People who are interested in genealogy are told over and over to interview the living before it's too late. To ask them what they know of their own forebears, or even rumors about them; what it was like when they were young, whether they can identify people in old photographs. It's a big project and can seem overwhelming.
I have started to interview some of our elders to ask these same questions and realize that graphic capture of oral history can be an excellent tool for genealogists. Best if a family member does the interviewing, they can focus on the subject while I quietly capture in the background. Using a digital audio or video recorder helps too, but the essence is caught in one sheet of paper.
Below is a prototype "short sheet" I made with a friend; working larger would allow more room for material.
Incidentally, speaking of connecting with our elders, be sure to check out Susan MacCleod's Humans of St. Vincent's on Instagram. A project of great humanity.
The best job I had in college was as a translator for a project of hail suppression in southeastern Spain funded by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. This region of the country is almost entirely agricultural and was at risk of weather patterns often resulting in damaging hail. It was fun, it was very lucrative for a poor college student, and it taught me to listen, hard.
Graphic recording feels to me very much like translating. You get input in a certain form -- spoken language, perhaps with PowerPoint slides thrown in to the mix -- and your job is to output the results visually in real time. You have to listen to every word and make sure you understand what's said, and get the essence down, quickly.
Of course a lot of the work is also interpretation: deciding on the fly what to put in and what to put down. A lot gets left out. My job is to capture the essence and make the connections. (People are better at this than they usually think -- we do it all the time. If someone asks you what a book you've just read is about, you don't recite the whole book, after all.) Yet selecting what's REALLY important, synthesizing on the fly, getting it down quickly and making the pieces work together: this is my work.
I've been honored to work as a graphic recorder individually with people with serious illnesses, to help them face their fears and, more importantly, visualize hope. It is a great gift to be able to bring people clarity in the midst of overwhelming (and terrifying) information. We can help map out the intricacies of our medical system to make it easier for patients to navigate their care once the scary diagnosis has been made, which also allows multiple support team members to see all the same information.
In this work, I use a large pad of paper while sitting down, not large boards -- I need eye contact. Then I ask them how they are, how they are feeling. They usually give me involved medical information which I'm obviously not qualified to evaluate, but I can usually tell pretty fast whether they trust their doctors or not, which takes me in the direction of their actual treatment. Acute patients are usually on multiple medications which usually means they tire easily, so it's important to be efficient -- and ask them to envision what their healing (medical / spiritual) looks like. They are sometimes a bit stumped so I offer some possible images -- like a flower opening, say. I show them the paper during the process several times and make sure this is where they're comfortable and that almost always causes them to say "can you draw a XXX here?" -- they do get it and then start to drive the visualization process.
I can imagine this process also to be very helpful for patients in hospice. Dying people have many fears -- being alone, being ignored, being in pain -- and acknowledging these fears honors them and holds space. With sick and dying people it's essential to let go of our own religious ideas/principles and respect theirs, but I don't probe this -- I let them bring it up if they want to. If they do, it's pretty easy to guide them to envision it!
One client put her five different sheets (done on five different sessions) on her ceiling, so when she was in bed awake at 3:00 am wracked in fear, she could look at her metamorphosed butterfly and calm down. This client had also had some pretty negative initial medical contact and wanted me to record that to shake it off. I gather this is not unusual at all in cancer diagnoses; in her case, she ended up with a stellar team (much further away, but that's how it goes), and I was able to record them as a group, each helping to heal her, with herself in the center. I included all her friends and family -- her non-medical support team -- so that the circle of healing is holistic and substantial.
I was once sent to a meeting to represent an organization whose board I'm on. Sitting in a meeting with people I mostly didn't know, addressing a topic with which I was unfamiliar, I started to sketch their faces and surround them with the things they said. They were likenesses, not portraits as such, but recognizably (mostly) to the people whose faces they represented.
People came up afterwards and wanted to take photos. It was a very different record of their meeting than the usual meeting notes. It was engaging. It was whimsical. And it caught the essence of their meeting in a way they all recognized. Most important, it helped me remember who had said what, and that gave me a greater connection with them to be able to work as a colleague.
James Lake has a great post here where he gives shortcuts on how to draw faces.
In Scott McLoud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS, he offers a very powerful reason why my artless caricatures work...
The more REALISTIC a drawing is, the less universal it becomes. The more GENERALISED the drawing is, the more universal it becomes.
So, think of the most basic version of a smiley face... The circle with the big arc representing a mouth. That is almost universally recognised across multiple cultures, education levels, and class strata as a happy face.
As you add detail, so the recognition factor narrows. As an extreme example, consider a realistic picture of a man smiling broadly, showing his teeth, and his eyes clearly wide open and looking directly out of the page at the viewer.
In many Western cultures, this will be identifiable as happiness. But in many other cultures, it could be confused with arrogance, anger, deception, violence. The realism of the depiction makes it MORE AMBIGUOUS.
So back to my artless caricatures... They take the minimum recognizable trait of the person being depicted, and they abstract everything else. They lack any sense of realism. This makes it easy for viewers to identify them. And they aren't judged aesthetically.
I love this approach and I am working to make my faces more generalized.
We all like to feel heard -- especially in a professional context where there may be unequal power in the room. An engaged workforce is important for productivity, for teamwork, for a unified mission. Strong leaders know this.
We've all been in a meeting, though, where someone is so intent on what they're going to say -- something that will amaze the whole room -- that they are not listening to what's going on. They are rehearsing in their head how best to say their piece so it will have maximum impact. Many of us do this, if we're honest. I know I have.
Catching this contribution and getting it down on paper in front of the whole group is one of the most powerful impacts graphic facilitation (or graphic recording) can have. I've seen shoulders go down, the whole body tilt forward, eyes lock onto the speaker as it happens. The person, previously alone and marginal, really joins the group at that moment.
Acknowledge contributions from everyone including the slow-to-speak, whatever their reasons. Capture them visibly. Watch your meetings become more productive and meaningful.
The Book Proposal: How Graphic Facilitation Can Help
I used to work for a scholarly publisher, and the sad fact of the matter was that most unsolicited manuscripts were dispatched to the "Dec" (decline) pile with just a cursory glance. Some weren't even remotely suitable for publication by an academic house, others were far too narrow in scope. But some of these projects might have had a chance of moving up out of the Dec pile if they had followed the basic rules of the game: send in a) a one-or-two page book proposal with b) a table of contents and c) a sample chapter.
A book proposal is the author's chance to show the editor these four things:
What your book is about
Whether you are the best person to write this particular book
What your writing style is like
Whether your book has a chance of selling well: who is your audience? Are there enough of them? Do they tend to buy books? Do they tend to buy books in hardcover?
Books are a huge risk for a publisher. It's very expensive to take on a project that has a small chance of success. Sometimes they make big mistakes -- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was turned down twelve times before the editor at Bloomsbury picked it up -- but mostly they want to avoid costly failures. Times are tough in publishing land.
The book proposal should sell your book to an editor or agent. Do your homework -- is there anything out there in the market already like this? If yes, why and how is your idea different (and better)? Will your book appeal to more than 500 people (be honest, here)? If the answer is no, you might want to consider self-publishing, which is fine -- but you should still go through the process in order to clarify your ideas and build the strongest book possible.
A graphic facilitator can help you hone your ideas into a scheme that makes sense. Answering the four questions, above, and have them outlined live, on paper will help you craft the best possible book proposal, saving it from the dreaded Dec pile.