Master the essentials: emotion

In our work as graphic recorders and facilitators we deal with people all the time. It is always about people and their experiences, ideas....and feelings. Emotion plays an important role in the issues that we capture, so it makes sense that it can be found in our drawings as well. And there is more reason to do it than just because it's fun. Emotion is a great aid to memory.

The Mindpalace

A while ago I read the book Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. An entertaining book about the attempt of the author to become the American memory champion, enriched with background information on the history and science of memory training. In our times of readily available information through internet, calendars and checklists is hard to imagine that memory training was once an artform. And a fine one at it too.

Foer describes the workings of the mind palace. The mind palace is a method to remember things. You imagine a building in your minds eye, and place the objects to remember in it's differtent rooms and spaces. This works so well because people have a highly developed spatial imagination.

It is also good to make a situation out of it. What is the object doing? Situations and / or stories are another strong human tool. But to maximize the impact, you have place those objects in an emotionally charged situation. It may be an absurd situation, a sexually tinted situation, something disgusting.


As long as it evokes strong emotions. Strong emotions guarantee that you will remember it. This something tabloids know very well...



Back to the drawings. A month ago I made visual notes at training on entrepreneurship which I attended myself. My neighbor wanted to have my notes afterwards. He said the image of the big, hairy foot in the female shoe didn't not let go of him and he's now constantly reminded of really having to think carefully about his target audience (who doesn't?!). As you can see, your work can have an impact on your audience for weeks after it was made .

This is a perfect example of the power of emotion in the service of memory. The hairy foot with the pump makes you giggle. Since our work is public, not private, this means that a sense of humor is our most powerful weapon (that is, because sexual or disgusting images are unlikely to lead to future assignments...).

Representing emotion : faces

the uncomfortable, the suffering and the deniying

the uncomfortable, the suffering and the deniying

People are strongly attuned to faces. And our drawings are filled with people. In order to support our audience's memory, using emotion in faces is a must. You'll already go far using the basic emotions of happy, sad and angry. But it's more effective to broaden your palette to complex emotions. Because usually the emotions in the subjects we record ARE complex. Discomfort is one of my favorites. Denial is another. Suffering. Boredom. Disbelief. And so on,


But what makes an emotion? It is all about the subtle differences.

What are those differences? Minor changes in the position of the eyebrows, in the position of the eye with respect to those eyebrows, the direction of the gaze, bags under the eyes or not, position of the mouth, with or without teeth, tongue visible or not... Go exercise and find out what you can achieve with it.

Objects with emotions

We see faces everywhere, even in objects. There is a reason for the popular twitter handle Faces In Things, where hilarious examples are shared every day. Looking at these examples can help you grasp what exactly "makes" an emotion, precisely because it is deconstructed to its bare bones.

And by the way, who says that only people van have emotions in our drawings? This is not only boring but also limiting. In your work you come across are all kinds of topics, you must be flexible to deal with them.

Emotions need not only to be read in faces. You can also do a lot with posture and by adding actions you can strengthen the desired effect (see above: an anxious box that is too hot and drink ice water). In addition, there's always the simple scribble lines representing stress, excitement and anger (below). You don't need much for maximum effect.

Emotion: the heart of the matter

And that is still perhaps the most important. For where our work comes to? Right, harvesting the essence. And that essence is often a feeling. We are stuck! We're scared .... We want to move forward! These are all emotionally charged issues, which deserve to be recorded with skill.

Practicing with emotions during the Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp

Practicing emotion in your drawings is also one of the things you'll be doing during the Draw-till-you-drop BootcampIn a nutshell: 5 half days long of drawing till you drop, producing a LOT, but supported by essential (technical) drawing knowledge and many exercises. With up to 10 participants on 2 trainers the instruction is personal and intensive. Hélène Aarts, Assistant Professor hand drawing at TU Eindhoven, takes the theoretical part of the Bootcamp into her skilled hands. I, Anabella Meijer, live recorder and cartoonist, will make sure the link with graphic recording & facilitating is felt throughout. 


The Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp is, in short, a unique opportunity to take your drawing skills to the next level. Because you want to concentrate on what you do best, and drawing should support that, not cost you more energy. 

Want to learn more? Check the event. Perhaps we'll welcome you November 4th and 5th in Amsterdam!