We’re not in Kansas anymore.
When one of the participants began his question with; “If I’m giving a talk to a bunch of neutron scatterers…” I knew I was breathing different air. The opportunity to meet my Sketchnoting community in person, facilitated by Rob Dimeo with Mike Rohde and Professor Michael Clayton as participants, was one extended to me by a surprising invite and I was still in disbelief of my good fortune.
I was arriving at Reagan International Airport Friday evening to spend the next few days at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD (NIST), with a group of Sketchnoting friends and enthusiasts. An incongruous group of global Twitter friends – collected from far and wide all gathered together to share our styles and passion with a team of scientists, chemists, engineers, librarians, physicists and yes, neutron scatterers. It was a mind opening experience.
But first, a stop at a panel discussion held by six of these folks and given at AIGA Blueridge which walked an eager design community through the basics of sketchnoting. My Lyft driver dropped me (and my luggage) at the door exactly on time. The audience was packed, but I got to say hello to my Sketchnoting tribe right before taking my seat and sitting in awe of the expertise of the panel. And then the journey began.
The next day we met at NIST to deposit our passports to the guards and receive official clearance and a nametag to the facilities. Wow. Cleared, we drove together in a caravan through the campus and to the building that would be home for the next few days. Introductions and coffee aside – we crowd-sourced the topics European style, with what Marianne called a bar camp. (Edcamps here in US education.) Basically all attendees posted sticky notes with their preferred topics, things they wanted to learn about, and things they were willing to ‘share’. Marianne Rady and Steve Silbert (our resident Scrum Masters) categorized our notes and created the schedule. It was the picture of democratic diplomacy as topics were announced and facilitators beckoned. Really. It was seamless.
That first day started with a Visual Vocabulary warm-up where we quickly drew ten objects without pause (a traditional opening activity for us) and then an exploration of ideas that were more difficult to capture. The two Mikes responded to this live – it was dubbed: Stump the Mikes and we all drew together as the audience suggested difficult terms: open mindedness, project, empathy, teamwork, impact and illusion were our mix and the results were fascinating! For me, the images for impact were the most transforming. The Mike’s portrayed different scientific images (Newton’s cradle and a meteor cascading towards Earth) while I was busy trying to depict a can drive for a local food pantry. Our symposium had begun and already my mind had expanded.
Rather than sharing a play-by-play, let me share an anecdote. Our host was discussing the nuances of saved pens in Procreate for the iPad. Rob Dimeo had shared Procreate layers and pens with all of us, but here he was talking to the group about designing a brush that would have a different thickness based on the pressure of the pen stroke. A brush that would resemble a true cartoonist’s ink pen. Rob began to speak to the scientists and instinctively created an analogy for them. He called the brush shape anisotropic – or he attempted to. We laughed at the pronunciation as he answered a question from one of the non-scientists among us, explaining the electromagnetic concept of particles that are not equally dispersed in a substance. Luckily, I understood the brush, ink, and result in Procreate, but I had to know more about anisotropy.
When we broke for lunch I scooted my chair back to ask for clarification of the NIST employees. I had to add something understandable to my sketchnote after all. Their explanation was fascinating. Bob explained that Isotropic had to do with the disbursement of particles in a substance and Anisotropic meant that they were unevenly distributed. Eric, sitting beside him, clarified. He thought of it like a brick. “The difference of one end appearing like a square and the other side like an elongated rectangle.” That, I could understand – it was actually brilliant, but Bob needed to clarify that the concept talked about the distribution of particles within the makeup of the brick. There is no way that I can explain this discourse intelligently. Their conversation was as fascinating as the analogy was to begin with. It worked for me. I understood that electromagnetic elements of a substance are sometimes unevenly distributed which changes the appearance or density. The concept as it applied to their work escaped me. My delight as an educator was the opportunity to hear the analogy, to share in the understanding, and then to witness colleagues discussing their own definitions to each other through me – a liberal arts, sketchnoting friend.
Changing the way we see things gets harder and harder as we age. The reason for this seems to be the lack of opportunity to hear from and share conversation with others outside of our training, vocation, profession, or even geographic residence. The NIST Sketchnote Community Symposium, gave that opportunity to all who attended. My Twitter friends could not wait to meet each other in person to celebrate our community and our good fortune. Our new NIST acquaintances gave us a refreshing benediction to #Sketchnoting.
I am infinitely thankful for this opportunity, one that revealed diverse viewpoints and backgrounds in a transcendent way. We were introduced to entire fields of research and science of which I personally had no prior understanding. Sketchnoting leveled the playing field if only for one weekend. We learned, stretched, shared, evolved, and grew at NIST.