Field Report from the Doodle Playground

It’s been just over a month since I hosted a Creative Mornings Austin Field Trip called “I CAN”T DRAW!” — a doodle playground. Since I gave you a bit of a preview, a post-playground review seems past due.

Everything went wrong. First, the projector wouldn’t work (no sound, then no picture either). As I started, I jumbled up my outline notecards so skipped over a few things as I fumbled with stacks of cards. Worried about not being able to fill 75 minutes, I rambled quite a bit at the beginning, then noticed we were 30 minutes into it and still just getting started. So I hurried up, tossed out portions I should’ve kept and had more than one “Oh, I forgot to tell you…” moment. Our time started running out, and I hurried to quickly throw in some info a presentation that should have been an exercise.

They loved it anyway.

My old trainer instincts kicked in about the time the projector failed despite the on-site tech guy trying to get it going for 15 minutes into the session. My optimist streak kicked in about then, too, as I remember thinking, “Thank goodness I decided not to prepare more on the projector.”

The structure for the session (such as it was) was to start with an intro admitting I can’t draw, so I doodle, emphasizing my amateur status as one who doodles simply for the love of it. I showed off some lovely prints of SXSW graphic facilitators’ work and several books on doodling and visual language.

Then, I had them freeform doodle to my adaptation of Sunni Brown‘s story of  a kid’s journey from discovering “I make marks!” until they run smack into the Wall of Words, and how that contributes to the “I CAN”T DRAW!” syndrome. After a little personal history of my journey from watching graphic facilitators to reading Dan Roam, Mike Rohde and Sunni Brown to taking doodle notes at the Creative Mornings meetings, among other places.

I went over some doodle basics: the face matrix, 3 ways to draw people, and basic elements of visual language. Then I had them pair up for an exercise; and after some more rambling talk from me, I had each pair join another at a table to doodle their concepts for a serious of abstract terms, all prior Creative Mornings monthly themes, such as Empathy, Revolution,  Shock, or Sex.

About then, we started running out of time except for a few questions (e.g., Why do I choose a pen over pencil? Portability: two pens, my little notebook, and my iPhone can all fit in my pants’ pockets), so we wrapped it all up.

Afterwards, I went home and basked in the afterglow of a good group session. I found myself pacing around the house, unable to sit still, still abuzz with energy from the whole experience, and ideas spinning off the whole experience. I hit my old trainer/facilitator pace and it felt good, it felt comfortable, it felt effective. I had set out to tell ’em a few specific things about my doodles, but mostly wanted to get them to have fun doodling and connect with each other over some simple practice exercises.

And it worked!



In the weeks since the doodle playground, the Creative Mornings Austin team has asked me if I could give a repeat performance in January for another CMATX Field Trip. Of course I agreed — that ought to give me some more time to get better organized. One attendee also asked me about the possibility of holding some sort of similar session as a fun lead-in a company’s holiday dinner & party. Why, sure!

Already, my thoughts race to possible follow-up sessions, maybe about using doodles for visual thinking and visual communication to improve shared understanding, much along the lines of Dan Roam’s new book Draw to Win. I already have a tentative title picked out for that one: “Do I have to Draw You a Picture?”

In wrapping up last month’s session, I left my playground partners with a garbled rendition of Graham Shaw’s observation after his TEDxHull talk. He pointed out that they all denied they could draw at the beginning of the session — and then drawn several cartoon faces as part of the workshop. He then asked them to consider what other self-limiting beliefs they were allowing to block them from doing more?

Now there’s a question to ponder on the old back porch…





About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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