What is Conference Cartooning?
Conference Cartooning is similar to graphic reportage and graphic harvesting. It involves standing at an easel or flip chart in a conference room or lecture hall, usually to the side, but sometimes in front of the audience, and producing an on-the-spot documentation of a conference, workshop or brainstorming session in a series of posters.
Conference cartooning is an adrenaline-infused experience, a kind of visual jazz, where I’m listening for the subject of my next drawing while I’m busy improvising the one I’m busy with. The enforced dissociation of head and hand produces fruitful results.
FORMAL LECTURE PRESENTATIONS: Here I usually produce one A2 poster per 45 minute presentation, either a single image or a comic strip that sums up the key concern(s) of the presentation. So in the event of 4 formal presentations during the day, there will be 4 posters. These are usually displayed in the coffee urn area outside the meeting room, where delegates can see them, photograph them or tweet them, thus providing an instant visual account of the meeting.
WORKSHOPS/BRAINSTORMING: Here I usually produce many more images, based on fast-moving ideas or participant comments. After the session, the best posters are curated, sometimes amalgamated, and reworked to provide a set of posters that rcord all the key moments in the session.
POSTER WRAP-UP: At the end of the conference or meeting I like to present a 10-minute Poster Wrap-Up, explaining the images and symbols used and the ideas that ked to them. This can either be done using the data projector or the posters themselves. It is an effective and fun way to summarise and bring some of the key issues discussed to the fore. Delegates usually enjoy it very much.
A UNIQUE APPROACH: My approach differs from that of a conventional graphic harvester, in that I don’t attempt to document every aspect of the discussion. As a cartoonist, I try to hone in on key moments where points of view are passionately or vehemently presented or contested. In my experience it is often these moments that participants remember most clearly, and which come to define the conference in people’s minds.
My aim is to capture something of the spirit of the engagement, and elucidate the various discourses flowing through the discussion. My technique is to harvest phrases, symbols and metaphors employed by the speakers to give voice to contradictions and points of contention, and to use satire to bring these discourses to life in a humorous and memorable way.
STUDIO VERSIONS: In many cases, the cartoons produced on the spot are required by the Client for published conference proceedings or social media. In these cases, I usually produce a studio version of the poster or comic.
How many posters per conference?
For formal lecture presentations, usually one A2 poster per 45 minute session.
For Workshops and Brainstorms, a large number of quick images, depending on the nature of the discussion. These can then be consolidated in the break between sessions or overnight into a set of posters that cover the main themes.
How long do the posters take to produce? What size are they?
Generally A2 size, the posters normally take between 45 minutes and an hour and a half each, depending on the duration of the presentations.
In Workshop and Brainstorming sessions where ideas are flying around, a poster can be produced in a number of minutes. These are then usually finalized and tightened up after the session for presentation at the end of the day.
I listen for a phrase or image that grabs the essence of the presentation and then I draw it as fast as I can. At the end of the conference or meeting, I do a 10-minute stand-up routine, summing up the main points and recalling the main jokes in the poster series.
I swear by Copic paint markers. They are ideal for this kind of work.
Can the posters be published?
Yes. But if they are to be published, I generally redraw them just to neaten things up a bit. However the concept, design, images and wording are all produced on the spot.
Can I show some examples?
Go to Examples for a selection from an African conference of development grantmakers, an international conference of finance ministries, and a strategy indaba of an African banking group. More examples are available on request.