relevant to them, the characters have to look and feel real, like they could fit into their life without question. They have to be believable.

Benjamin Dix of PositiveNegatives recently gave a talk about comics he has been making to tell the stories of some of the darkest tragedies of the modern world. 

His methods include meticulous research and getting to know the people involved. They help him to write the script so that their story remains exactly, that: their story. He is just the conduit.

Then he sets about using drawing to convey what words might not. As he puts it: “You can see the nuances of the story, the pain these people went through, the expressions on their faces.” 

As a reader, you cannot help but empathise with these real lives, and their true stories – just as Dix does when he interviews them, face to face. 

Empathy is the fuel you need to tell another person’s story. And telling stories can change the world, in big and small ways.

So, when I think about those wet lunchtimes and my classmates clustered around, I can’t help wondering whether the portraits I drew meant more to each of them than a simple diversion on a rainy afternoon.

The humble doodle: The home of focus, learning and creative thought

Like many a sticky fingered whelp, one of the first things I reached for as a toddler was a pencil. For many children, drawing is a very personal form of communication and self-expression that words cannot match. (Scrambled egg flung at the wall, maybe, but not words).

If you try to describe it, it's possible that no one will understand the genius of your automatic dog-walker, consisting of levers, pulleys and a Lazy Susan. But, as Edward De Bono demonstrated in his fascinating book, The Dog Exercising Machine, if you draw it, its genius is instantly recognisable.

When our soft little brains are still soaking up the new world around us - car, tree, dog, frightening shadow, petit filous – we're plucked from the freedom of the living room floor and thrust into the education system, as four-year-olds the country over discovered last week. Over a relatively short period of time, our crayons and colouring pencils are replaced with pens.

And as this recent article in The Atlantic notes, for most of us, the question isn't "when did you start drawing?" but "when did you stop?". But, all too soon, the inviting canvas of plain paper is replaced with lined, or even worse, GRAPH paper. The lines tell us to contain our thoughts; to do our thinking within these barriers; to keep it strictly relevant; to express it with letters and numbers that fit neatly in the spaces provided. Meanwhile, drawing is confined to specific periods of time, and heaven help you if you are caught doing it when you are supposed to be working.

“Doodling” is a word we have come to associate with idleness. If you’re doodling, you are not listening. You are focused on drawing, and your drawing has no greater purpose than entertaining you. But contrary to its poor reputation in the classroom, drawing has recently been proven to help us learn, and in fact focus our thoughts?

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodlers find it easier to recall dull information (even 29 percent more) than non-doodlers, because the latter are more likely to daydream. Doodling can keep the mind focused on one visual activity (doodling) and one aural one (listening), delaying the onset of mind-numbing, ear-blocking, thought-stifling boredom. 

And that's the theory behind books like The Human Body Colouring Book (Dorling Kindersley), which, its creator say, offers "a tried and tested, interactive method of learning" by better enabling students to commit the complex parts and processes of the body to memory, while colouring them in. Makes sense to us - maybe this is our chance to master the basics of biology that passed us by at school!

One of my tutors at University insisted that playing with Lego helped her to concentrate - though I've gotta say that as she beavered away at her miniature Lego Taj Mahal, she didn't exactly boost my confidence in the complicated third year project I was attempting to explain. I guess I know how my Maths teacher must have felt when he caught me focusing on Pythagorus' Theorem through the medium of comic strip heroines painstakingly rendered in biro. (Honest, Sir.) 

But, what is perhaps even more useful about the art of doodling, is its purpose as a medium for the unconscious expression of ideas. Whatever random line or shape or squiggle comes out of your pen has fallen directly out of your head with no argument or logic behind it. Nothing is too silly, too meaningless, too fanciful, too abstract, too impossible to be doodled, and as a result, a doodle can be the space in which the spark of a really good idea is born. It's what we preach in The Academy and, these days, it's what I practice, too. 

Now, when I start any project - at work or at home - there is a period in which I produce ideas; hundreds of little unresolved fragments made of things I’ve seen, heard and made before. There's such satisfaction in putting pen to paper and shedding those ideas; only when they’re out of your head can you begin to play with them, sculpt them into something else.

