What catches the light?

All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light.

Clive James

There is nothing I love more than to pitch up at an event, and see someone open their laptop, and there on it’s hood is a tattoo that I have created. My own laptop is adorned with countless stickers – some for clients, and most eminiting from a conversational spark. A custom sticker is like making a leaf press – catching something in a moment in time and preserving it for others to tell a story. And from fridge magnets to die-cut transparent stickers, I say it here – I have experimented!

Maren Deepwell’s laptop – I recognise a few of these…

I still have a secret plan to cover the train carriage commuter handrails of the London Underground with my own take on a “mind your head” sticker. (If those hand rails could talk, man, they could tell you of ill-conceived outbursts from introverted giants…)

The future is holographic

And so it was with the OERs just around the corner (now of course virtually around the corner) that I received an email from those masters of the sticker world Sticker Mule, pointing me towards their all new Holographic Stickers (they do this on purpose as they know I am powerless to resist their stickery products…)

After duly considering my options for about 20 seconds, I had a tickly thought (usually this means I drop whatever I’m doing and start tinkering immediately.) I recently added a hot air balloon to my home page in the latest iteration of trying-to-visually-explain-what-Visual-Thinkery-actually-does (do I even know?). Maybe, just maybe, I could make the balloon feel like it was glinting in the morning sun (subliminal message: I get up at the crack of dawn just to capture visual insights for you, dear viewer…) Could I make the light dance across the canvas? Could I make it catch your eye?

Adding soul

In my graphical tinkerings, I updated the original graphic with some highlights, lowlights and texture to ensure that it would catch the light as gradually as possible. I tried to avoid the big blocks of solid colour in the original.

10 ideas balloon
10 ideas balloon
10 ideas balloon sticker
Holographic sticker design

Artwork is never finished – merely abandoned – especially when there are stickers to order…

Keep it quirky

One thing I’ve noticed, is that whenever people get together for an open chat, people’s individual little quirks emerge that end up in the melting pot of the conversation. This is where the good stuff lies; footholds where an idea can get a leg up.

Avoid the obvious. Keep it quirky. If you’re going to try to say something – say it differently.

Visual Thinkery balloon stickers
A festival of Visual Thinkery balloons

The first thing I notice about my newly created stickers is the ever-changing colours as they catch the light. The photos don’t quite convey the immediate impulse to either move the sticker or move your head in order to witness the running rainbow of colour.

Making a scene

And with that in mind, I made a real scene in my garden using some scrap paper on a flagstone…

Holographic Sticker Scene
Catching the morning sun in London – a Holographic Sticker Scene…

I’m planning to send one of these stickers to backers of the Remixer Machine on Patreon, so if you’d like one (or any of the other stickers I’ve made), you know what to do… 🙂

It's Magic! – a quick guide to graphic recording

A quick guide to graphic recording
(literally a quick guide to graphic recording)

At a meeting the other day I was asked how did I do that?

I had graphically recorded (or sketchnoted) a gathering of trustees for ALT, the Association for Learning Technology. In my response, I found myself listing some do’s and don’ts, and issuing the usual skills-related tropes the more you do it, the easier it gets. Honestly though, when I think about it, I’ve made up the rules as I’ve gone along, and so have become a self-appointed authority in the matter. The graphic above is my attempt at quickly gathering some of those pointers together in a visual landscape, so if it’s something you’d like to get in to, this may well be of help. However if you’re anything like me, the biggest barrier to learning a new skill is always getting over one’s self…

ALT Assembly meeting - sketchnote
ALT Assembly meeting – sketchnote

I’ve used this graphical recording method as the starting point on a whole bunch of creative exploits: 

  • working with activists to create visual campaigns around plastic pollution
  • interviewing stakeholders across an organisation with regards to a fairly large tech project the org was about to embark on
  • creating a visual language with groups of people from a membership organisation
  • capturing the progress of a number of recipient organisations as part of a social funding journey

In fact, most projects that involve harvesting insight from groups of people, the people who know.

SocMedHE18 - sketchnote
SocMedHE18 – sketchnote

Every conversation is different, with different insight to discover. Thar’s insight in tham thar conversations… Listening intentionally with a pen in hand, you’ll hear different things. And to others it often looks like magic.

This post was originally published as the Visual Thinkery Newsletter. Sign up here!

The head and the hand

I’m suspicious of creative briefs. I don’t mean Y-fronts, but design briefs. It tends to separate the brain (all-powerful creator of ideas) from the hand (the articulate painter of pictures) – as if this was a two step, linear process. The concept is conceived. It simply needs to be articulated in a way that honours the concept.

creative briefs

But I’ve learnt that to draw is to think. What else is a sketchbook for? What feels to the all-powerful brain like a weak idea, takes root on paper and is guided by the hand into something magnificent. For as you create it, it starts telling you what it needs to become. Similarly, what feels to the all-powerful brain like a strong idea can often wither on paper. It becomes too obvious – a cul-de-sac of an idea.

Who, from words alone, call tell the strength of an idea? Do we think in pictures? No, we think in terms of things we’ve already experienced – some of which are visual. So, whilst you can garner agreement around a set of words, the pictures conjured inside the minds of individuals can be wildly different.

head and hand

I know many heads who have disconnected their hands. “I’m not a creative…” is stated alongside the description of their own idea. Or “I can’t draw” – the head having inspected their hand and realised it’s still the hand of their child self, and that its creations are scribbly and immature. “I know what to do” says the brain, taking over, logically trying to make the best of things. “I’ll draw stick figures”, telling the hand to stop misbehaving and to do what it’s told. Sound familiar?

Eddie Izzard once said that adults make terrible language learners, simply because they are not prepared to try to say something, get it wrong, and look foolish. I think drawing is quite the same.

