Anatomy of a scribe

Picture yourself as part of a group, listening to a speaker. The information is familiar to you, but there’s a lot of it. Different opinions and ideas are being thrown around, and keeping track of the conversation isn’t easy.

Meanwhile, off to the side, there’s a large sheet of paper pinned to the wall, and a couple of artists drawing on it.

You raise your hand and make a comment. It’s well received, and moves the conversation on. Then, a few minutes later, your attention creeps back to the wall. To your surprise, your words are appearing in big, bold letters: one idea nesting in a tangle of text and pictures, and you can see the conversation you’re in right now being plotted out like a map.

The people drawing on the wall are from Scriberia, and I’m one of them. Pleasure to meet you, I’m Jess. I’ve been scribing for just over three years. Plucked from the halls of Central St Martins in my artistic infancy, Scriberia raised me from an addlepated first year art student to a full-time visualiser.

When we become visualisers, or ‘scribes’ as we Scriberians prefer to be known, we undergo some changes (cue superhero transformation montage); our listening skills become keener; we become overwhelmed by an urge to caricature anyone we meet for the first time; we might grow an extra finger, or a pencil-gripping tusk. But most importantly, we learn how to hear, interpret and reproduce content in visual form.

Seeing us hard at work, people often ask how we can draw and listen at the same time. In truth, it’s tricky. You need to train your brain to cope with the simultaneous tasks of drawing content that’s a few minutes old, and evaluating the new stuff as it emerges. And it’s not good enough to just draw whatever snippets we happen to catch - we have to carefully choose the words and phrases that are key to the conversation and mean the most to the people in the room.

So, we’re selective, but we aim not to be so at the expense of smaller, seemingly less significant points. There’s no point in having chateaubriand without fries on the side is there? These little asides are part of the whole picture; they provide depth, meaning and texture to the whole conversation, creating a more vivid and powerful rendering of the event.

These bits of content are poked, prodded, and pressed into illustrations that travel from the scribe-cortex (an over-worked but often overlooked portion of our brains) through the pen and out onto the wall.

While we’re all proud of our drawing ability here, it’s the listening that makes scribing special. These aren’t just doodles, they’re the essence of the conversation, transfigured into an illustrated map, adding emphasis, organisation and clarity.

In this blog, I hope to share some of the experiences and insights I gain, working in this unique discipline, in different circumstances, on different subjects, for different clients, in different places around the world. So, ‘scuse me while I tuck in my extra fingers to shake your hand.