Making Art Into Making A Living


It’s not everyday that you hear of people who decide to pursue a hobby – like doodling – as a career, especially when it’s not an obvious need. Have you ever even stopped to wonder why we do things the way we do them? For example, why do we read line by line instead of word by word? Why do we take notes the way we do? Why is there an outline feature on every single word processor but not a sketchnote feature?

Nora Herting and Heather Willems always knew they wanted to pursue art-related careers, but they also knew that it would be hard to make a living. Willems soon found herself waitressing to supplement being a fine artist. “As a waitress, I would entertain myself between shifts by eavesdropping on customers and jotting their conversations on napkins," she says. Willems eventually found herself with enough napkins to make an entire “large-scale mural consisting of the text as image,” which she did, inviting her customers to the corresponding art exhibition.

As it turns out, the customers were less interested in the art and more interested in the artist; and Willemswas offered a position turning meeting notes into graphics. Willems quickly joined the company's Chicago division, while her friend Nora Herting went to the New York division. Herting and Willems continued to work independently until an agency hired them to tandem-scribe (to work together). Not long after, ImageThink LLC was born.”

Clients, including advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, toymaker LEGO and computer services giant IBM” hired the team at ImageThink to create business-inspired art by “[listening] carefully and objectively to what’s being said, then [capturing] the highlights via bullet points, notes and sketches.” Technically ImageThink is a graphic facilitation firm, which surprisingly wasn't a fully novel idea. Graphic facilitation, also known as graphic recording, started in the 1970's, when a network of consultants based on the West Coast, decided to take an approach inspired by designers and architects to empower businesses.

What makes ImageThink different from its competitors, however, is that the firm was started by two women who wanted to use their knowledge and passions to empower others.

Their newly published workbook, Draw Your Big Idea, includes over 150 drawing exercises to provide readers with the tools to hone their own graphic facilitation skills. Herting and Willems realized that graphic facilitation can – and should – be used anywhere, especially outside the boardroom.

According to the book, “graphic facilitation, sketchnoting, doodling or whatever you want to call synthesizing concepts into visuals, have value beyond the boardroom and SXSW.”

“As a waitress, I would entertain myself between shifts by eavesdropping on customers and jotting their conversations on napkins"

-Heather Willems

The pair are aware of the universal cognitive benefits provided by their business. “Drawing out concepts provides access all 4 learning modalities, visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile," says Willems.

"When you have fun with the sketches, or make a visual note of a joke, you are adding emotion into the mix and are even more likely to remember the experience of capturing the information long after the conversation wraps" says Willems.

Some may be quick to doubt the benefits of visual note-taking. Arguments about the process being a distraction, or a barrier for the brain have been made. According to Willems, while at first, it may be a kind of distraction, it will soon normalize in the brain “Clients often ask us if the graphic recording will be distracting," says Willems. "I usually respond, ‘Yes, it will be… at first but it is a healthy distraction.’” Once the novelty of it wears down, and it becomes part of the usual landscape, it’s no longer a distraction. “Sketching the ideas in your notebook for yourself while someone is graphic facilitating (drawing out ideas for a team to build upon) is a quick way to learn new information and it stimulates cross-cognitive processing," says Willems.

What’s most interesting about visual note-taking is the freedom it brings. The participant doesn't necessarily have to know what he or she is doing while doing it. “Even if I didn’t necessarily understand all of the content that was transpiring, I was good at listening for the key points and capturing them with words and pictures," says Herting. And, after all, isn’t that the point of taking notes?

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