Tag: visual thinking

Neuland markers sam bradd graphic facilitation supplies on table

FAQ roundup and how to get started as a graphic recorder

It’s time for a Frequently Asked Questions! Summer roundup of questions I’ve been asked from folks new to the field lately:

I’m new. How do get started as a graphic recorder?

photo: CIPMM (2015)

I love this question. Welcome, fellow visual thinker! Six opinionated ideas and highly subjective advice:

  1. Start. I want you to START drawing! I am not a believer in just “following your passion”. I think you should be inspired to be creative, yes, and make sure you put the work in to get good at things. Don’t leap into your passion and then give up too soon, especially when it gets hard. I don’t wait for creativity to land in my lap. I have to make stuff, and see where it goes. And then, once you make something you have to share it. How will people know what you want to do, otherwise?
  2. Your first projects should personally interest you. Be proud to share them. Deliberately choose to work for trusted people for a few low-stakes projects. Build your confidence.
  3. Find a mentor. This field enables people to bring their professional experience (coaching, facilitating, leading) and apply it to visual work. Like many creative professions with a majority of sole practitioners, the foundation based on apprenticeships, networks, and learning from peers. It’s rapidly growing and I think mentors help us see how collectively as practitioners we can help organizations, clients, individuals.
  4. Take a workshop. Research. Read books. Set up a Skype call. Go to a meetup. Ask your mentor if you can watch them work at a public or appropriate event.  Go to a conference. Try to read forums before asking a 12,000 person Facebook group “what is the best pen to use?” And, take a graphic facilitation workshop to find like-minded people and start building your community. 
  5. Think about how you want to start a business. There’s no one right way. Maybe you’ll have a business partner, maybe you’ll have an unusual niche. Look to other creative fields for the business model that works for you. At minimum, you should clearly show people what you want to be hired for. No sense putting a link to your tattoo website up if you want to be hired to sketchnote.
  6. Be generous. If you’re asking for people’s time, effort, emotional labour from others: ask them/see how you can help them in a reciprocal way.

Favorite markers?

I’m a Neuland ambassador. I love that they’re refillable, non-toxic, and come in vibrant colours and tips, especially the Big Ones. I am a huge, huge fan. Let’s talk markers anytime, and I’ll show you how these ones are designed to not even roll off the table.

What’s are most important skills a graphic facilitator needs to have? 

We are doing more than drawing – we are facilitating and leading, and helping others see their own thoughts. This month I might say: Listening and decision-making about what marks to make; awareness and skills to work on bias; empathy and a strong sense of personal leadership.

Last year I might have said patience, an ability to be reflective, a curiosity about learning (you can’t just draw what you think is happening). This is one of those “one finger pointing out, three fingers pointing back” types of questions.

What you notice or appreciate in others is also something you’re noticing in yourself, of course.

How is this a job? Why haven’t I heard about it? 

RIGHT? Pretty amazing job! Graphic facilitators are becoming more popular – so you may see them more now. But the field began in the 1970s, so it also has a long history, practices, and its own methods. Some folks work inside organizations, and some practitioners are consultants.

Do you pre-plan your layouts? 

No, and yes. I start with a blank page for graphic recording and most facilitation now. When I’m doing live work I am deciding as we go: I am matching the type of structure to the format of the meeting. Open plenary dialogue looks different than rapid-fire report outs, or a strategic plan deciding “three action steps”. These are emergent and not planned ahead of time, because facilitation and scribing is (or can be) emergent.

And when I facilitate meetings, I do pre-plan things in templates – when the group needs to see the structure in a specific way. If we need to do a “what are three next steps” for strategic planning meetings, or using a metaphor to help the group orient themselves over time – structure helps.

New graphic recorders should definitely practice planning sketches and layouts for live graphic recording and beyond. Have a mini sketchbook of layouts that you can turn to when you’re under drawing pressure – I have to mix it up, otherwise all panel presentations look the same (yawn).

graphic faciliatation: This wasn’t pre-planned, but also, it’s not random. Their theory of change swoops in from the left, the focus of their whole organization is central. Drawn over 2.5 hours


You travel a lot. What’s the best place you’ve been? 

This is a fun question, because in North America a lot of graphic facilitators are consultants who travel widely – it’s not required, but I love it. (I also follow the rules – I have a visa to work in the US and Canada.) All countries and projects have their unique joys. It’s more about the people than a particular location. I’d rather be with kind people in northern BC than a fancy hotel where no one is using what I’m contributing. But since you asked, there was a project in Tanzania where I was working in a tent in the tropical heat …with a security guard whose job it was to prevent the baboons from climbing on the tables! Work has brought me to 10 countries and remote locations, and I’m noticing more and more – globally and locally we are all working on such similar problems: communication, belonging/connection, displacement, and climate. The world definitely needs more ways of communicating with other in empathetic ways – and I think visuals are one way to do that.

Do I need to be a good artist to learn to do what you do? 

I think about graphic recording/facilitation like writing. Mostly, we don’t take a 2-day course and then suddenly create the Pulitzer Prize winning novel (and if you did, congratulations and then that novel was in you the whole time, no matter who your teacher was!).

I believe writing is a practice, a craft, and maybe also a calling; we all need writing skills even if we don’t become novelists. It’s the same as drawing – if you’re using drawing to communicate, or to help people think through ideas – it doesn’t need to be so fancy. It just needs to get onto the page.

This way, graphic facilitation and graphic recording are part of your toolbox.

… What other questions do you have, fellow visual thinker?  Post your other favourite questions in the comments and I’ll do a Round 2 later on.

2018 workshop with early bird pricing until September 1:

Question Well – a reflection tool for visual practitioners

the Question Well tool

Hello! We’re Jennifer Shepherd and Sam Bradd. We’re visual practitioners, educators and facilitators. We live across the country from each other in Canada, and have collaborated on a range of writing projects about visual practice in the last few years. This tool below is an excerpt from a chapter you’ll find in our co-edited anthology Drawn Together Through Visual Practice, published in 2016.

We hope you’ll put it in your visual practice kit and pull it out many times as you choose to reflect in mini moments that transform how well you draw.

 — PDF Download – Drawn Together Through Visual Practice Chapter  —-

We’re both committed to reflection as an integral part of our visual practice. As we make time to reflect, our active curiosity calls us to explore:

What more can we know about ourselves?

What new possibilities for action do we see?

How can we share what we’ve learned with others?

We’d love to learn from you, too.

How ready are you to draw?

How does the way you show up impact the quality and sensitivity of the drawings you make?

Picture it: there’s a clean slate of white space in front of you. You’ve got your markers or tablet all juiced up and the meeting is about to begin. You take a breath, look around, and ask: where am I in this picture?


Wherever you find yourself, we invite you to ask a second question,

What deep and careful reflection could I choose now to listen and draw at my best?

This small moment to pause has the potential to make a big difference – in our creativity, in our relationship with our clients and participants, and how we expand the field of visual practice.

We believe that taking mini moments to pause and reflect can transform how we draw and radically improve the value of what we do as visual practitioners.

And that is the premise of this Question Well tool. When we reflect in the moment, or on a moment from the past, we extend our awareness and care and create openings to expand our competence. This is true regardless of whether we hold a ready pen, offer input or bear witness to another’s creatives process or interpret a completed work.

We invite you – our colleagues, clients, and facilitation partners – to notice areas for reflection in your own practice, wherever that might be. When you’re ready to take a mini moment, dive with us into this rich well of questions and see what emerges!

What you’ll find in the Question Well tool:

  1. We introduce a new model for reflection that is unique to graphic facilitation and visual practitioners. What other models come to mind?
  2. We share the Question Well with 64 questions and 9 areas of focus. What new questions would you add?
  3. We intersperse anecdotes from our story as practitioners into the Question Well, and invite you to think about your story.
  4. We suggest ways to use the questions.

Let’s jump in.

Introducing a New Model for Reflection

There are many dynamics and relationships that are worthy of reflection during visual facilitation. Here’s a diagram that illustrates what we mean.

In this mini book, you’ll see questions in the Question Well organized into 9 areas of focus – one for each of the connections shown in the diagram.

We have crafted 64 questions to support your reflection. We’ve organize them in 9 areas of focus to help you navigate your way through the Question Well.




We offer these questions for how to use this chapter as a kind of personal workbook:

  • Reflect on your own, or gather with peers, clients, and others
  • Read the questions aloud, pause, and notice what answers arise
  • Phone a colleague and have a conversation
  • Write a journal entry and see what emerges
  • Bring your thoughts forward to the field of visual practice online or at a conference

We offer these methods as wisdom from our shared experience as a gift to the visual practice field. We’ve tried them all, and they work! These are only a start. Now, it’s your turn. We invite you to share your own questions on the Drawn Together Through Visual Practice website, too.

