How did it come to be the annual performance review time again? Surely it was only a few months ago when I was self-evaluating a year’s worth of work against a bunch of at best impersonal KPIs shared with at least a thousand other people. While you tell yourself that you are not your job, you also know that how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

In such Sisyphean moments, I’m comforted by one of my favourite quotes: “people tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and underestimate what can be done in five or ten years”. It’s not of course a licence to sit on my laurels but reminds me of the long game and that – unless triggered by a full-blown crisis or contraception gone wrong – life changes, to me at least, tend to come in incremental barely noticeable baby steps that I can’t always even trace back to their conception. But the cumulative impact of those steps is so important when you want to live a more purposefully creative life that’s true to you.

So, here are my past twelve months of A Thousand Words Consulting in eight small steps:

1. Be inspired

I saw Rebecca Roberts from Envirovisuals graphic recording at a work event. What I’ve now come to experience as a lovely characteristic of the entire sketchnoting community, she was so friendly and generous, when I asked her loads of nosy questions about her work.

2. Practice

I signed up for a free drawing bootcamp by Graphic Change, which Rebecca had recommended. I ended up taking two more of the popular online courses by amazingly talented Cara, as well as a workshop in London with the sketchnoting superstar Eva-Lotta Lamm. I hoarded all the classic sketchnoting titles by Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde, Willemien Brand, etc.

3. Share your work

The online courses got me over my reluctance to share less than perfect work, mainly on Instagram, because Facebook and Twitter give me negative vibes.  The likes and the comments are lovely, but after a while, I realised that what I share becomes what I am. (Or maybe it’s the other way around?)

4. Step it up

A few months after I’d come across with sketchnoting, I founded A Thousand Words Consulting. This brought along a whole lot of company related stuff I had to do that had little to do with drawing. I even set up a Trello board to manage it all like I would for any of my day job projects.

5. ‘Show up before you’re ready’

One doesn’t wait to become an expert and then go and do the work – so, I did a few free gigs for the experience and client referrals. The quote is by Elizabeth Gilbert – another endless source of creative inspiration (it’s now a few years old, but I still recommend listening to her Magic Lessons podcast).

6. Promote your work

Finally launching the website was super exciting, and my guiding principle was not to make ‘the perfect’ the enemy of ‘the good’. I loved developing the logo – when you’re selling intangible services rather than physical products, being able to touch a business card makes it feel much more real.

7. Find your flow

I’ve now worked on commissions for a few months and already realising that the direction of my work isn’t exactly what I had initially envisaged. I’ve been doing more – and perhaps enjoying more – one-to-one visual problem solving over a period of few days or weeks helping people process or articulate different difficult issues from racial bias at work place to dealing with the trauma from sexual abuse, rather than the more performative and fast-paced graphic recording. The only problem is that when some of it is confidential, I can only share my excitement and not the finished pieces!

8. Celebrate, meet more people and go back to step one!

This August, I joined the International Sketchnote Community summit in Paris. Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Atlantic crossing, I decided to arrive under my own steam, cycling the 450km from Bristol over three days. The nerve at my hand and wrist was unhappy about the long days on the bike, though, so I paid for my climate consciousness by not being able to draw much over the three days. That was ok – I got so much out of the keynotes by Mike Rohde and Eva-Lotta Lamm; meeting some of my recent year’s Instagram inspirations in person; and joining a number of workshops that I think will be really relevant to my work over the coming year, such as using sketchnoting in education (“edusketching”) or how to sketchnote your academic paper.


My goal for the next twelve months is of course to improve and start on bigger projects. Part of this is just more regular, disciplined practice and reflection, which this blog will be part of. But I also want to look deeper into the science behind sketchnoting; to understand how to measure its impact and perhaps identify the components that all the different sketchnoting processes have in common.

Finally, I want to develop my own value-add and figure out a way to bring my day job in International Development and passion for visual storytelling together. I don’t know what this will look like, but I hope the Master’s in Development Communications I’m about to start at the Malmo University will help. It’s a new and niche subject, for which there’s a German word: Orchideenfach. I also played with the idea of studying German. And do an Olympic Distance triathlon. What’s the German word for when there’re so many things you want to do that you suddenly feel too overwhelmed to do anything other than watch Queer Eye on Netflix?

Mike Rohde
When I told my daughter I’d met Mike Rohde at the ISC in Paris, she said I sounded like someone who’d just met Justin Bieber. So, here I am with the Justin Bieber of sketchnoting!