I was invited to be a featured artist in the 12th installment of the Janet Flanner Visiting Artist Series at a prestigious private school in Indianapolis. The series was founded by the school’s Director of Fine Arts in 2011 to connect students to the local art community to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas and inspiration. The events include but are not limited to art exhibitions, artist talks, artist workshops and classroom visits.
I was honored — I’ve never been a visiting artist before. I don’t even think of myself as an artist; I believe the work I do is more about Visual Communication and Visual Thinking. But of course, it is all visual and I use art materials to create the imagery, so let’s run with it.
In September 2023 I packed up my magical magic marker tote; several rolls of large-format paper; and a selection of my favorite resource books and headed into the classroom to visit with the Animation & Motion Media class.
I prepared to share my professional work and talk a little about my journey as an independent business owner. I did not want to talk too much; I was informed by colleagues who have more experience working with teens than I do (which is pretty much zero) that I should engage them in activities rather than spending too much time presenting.
While the students are currently studying motion design – and I take on quite a bit of animation projects in my studio – I decided to focus on the live scribing aspect of my work and have them give it a go, since it’s a challenging skill to draw live in real time while listening to spoken words and simultaneously thinking how best to represent a visual story. I could have structured the workshop around storyboarding, using animation software, etc. but I felt that would be less unique and more common.
I also wanted to also introduce ‘sketch noting’ (which is very similar to professional scribing, but more personal while working on a small scale in your own sketchbook) as a thinking tool that students can use in the classroom or in any kind of learning situation, which is not necessarily about drawing and being artistic but something they can use in their school work to organize their pages and help them think clearly.
I made a few ‘mistakes’ but it was an informal setting, and I was able to improvise quickly.
I prepped a short slideshow with photos of me in professional work situations so they could visualize my setup and various work environments such as small meeting rooms and large conference venues alike. I included a few quickly doodled black and white slides to share my quick history, although my plan was to draw these live while I told them about my background.
It’s good that I did this because when I walked into the classroom I saw right away that even though there was plenty of wall space in the classroom, there were also long desks attached to the walls which prevented anybody from actually getting close enough to the paper to draw while standing.
I improvised by rolling the paper I brought along the length of the desks instead of using the walls. After the slides I did a warm-up activity called Squiggle Birds – an activity where students make simple birds out of doodles – and had the students draw on this paper (or in their sketchbooks). As I didn’t have anywhere to draw, another improvisation was to grab my iPad and use Procreate to demonstrate the activity. I let them choose markers from my Neuland collection – any size they preferred: fine, regular (No.One) or large (BigOne) – which they really seemed to enjoy.
I quickly realized a misconception I had: these kids knew how to draw. Really well. Several of them are seniors, headed to art school in the fall. Their artistic sensibilities were already pretty sophisticated and so I decided on the fly to toss out the part of the workshop where I teach them to draw using a dozen basic shapes, and went right to the live scribing portion.
Before firing up the audio, I did a little lesson on drawing titles, frames, containers, bullets, connectors and other graphical elements that are often part of this kind of visual work.
Then I had them listen to a couple of short (~2 min) StoryCorps segments, which seemed perfect for this exercise since they feature people speaking at a conversational pace that is not too fast (unlike many TED talks, for instance).
They jumped in with enthusiasm and I was impressed by how well they did! We went around and talked about the experience as they presented their work to each other. What was challenging? What did they learn? (“I thought it was going to be about unicorns but it was really about bullying!”)
And then the bell rang and it was over. I was inspired by the students’ curiosity and attentiveness, and I also appreciated the teacher’s helpfulness and engagement throughout.
“Thank you so much for sharing your work, experience as a graphic recorder, and inspiring our students.
They really enjoyed your workshop and appreciated how challenging your work is!” – Heather Teets, Director of Fine Arts