About the Authors

Jennifer Shepherd inspires well-intentioned and overwhelmed leaders to gain the clarity they need to create insightful connections and make their next move. She has oodles of facilitation and collaborative change experience working with local communities, regional networks and national networks from housing to hockey. She is known for asking questions that prompt us to ask more questions, draw together, and solve the complex puzzles of our time. Jennifer is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator who loves to drum and walk the world in wonder. Contact her at www.livingtapestries.ca

Sam Bradd is a graphic facilitator and specialist in information design. He uses visuals for people that want to engage, solve problems, and lead. Together, we’re Drawing Change. In the last 15 years, Sam has collaborated with the World Health Organization, Google, Indigenous organizations, and researchers on four continents. In 2016, his side project the award-winning Graphic History Collective published a book of comics because how we tell histories can change the world. He has a Masters in Educational Studies (University of British Columbia). Contact him at www.drawingchange.com.


Read more in Drawn Together Through Visual Practice 

This Question Well tool is part of a larger book, Drawn Together Through Visual Practice. It is edited by Brandy Agerbeck, Kelvy Bird, Sam Bradd and Jennifer Shepherd and was published in 2016. This anthology demonstrates the power of visuals as a sensemaking device in an age of unprecedented complexity. It is available on Amazon.com in book and Kindle formats.



Check out our Graphic Recording and Facilitation Workshop on October 28 – 29, 2017 in Vancouver, Canada

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master class - graphic facilitation class 2017 with IFVP

Graphic Facilitation Class – teaching Towards Mastery

Take a graphic facilitation master class this summer!
Sophia Liang (Graphic Footprints) and I (Drawing Change) are teaching a Graphic Facilitation class in June for practitioners with 3+ years’ experience. It’s part of the pre-conferences for the 22nd International Forum of Visual Practitioners gathering, this year in Georgia, USA.
If you have 3-5 years of experience – we invite you to join us.
And, there’s a fantastic list of professional development opportunities during the pre-conference – including lettering, building 3-D displays, becoming a FUNdamental facilitator, and more. Hard to pick just one!
Graphic Facilitation Workshop Description: Towards Mastery
This workshop is focused on emerging visual practitioners with 3-5 years experience to advance their core visual skills and deepen their business development knowledge. Our accelerated workshop (evening + 1 day session) is tailored to meet participant’s goals and is set in a highly participatory, peer-based learning environment. Passionate about continuous improvement and learning, Sophia and Sam will bring different facilitation techniques, a balance of theory and practice, and new tools to take your career to the next level.
A prequalifying survey is required to determine eligibility for the workshop. If you’re just starting out, we’d recommend the IFVP signature workshop GR 101 (Graphic Recording 101) instead.
When: June 19th5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and June 20th9:00 am to 5:00 pm (we’re having dinner the night before, together) 
Where: Decatur/ Atlanta, Georgia USA
Why: annual IFVP conference is a don’t miss-event!
master class - graphic facilitation class 2017 with IFVP
graphic recording and graphic facilitation using images after

11 ways to use Graphic Recording images afterwards

Ask any graphic facilitator, and they’ve probably been asked these questions:

  1. Do you do weddings,
  2. Do you have the best job ever, (yup)
  3. and what can we do with the images afterwards?

Sorry I can’t come to your wedding, but here’s the one, best thing you can do with graphic recording images after your session: USE them.

Don’t banish these posters to a closet with long-forgotten flip charts. A meeting is a major investment in time and effort. After all, you invited visuals to the meeting to help you be more productive! Keep that good work going with useful, thoughtful followup actions.

Here’s my list of how my clients have used their new sets of graphic recording images so far:

The obvious Followup: email



For teams, it’s part of effective followup – charts often say who will do what, by when. And, if you’re a marketer it’s an opportunity: emailing the images is a great excuse to reconnect after a big conference. Keep members/clients engaged, informed – and reinforce your call to action.

Keepsake materials


These days you can print on anything. My clients have printed a strategic planning visual on a plant pot for an “evergreen” document, made them into calendars, notebooks, thank you cards, puzzles, and framed prints. Sometimes graphic recordings are about the “process” and not the “product”. So not every image will make a beautiful print – but sometimes teams get excited to print the pictures even if I think it’s messy!