As the hand scratches the head, so the head must encourage the hand. In truth, the hand is as good a thinker as the head…

Reclaim Remix

Reclaim Hosting – They’ll sort you out…

It is with much pleasure that I announce the Remixer Machine’s latest backer, and the inaugural organisational backer, Reclaim Hosting. Woot woot!

I’ve been a fan of Reclaim Hosting, since first meeting Jim Groom in Barcelona a few years ago. In fact, it was working with Jim that taught me the power of aesthetic; how a visual can invoke a subconscious emotional response long before you’ve processed it with your conscious mind. Over the last few years I’ve seen the Reclaim team grow, and I’m envious of their adventures, especially as they seem to involve arcade games, Raspberry Pi’s, retro movies and Scooby Doo mashups… 

If you haven’t come across Reclaim Hosting, they aren’t really a hosting company – they’re a support company. They’ll help you take back control of your school/college/organisation’s multi-author creative web presence. Ask around – their support is legendary. Visual Thinkery has been hosting its web presence with Reclaim for years.

And so, there’s a new addition to the Remixer Machine: Reclaim your VHS 

Reclaim your VHS by Bryan Mathers CC-BY-SA

What have you taped to watch later – the snooker? In Black and White? Well that’s up to you I suppose…

Nice to CC you

I’m heading off to the Creative Commons summit in Lisbon this week to spread the good news of the Fabulous Remixer Machine. The trip is self funded, although CC have been good enough to cover my accommodation and conference fee. I’m really looking forward to meeting some new people with a shared interest in curiosity-driven tinkering.

The Capitolio Theatre in Lisbon where the summit keynotes are due to be held.
Nice to CC you CC-BY-SA Bryan Mathers

And as you can imagine, I’ve been busy adding a new Remixer just for the conference, as well as making a few improvements. It’s a remake of one of the earlier remixable ideas – the postage stamp…

What is it about a postage stamp that makes it the perfect mini-frame to say something visual and meaningful?

When I was a boy, and the world rotated slowly, you actually had to collect postage stamps just to eyeball them up close. Twas a noble pastime indeed. These days, of course, a quick search on the interwebs will furnish you with a plentiful supply of stamps affixed to a myriad of countries, styles and eras. It’s like asking a country: what were you saying, and who were you saying it to?

With this remixer, I’ve experimented with types of paper, and sampled the colour tints of existing stamps. Stamps can be remixed in different perspectives, and using different blends, can produce some tasty effects.

A picture of me in a postage stamp.
Nice to CC you CC-BY-SA Bryan Mathers
An activist's heart - a postage stamp.
Nice to CC you CC-BY-SA Bryan Mathers
The diffusion of innovation - a postage stamp.
Nice to CC you CC-BY-SA Bryan Mathers
The Irish border in a postage stamp.
Nice to CC you CC-BY-SA Bryan Mathers

And regardless of whether you plan to be at the conference, simply by publishing your stamp on the Remixer Machine, it will automatically be added to the CCSummit Stamp Collection page, which I’m hoping to fill with everyone’s creations.

So what are you waiting for? Jump right in!

Because, when it comes to remixing, don’t be a cautious chicken – be a rambunctious rhino… 🙂

It’s Ama-Zine!

What are you saying?

And to whom are you saying it?

These are the two questions I’m usually trying to squeeze out of participants in most visual thinkery conversations. Creating a Zine is a super way of boiling that message down – an irresistible little format for the organic transfer of a story, vision or idea.


I was re-introduced to Zines at last year’s MozFest (Mozilla Festival), where Zine pro Éléonore Mayola was facilitating a maker session. My 8-year-old and I got wonderfully lost in the process of conjuring a story of 8 panels: A front cover, a back cover, and six story panels in between – all on one folded piece of paper. We endeavoured to create a story about Bob – a sideways glance at the overlap of worlds my son and I inhabit, whilst breathing in the rich Mozfest air. “The mixed stories of Bob, series 2”. You know it’s a hit when you get to start at at the second series…

Library of Things

More recently, a few community minded supers (as in The Incredibles sense) and I have been plotting how to get a local Library of Things up and running. And as “make a zine” was my answer to any question about boiling down a vision, I set about making one. Of course with digital drawing, you can create something that’s very replicable and distributable – as the party happens all on one side of a piece of paper.

Live at the OERs

When I was thinking about running an Zine making workshop at OER19, Catherine Cronin encouraged me to reach out to potential co-collaborators. I’m really glad I followed such sage wisdom. Amy Burvall is one of the most creative educators I know, and while we beavered away on our proposal, I realised that Amy brought a completely fresh perspective on what I thought I knew a little about. In fact, it wasn’t long before Amy had educated me on Zine culture and the many different approaches to making a Zine.

The trouble with a workshop of this nature is that most people are uncomfortable with a blank piece of paper. In our Zine-storming session pre-workshop, Amy had listed 29 prompts to help with this (if you’ve read her Intention book, you’ll know how brilliant Amy is with this stuff). So it seemed obvious for me to try to bring them to life by illustrating them. It’s this idea ping-pong that made our workshop about 10 times better than if I was leading it on my own.

Ama-Zine Prompts by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

Now then, it’s super easy to make a Zine – at least – it is when you know how. This thoroughly brilliant video explains all you need to know in 3 minutes, but be careful – all that talk of hotdogs and hamburgers might bring on the nibbles! I know what you’re like…

Just in case they come in handy, here are the slides from Amy and my session at OER19:

Slaying of Self

There were so many great zines shared at the conference. So finally, here’s Reclaim Hosting & DS106 legend Jim Groom talking about his Zine-ful creation…

(So what are you waiting for? Get making!)

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