Practical Magic: A Graphic Recording Real-Time How-To

This Insight is a follow-up to "The Magic of Real-Time Graphic Recording." It explores practical techniques new scribes can employ to increase their speed and make their work more engaging.

Christopher Fuller

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Educational / How-To

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January 27, 2024

Practical Magic: A Graphic Recording Real-Time How-To

Real-time practical techniques

In the previous Griot's Eye Insight, I wrote about the importance of real-time in the global adoption of graphic recording and its magic-like effect on participants. In this follow-up to that article, I want to share some practical advice and drawing techniques I use for rapid visualization when scribing (most of these techniques can apply to analog and digital graphic recording).

First: A big announcement! Class is in session!

Houston, Texas on April 4-5, 2024

Contact us if you would like to join the alert list as we finalize details and pricing

I will host another in-person graphic recording class (my first since the pandemic) with my good friend and long-time colleague Peter Durand April 4-5, 2024, in Houston, Texas. Peter and I have 60 years of combined professional graphic facilitation experience, and we cannot wait to share our wisdom with you during this interactive, enlightening, and fun workshop! This hands-on two-day course will cover the basics and provide theory and practical guidance to help you take your skills to the next level. Click here to add your name to the mailing list to be notified as soon as we release more details — class space is limited, so don't delay!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming

Real-time graphic recording may sound scary to some of you, especially if you never considered yourself a "drawer" before. Luckily for you budding scribe, our core illustration techniques in graphic recording are identified by their simplicity (icons, shapes, colors, arrows, connectors, etc), not their complexity. Even drawings that may appear more detailed (model archetypes, adding figures and cartoons, etc.) can also be learned with a bit of practice to apply them in real-time (or near real-time) during a graphic recording session.

The number one drawing fear...

When people say, "I don't know how to draw," they're usually expressing their fear of drawing faces and figures. You remember that incident from childhood when you proudly showed your father the drawing you spent so much time on, and with a puzzled look on his face, he mustered up an insincere smile and said, "Nice, what is it?" Then, as tears welled up in your eyes, you screamed, "It's you, Daddy!" Don't you remember it? If not, ask your therapist. But I'm here to tell you that in the world of graphic recording, you can (for once) put aside your childhood trauma! Because there are many ways of depicting people that do not require intricate drawing expertise.

Bean people, star people, and other simple ways to add figures

These simplistic figures are the backbone of real-time scribing for drawing people. They're just one step up from the basic stick figures we all drew as children. My go-to figures are star people, and I like to costume them and have them interact with each other. Practice various easy-to-draw figures and use them liberally throughout your scribing because, though simplistic, they are powerful visual storytelling tools.

A sample of simple drawing figures I like to use while scribing.
Overcome your childhood trauma by adding simple figures to your real-time scribing.

Silhouettes and outline drawings

Silhouettes and outline drawings are another great time-saver that you should use often in your graphic recording. I love them because they mix specificity and openness to interpretation. What I mean by this is that you can draw an outline of a person, animal, or object that can be easily identified by its profile, pose, or setting in which you place it. But because you did not fill it with any details or just added solid color (usually black, but other colors can also be effective), people interpret it in a way that makes sense to their eyes. You don't have to get the details of your horse exactly or draw a caricature of the keynote speaker because the outline tells the story, and the brain fills in the gaps (for assurance, be sure to add the name of the keynote speaker underneath their silhouette).

Examples of silhouette and outline drawings
Silhouettes and outlines are quick and powerful tools for creating visual identifiers during real-time scribing.

Impressionistic

I also like to use a "painterly" approach when scribing in real time. To do this, I use markers like brush strokes to hint at shapes, using color more predominantly than lines to depict images without taking the time to figure out the details. In Figure 4, you might recognize some of the beer brands I included in my scribing for a recent client using the impressionistic style.

Griot's Eye graphic recording examples of various real-time techniques I regularly use. Figure 4 showcases the impressionistic style—thirsty for a Corona or Modelo?

You made a mistake; now what?

Mistakes are a part of the graphic recording game. When you're working quickly in real-time, like 💩 it happens — when you're scribing on an analog surface like paper or foam board, errors can seem even more stressful than if they occurred digitally. Here are the three ways I clean up my 💩:

1) Strike through and rewrite it. Own up to your mistake, cross it out, and write it correctly. It may seem inelegant initially, but remember, when working in real-time, the participants are somewhat forgiving about common spelling errors (Merde! Those French-based words are a minefield for native English speakers).

2) White label tape and whiteout. Using white label tape or whiteout (rollers or liquid paper) is one of the fastest ways to cover up a mistake. However, there are better permanent solutions if your work is going to be displayed (see number three).

3) Black permanent marker and an acrylic white paint marker, a.k.a. The ebony and ivory technique. I adopted this method from the Queen of the North aka Liisa Sorsa. Use a large black permanent marker to cover your error. You can cover it with black using a simple shape or get creative and turn it into a silhouette that fits the theme. Then, use a white acrylic paint marker to rewrite or draw to fit the shape. This error-correcting method is excellent because it serves two purposes: not only does it hide your original, but it helps accentuate big ideas. I now purposely use the ebony and ivory lettering trick to highlight certain aspects of my scribing.

