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What’s in Your Toolkit?

I’ve learned over the years that there is not just one way to operate as a visual practitioner. While we all have our preferred writing implements and work surfaces, it’s good to know that the expensive markers or the size of the drawing surface don’t have to impact our listening skill or graphic capture capabilities.

I rely on refillable Neuland markers, yet I often add some Crayola-type water-based and alcohol-based markers to my toolkit. There are times when permanent ink is appropriate, so I pack Sharpies and office supply knockoffs. I often use pastels or colored pencils and on occasion, acrylics or chalk paint.

My paper choice is 48-inch high, 24lb bond paper cut in lengths of 6 to 8 feet but I’ll use children’s 20-inch easel paper or brown butcher block paper if that’s what’s on hand. Then there are the instances when portable 30x40inch foam or poster boards or brown cardboard make more sense.

An apron, artist tape, scissors, pencils, and an eraser are always part of my kit. When the job requires digital capture, I have my iPad and a predetermined color palette and pre-set selection of brushes. It's important for me to show up with knowledge and research on the session topic, so I have a folder containing pertinent meeting notes. And of course, agenda and travel itinerary.

Unfortunately, I usually pack a big hairy ball of anxiety and apprehension that tend to weigh down the toolkit. I must always remind myself to unpack that bundle of nerves (along with the imposter syndrome that also takes up too much space in my kit) and force myself to slow down, breathe, and focus.

So what happens when you get to the gig and those nerves get tangled up with unexpected circumstance? When the lead facilitator tosses out the agenda or flips the day completely around? This is where I believe the most important tool that I can have with me comes into play – ADAPTABILITY.

Oh, the stories I can tell…

Like my first solo job when I was told there was no space in the main room for me to set up and was relegated to the lobby with a monitor and audio output that weren’t synced to each other. While I tried to listen/watch the proceedings, everyone who stepped out to take breaks either conducted loud phone calls near me or wanted to talk to me to see what I was doing. What I lacked in detailed information I certainly made up for in BIG drawing and headlines.

Or that time when I was featured with the speaker in the promotional materials. I was supposed to be on stage with him, but he was adamant to the client, insisting I would be a distraction and wouldn’t know what he was talking about. I wanted to tell him that if I didn’t understand the content, how could he expect the audience to, but instead I retreated to back of the auditorium. I did some amazing capture and blew him away when he saw what I recorded.

And that time in a Cancun ballroom overlooking the ocean. PowerPoint presentations were non-stop throughout the days, so curtains were pulled to a pitch-black room. I had to scramble with housekeeping to find a lamp to be able to see my marks on the paper. So much for the ocean view -- I may as well have been in someone's basement!

Or that time for a healthcare company that provide collagen injections in women’s buttocks and I graphically recorded live demonstrations. Butts, butts, butts everywhere!

I’ve drawn sitting on the floor with paper taped onto tables leaning against conference room walls. Paper taped to windows and doors when the flat walls I was promised were white, flocked velvet wallpaper covered with pictures and wall sconces. Stood on chairs to reach the top of my paper that was hung too high because of the chair rail that client said didn’t exist. So many “fun” times where I just wanted to cry to the client that conditions weren’t conducive to producing proper graphic recording. But I realize that they are either oblivious to my situation or are already stressed so I need to utilize my best tool in the kit to be adaptable and flexible.

What obstacles have you faced in this business and how have you overcome them? Do you have a funny story to tell? Share your work experiences with your peers by posting a blog from your Premium IFVP membership profile page. Or if you are a Basic member, write something up and send it to She’ll add it to the weekly news bulletin.