Master the essentials: Composition

As a graphic recorder or facilitator you may feel that you're always stuck in the same icons. "Iconitis" is official the name of this disease. Symptoms are repetition, boredom and drawings look like a pile of little scribbles that have been swept together. Where's the connection? And is it even readable?! You may be feeling there's more to it all. And yes, there is!

Unreadable mess

Many recordings by live artists (including myself) are only really interesting for the people who were present at the session. The reason is of course that there is little text on it and the text only serves as a memory aid, missing context. But that's not the only reason. The other reason is that it is simply an unreadable mess.

Being able to draw is not enough to transmit information. The ability to visually organize that information according to the content of the meeting, is an essential skill of the live recorder.

Now I'm not going to argue here that it is easy to instantly grasp all the information that is being fired at you and arrange it neatly in a live situation. And I'm not going to pretend I manage it every single time. But I do have a few rules of thumb that I take with me every time. Rules, no plan, because it still works out differently every time ....

talks in a grid

The easiest way of organizing your content is in a grid. Dividing your paper in a set of rectangles gives you paper clarity and calm. The rectangles can be the same size or not, but it's elemental to stick to them during recording. Off course, this can only be achieved when the day consists of clearly defined sessions. Like, for example, a series of lectures. A nice touch is the fact that the limited space forces you to make choices. This prevents the expansion of your drawing and a splurge into iconitis.

In the above example, the lectures were the same length. If it is not, or is there a reading far more important than the others, you can of course vary with the size of your rectangles. That makes the choice much more exciting.

Less is more

But how do you organize yourself the elements of each talk in it's own rectangle, especially if the talk is longer that, say, fifteen minutes? As Brandy Agerbeck writes in her book The Graphic Facilitators Guide, it is important to listen first and foremost, and make (mental) notes of what is being said before you start drawing. That way you only record the essence and you can organize according to importance. The most important element can be placed in the middle, but needn't be. The man in the drawing below is immediately eye-catching because of his size. If you draw digitally, it is even easier to move around parts of the drawing and scale them (but make sure you do not lose any time!). The image also had a sense of clarity and calm because basically every component is placed in an imaginary rectangle (see the red lines). This need not be very strict, and parts may overlap. That makes it even more playful.

catch the attention

Sometimes it all goes wrong. Suddenly you realize your drawing is turning a big iconitis mess. Yuk! You forgot to demarcate and restrain yourself in the rectangles. Or the length of the different sessions wasn't as strict as the program promised and you were forced to go beyond. Sigh.

Well, in that case, surrender to the chaos. But you still hold two trump cards: contrast and scale. Using them, you can still do a lot to balance a drawing. Notice the red woman, she immediately grabs your attention, just like the red line with the feet. Why? because of the scale and a strong color.

It takes more time to draw, but white text on a colored background also works very well, if big enough. Again: scale and contrast are essential here. The little black figures also form a focus point in the composition. While messy, it is still an inviting drawing to look at. And that's what we want people to do. 

Ultimately, it all about preventing that the viewer is overwhelmed by your piece, and that is accomplished by applying sufficient but not too much variety.

practice makes perfect

Knowing the basics about composition and the use of scale and contrast in your drawings will help you achieve pieces that people want to look at. Composition and scale are one of the things we'll be exercising during the Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp. In a nutshell: 20 hrs long of drawing until you drop, producing a LOT, but supported by essential (technical) drawing knowledge and many (sometimes even fun!) exercises.

With up to 10 participants versus only 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 scribe and cartoonist, will make sure the link with graphic recording & facilitating is felt throughout, AND will make sure that the boring theoretical stuff that you need to know is dished up in a digestible way!

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 out the event. Perhaps we'll welcome you April 8th and 9th in Amsterdam!