That goes for artists and non-artists, alike. As Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolutionsays: 'The perceived skill has absolutely nothing to do with he quality of the learning experience for the doodler." 

If a doodle is a little like a spa treatment for the mind - leaving it relaxed and receptive to new information, then perhaps visual note-taking, sketch-notes, graphic facilitation or scribing are more like a really effective workout; an exercise in making the information you receive easy to understand. 

When you take visual notes, you listen, digest, and reproduce the information in the form of descriptive drawings that represent what you have heard. They force you to understand what you have been listening to, and if you do forget, they serve as a visual aid to help you to remember.

I was still at University when I started working for Scriberia, and immediately, I noticed how what I learned here transformed the way I thought and studied. I realised that my love of drawing could - and should - be put to use, as an aide to learning and thinking. Why had I spent so many years making reams of written notes in lectures, when instead I could have been letting pens run wild with the information I was trying to absorb?

I started experimenting  with sketch-noting lectures and project meetings. I went from being a slack-jawed, barely conscious audience-member, to being a fully "present" note-taking machine. Sharing those visual notes with my peers allowed them to benefit from the way I had learned. Brownie points a plenty and I guess I found my calling, too.

So, today I see drawing not just as a thing I've always loved to do, but as a tool for so much more; communicating, designing, exploring, explaining and thinking. And when you use it to discover and learn, all you are really doing is going back to when you were first gripping a crayon in your fat little fist, and absorbing the world around you by recreating it on paper.

Uggie: 2002 - August 7, 2015

How could we resist the opportunity to honour Uggie with his very own scribituary?

This sparky little Jack Russell stole scenes and hearts when he took a starring role the multi-Oscar-winning film, The Artist. Hollywood has been home to a few four-legged legends over the years, but dear old Uggie, who died at the age of 13, was the first to have his paw prints immortalised on the Walk of Fame.

Our tribute to Uggie received a lot of love on Twitter, most notably from his Oscar-winning co-star from Water for Elephants, Reese Witherspoon. 

A scribituary is, of course, Scriberia’s own take on the obituary, and they give us a chance to do what we do best. As a specialist animation, graphic facilitation and illustration agency, we believe in the power of pictures to tell stories and connect people to content and its context.

A life, illustrated in a way that balances fact with feeling, and story with style, is the ultimate challenge for us as visual storytellers. 

Lessons from the scribing wall

As an illustration agency, of sorts, we have a bunch of exceptionally talented freelance artists, from London and beyond, in the Scriberia stable. Every now and then, we get them all together to share stories from the inky coalface, and knock their creative heads together.

It’s like a mini-conference, held in the workshop space of our Kings Cross studio. We present, we listen, we play around with new ideas, and, of course, we give it the old graphic facilitation treatment with a glorious piece of scribing, to be shared with all of the attendees afterwards. We practice what we preach, you know.

In any given year, our team will scribe the four corners of the world, in a huge array of weird and wonderful circumstances. Jack recalled scribing in a dark basement; Rachel in a glass box surrounded by flamingoes; Clarice, Mathieu and Somang threw themselves and their pens into an immersive theatre experience in an ice grotto with fortune telling and singing chefs. There really is no such thing as a run-of-the-mill job for us lot. 

Studio staffer and super-scribe, Matt, gave his critique of three recent pieces of work - giving us all a valuable chance to learn from the best amongst us, and progress together. At Scriberia the ability to critique our own work, and each others’, is a highly valued skill; one that's critical to any creative business intent on maintaining the highest standards under pressure.

Next, creative director, Chris, challenged us all with a workshop in character creation. When you’re striving to create a bespoke piece of scribing that is bursting with energy, the characters that live within it can help you achieve just that. We looked at some beautiful examples of character drawing from the world of illustration and animation, and discussed ways of making characters fit for purpose. It will be great to see how this feeds into the practice of our talented team, when their finished work arrives back at the studio.

Our gathering concluded with a quickfire character drawing exercise – with only a minute to design and draw a character the results ranged from the profound to the concerning. After the obligatory gathering drinks, one by one the scribes peeled away to their corners of the city. It’s always a privilege to gather such an array of talented artists under one roof, and we look forward to the next meeting with great anticipation.