Growing into an artist

“Are you an artist?” people ask me when they see me carrying a sketchbook or drawing my notes on a tablet PC.

My first instinct had been to say, “No, not really. Look at these. They’re just stick figures. You can do them too!”

Then I realized: this is it – this is that self-deprecation-of-what-you-do that I’ve heard so much about, but so far had managed to escape as a woman in technology simply because I learned that confidence early. In a new field, I found that familiar ghost.

I’ve been learning to answer, “Yes, I am. I turn business and technology ideas into one-page visual summaries.”

The journey to that response has been about giving myself permission to accept this identity as part of my self. Working with technology has been part of me since childhood. I’ve built the habit of writing over the past decade. Sketchnotes are so recent – just two years since I posted my first one! – and yet because they’re visual and more useful to more people, I get more accolades for them than for anything else.

Is this art? If so, it’s a very practical one. I take notes to remember and to help other people learn. But art is in the eye of the beholder, too. If people see a sketchnote as art, then it’s art. Who am I to invalidate the joy they take in creativity, especially if they end up learning along the way?

I play around with keywords. Do I introduce myself as a sketchnote artist, a sketchnote communicator, a visual communicator? And yet “geek” is a much larger part of my identity – tinkerer, developer, builder. Then there’s this 5-year-experiment where I’m learning about business and capitalism and making good things happen. Fortunately, other people have dealt with the complexity of combining many passions in their life. They’ve figured this out. I can too.

  • Labels tend to be “Exclusive Or” in the normal world. It would be difficult for me to answer just “Yes” to “Are you an artist?” because “Yes” implies to others that I’m not so many other things.

    How would Leonardo da Vinci have answered, I wonder?

    BTW, I like the update to your comment box!

  • “Among other things…” is how I tend to answer it. =)

  • Josh Tolle

    Randall Munroe is an artist and a bastion of geekdom, so don’t think that they’re mutually exclusive.

    Also, you could use the label “Renaissance Woman” to cover everything you do. :-)

    I have mostly maintained a lack of web presence for the duration of my career in technology due to the fact that I have never thought that anybody would be interested in what I have to say about technology (that the technology hurdles over which I jump are too pedestrian to hold any interest to anybody). This post has made me realize that while I’m certain that I would write some things that are common knowledge, I think there is value in some of what I would say about technology; I have had the privilege to work alongside some brilliant people, which I think has skewed my perception of where the bar is set as far as “common” knowledge. Thank you.