Product shots of the tools Christopher Fuller uses to correct scribing mistakes made in real-time.
These items are a part of my regular toolkit.

Below is an example from a recent graphic recording assignment I did for a Gates Foundation-funded project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for GAVI and UNICEF. My friends and colleagues at the world-class consulting firm TheDifference facilitated this vital meeting, addressing topics around developing equitable immunization in the world's poorest communities. The part I am highlighting used the black-and-white cover method to correct the original capture I recorded. Accuracy is essential to storytelling, so I met with the facilitator and the speaker to clarify the wording of this section, which resulted in not only making it correct but also creating a more emphatic visual message.

An example of a correction I made using black ink and white ink.
Graphic recording from Ethiopia for the Gates Foundation. You will see that I also used a combination of cartooning, outlined figures, and impressionistic techniques to quickly represent a queue of people lining up for vaccination.

Don't be so literal — make it a model

Now that I have shared some examples of simple methods for quickly drawing organic and inorganic things in the real world, let's address those times when there are more effective strategies to convey ideas than drawing people or other specific objects. I'm referring to simply organizing information and making real-time graphical models during a dialogue or presentation — this can elevate your scribing into a powerful strategic tool.

Creating visual models is one of Griot's Eye's Four Key Roles and Responsibilities of Real-Time Visual Storytelling. Why are visual models so critical to our field? Because they can be instrumental in helping people remember content that may be complex (or seem that way at the outset). They also help you visualize how the pieces in a process or system work together.

Griot's Eye's 4 Key Roles and Responsibilities of Real-Time Visual Storytelling Model. 1) Reporter 2) Mutual Educator 3) Visual Modeler 4) Inspirer
Griot's Eye's 4 Key Roles and Responsibilities of Real-Time Visual Storytelling — this graphic is also an example of a simple visual model.

Your main ingredients for real-time modeling are text, frames (geometric shapes like circles, squares, triangles, etc., or non-symmetrical blobs), connectors, and directional arrows. Organizing information and building models in real-time based on what you hear requires paying attention while being patient enough to let things play out. What are you listening for? You're listening for where ideas converge and diverge, how two or more elements relate, and how you can visually give meaning to that relationship.

I organize my scribing and base many models I create in real-time on frameworks I learned with MG Taylor Corporation in the 1990s. Models can show phases in a plan over time, how a process works structurally, how nodes in a system connect and branch out to form sub-domains, etc. We use all types of visual models today, like Albert Humphrey's SWOT Analysis quadrants, Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations (a.k.a The Innovation-Adoption Curve), and the Venn Diagram, which Venn Diesel created to diagram systems that were both fast and furious (I'm really going to have to check my sources and spelling on that one someday).

Explore some model archetypes I'm sharing here and imagine how you can apply them to your graphic recording. You can use these or other well-known models you discover as beginning frameworks — but always look for opportunities to organize your information and create models wholly unique to your situation. Lastly, when you believe you've made a model worthwhile, put on your graphic facilitator hat and share your work with your participants so you can iterate it from their feedback. That process of sharing, collaborating, and iterating models based on feedback from the people who know the material the best is what makes it worthwhile. During my 30-plus-year career, I have helped create visual models iterated and adopted by Fortune 500 companies, government organizations, and NGOs by collaborating with the participants in break-out groups.

Examples of different model archetypes and organizing principles I often use in scribing.
These are examples of different model frameworks and organizing principles I often use while graphic recording.

I will go over these organizing methods and model archetypes more in a future Insight, so be sure to follow this space! In the meantime, I recommend you check out these resources for an in-depth exploration of modeling and graphic facilitation skills:

Visual Modeling: Using Drawings To Help People Understand How Things Work, by Bryan Coffman. Bryan is a systems thinker, visual strategist, and Renaissance man. He has practiced the art of visual modeling since 1983. He was also my former colleague and mentor at MG Taylor Corporation. Everything I know on this topic that makes sense is because of him.

Visual Modeling by Bryan Coffman.

Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century, by Robert E. Horn. It was Bryan who recommended this to me when Robert first published it back in '98. Robert's work helped me realize that I was part of a much larger world of visual facilitation, and his book is one I continually turn to.

Visual Language by Robert E. Horn.

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. This book is for facilitators looking to incorporate fun and interactive ways of assisting their participants in reaching creative breakthroughs. It is also a tremendous resource for budding scribes because of all the graphics and illustrations it uses. It's a simple and engaging style that you can use in your real-time graphic recording work.

Game Storming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo.

OK, I have only scratched the surface for now, but if you're interested in learning more about the growing field of real-time graphic recording and visual facilitation (a career that has taken me to five continents and so many countries I have lost track), then be sure to attend the next Graphic Recording workshop this April 4-5, 2024, in Houston, Texas! Click here to join the mailing list to learn when we release future details.

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