Reports and newsletter


Almost every report or publication can be improved with a short, visual, high-impact summary. Visuals create an easy to understand summary of your report. It’s always effort well-spent if it helps people read the details. Useful for newsletters, annual reports, or magazines.

visual strategic plans


Visuals make strategic plans, organizational charts, and visioning documents even more useful. People can see themselves in the story. And since pictures create an emotional connection, they’re more likely to hang up a picture than a typed list. When people can see how their work is part of the big picture, it helps. Read more

Visual thinking in Tanzania about Zoonosis Research

It was a great pleasure to bring graphic recording to a conference about zoonosis research in Tanzania. If, like me, you’re more “social scientist” than “scientist”, zoonoses are diseases that move between humans, wildlife, and livestock. They cause death and disability, disproportionately affect people living in poverty, and importantly – they’re preventable. The conference aimed to “strengthen strategic interdisciplinary partnerships to improve the understanding and control of zoonotic diseases.”

IMG_2521The event was near Lake Manyara, in Tanzania, and conference attendees were 25 participants from 9 countries brought together under the EU-FP7-funded Predemics project. As a graphic recorder, my role was to listen for the story in these technical presentations, and draw live visuals for science communication.
Cleaveland-Human-Livestock-Wildlife-Interface-East-Africa-1 WEBgraphic recording Cleaveland-Human-Livestock-Wildlife-Interface-Zoonoses visual summary scribing

Complex problems like diseases need integrated approaches: visuals can make this compelling. We also used the power of graphic recording to support group work, and elevate the presentations visually: documenting them clearly, and making it easy to compare content.

The researchers represented the passion in the field for public & animal health. There were many brilliant presentations, and impossible to pick just one to highlight. Here is Professor Sarah Cleveland’s fascinating talk outlining how Tanzania is a diverse ecosystem with 120 ethnic groups and many varieties of livestock. The culturally specific way in which livestock is raised here is key to working with the communities to limit pandemics.

graphic recording sam bradd tanzania conference
image by Tini Garske

Below, you’ll see photos from the event. There are so many highlights. I discovered how to hang up posters in a tent without walls (answer: string, clothespegs, and Boy Scout knots). My work inspired someone to try sketchnoting (he’s so talented!) – thrilled to see others using visual thinking in their own work. And of course, we went on an amazing safari at Ngorongoro Crater National Park. It was an exceptional experience of biodiversity. Following the tour, Director of Research at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Dr Julius Keyyu, put our discussions into context.







This was an exceptional opportunity to work beside amazing, committed scientists supporting public and animal health. 


sam bradd holding up a creativity planner visual template

A free Creative Planning visual template for you

creativity planner visual template

I made this Creativity Planner for my Creative Mornings Vancouver talk and want to share it with you. This free, visual template can help you with creative goal setting.

Because let me guess — you’re fantastic at brainstorming for your clients, friends, and others. But when it’s time for you to focus on your goals, you find yourself alphabetizing your record collection. (I’m speaking from experience.)

It’s a Visual for Goal Setting

If we only stay with words, we’re missing an opportunity.

This visual template can help you see connections between your skills and where you want to go. Fill this in. Call a friend and do it together. Use the power of your support networks to keep you on track.

Use these high quality files:

Links to download a high resolution PDF: letter size

Link to download a high resolution PDF: 11×17 size

CM-online-printable-pg-2How to Use the Creativity Planner:

  • You will need:
  • one package of sticky note ‘flags’ in 5 colours
  • one big sticky note
  • one friend (or two! or more!)
  • a printed copy of this planner for each person (download links above)


Sit down with your friend(s) and plenty of snacks. You can also do this on video chat — the 21st century is amazing! Take time to customize the main character to look like you. For extra power, you can add a cape or jetpack.

Write your creative goal for the year on the big sticky note and place it in the upper right corner of the map.

On each color of flag write something to match the topic areas on the map. Use as many as you need. Once you have a full map, compare with your friends and discuss what you’ve written. Is there an asset you’ve forgotten or a challenge you’ve blown up too large?


Writing down, mapping, and discussing your creative goals will help them feel more achievable.

Now YOU know you can do it.

Let me know how it turns out!

I’d love to hear from you on twitter: @sambradd.


Creative Mornings with Sam Bradd | Photo credit - Aura McCay (auramckay.com)
Creative Mornings with Sam Bradd | Photo credit – Aura McCay (auramckay.com)