After Trump, we’re graphic recording Emma Gonzalez.

What do you do when your graphic recording subject is not just highly politicised, but deeply emotional and accompanied by a rankled crowd?

We call BS.

It’s never been my policy to put participants at my visual facilitation workshops through safe tasks — if that safety will make the task inauthentic, even though I intentionally design my workshop environment as one where you can be safe to experiment in.

Last year, we ruffled feathers (even now, someone said, “That’s so mean!” — of me, ahem) when we had President Donald Trump deliver his inauguration address at our workshop to the ire of budding graphic recorders itching for practice. I still hold by the lessons that I’ve learned in my years of practice and what I teach — you have to honour the conversation (seeming monologues) at hand.

As a graphic recorder, because of our personal experiences and values, we’ve got to admit that some conversations are harder to honour than others. We can walk away in reality — but workshops are where we take creative license to push these hot buttons.

Sometimes, it’s the people in the conversation. A few months on, President Trump remains a controversial and polarising figure.

Then sometimes, it’s the content of the conversation. Emma Gonzalez stands out as the face of survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018. Her distinct, expressive facial features, accentuated by her stand-out buzz cut, have contributed in part to her recognisability as a gun-control activist.

And then there was that speech, where she led the crowd in loud encores of “We call BS!

The Question: Can we deal with sensitivities, angst, and obvious potential for negativity in a graphic recording?

I know most people would have gladly avoided such issues to graphic record. Sorry, but I don’t buy the superficial value proposition that, “Oh, graphic recordings are meant to be positive, creative! We are here to make ideas look beautiful! We are there to make everybody feel good about the meeting!”

Why do we gladly skim the human condition and ignore the depths of the conversation, just so we can have an easy job (sometimes relying on our own set of tried and tested “template” responses to graphic recording) and convenient chitty-chat that changes… NOTHING? Especially, when there’s a penchant for pretty to your aesthetic, but not much to your intuition of the situation.

Just moments before this graphic recording exercise, one participant made a distinct portrait of another by colouring in the skin colour. Both took it in good humour — the “coloured” participant actually thought it was a smart thing to do to make his portrait stand out. Although, admittedly, the rest of the group didn’t think it would be wise to…

Thankful on these days that (A) we are not as famous as Wendy of Korean girl group Red Velvet, who drew serious flak for her impersonation of how African American ladies speak, and (B) we had a safe workshop space.

So, back to Emma Gonzalez. Participants were only told they were graphic recording a press conference on an emotional issue, with an unknown speaker, and an unknown script.

I was doing my own little graphic recording while spying on them. What I saw was they were treating this with respect. Some of them were taking notes on post-its. Others were deliberately looking for more muted ways to draw out the speech.

No one had instructions on what would be important to graphic record on this. Do we focus on the facts? (And if we do, were the facts fact-checked?) Do we focus on the quotable quotes? Do we focus on the gist? Do we still draw in pictures — and if so, what pictures? Given the seriousness of this topic. And if I think I can’t draw, would my respect for the context mean I choose to focus on putting it down into the right words.

What should a graphic recording make you feel?

What should a graphic recording make you think?

What should a graphic recording make you do?

What should a graphic recording make you say?

There are no easy answers, and whatever answers you have would be very different. Yet ultimately, you are responsible for what you draw out. This, is your ethos, logos, and pathos. Unless you have given thought to these, you will continue to rankled when people are being real (themselves!) in a real conversation. Not a scripted lab jar conversation that you can fit into your pre-planned templates.

Something to explore at our visual facilitation open space? It’s happening this Fri, 9 Mar, 7pm, at Suntec. RSVP/ chope here: