Drawing From Conversation

Drawing From Conversation

A picture is worth a thousand words

According to seyens.com, the cliché holds true. Pictures perform better than blocks of text because humans are visual creatures.

  • Half of our brains are directly or indirectly devoted to processing visual information.
  • We can process images in as little as 13 milliseconds.
  • We have the ability to remember 2000 images with up to 90% accuracy. Mad!

Given how well humans process visual content, adding visual aids to your writing can be incredibly powerful.


  1. You can own your point in a couple of milliseconds. Sketches help your ideas land immediately, which makes your writing memorable.
  2. Visuals also provide a new angle to engage with your writing, which can increase your reach. Like it or not, scrolling through Instagram or TikTok requires a lower mental load than reading a 750-word essay. Sketches add a new way of engaging with an audience that prefers visual content.
  3. By creating your own visuals you can develop a unique style that is instantly recognizable. This beats pulling something from stock photos or Unsplash. See Tim Urban's (WaitButWhy) illustration below.
  4. Drawing also helps us embrace beginner’s mind or the spirit of the fool. The act of drawing is creative, unstructured and playful. By nature, every sketch is an experiment. The first iteration might not convey the message, but after a couple of re-do's you get closer to expressing the idea.
Everyone knows a WaitButWhy sketch when they see one.

Getting started

So now that you know the benefits, where should you start?

I like drawing on Procreate on my iPad. It's a cheap ($10 once-off) app packed with a lot of power. Here's a list of 47 other drawing apps you can choose from.

But honestly, you can also use pen and paper and take a picture of your doodle. The barriers to entry are low.

The tools are one thing. Another important element is feedback. Your visuals will improve through conversation.

Talking drawing

I had the privilege of hosting a creative drawing workshop with Angie Wang and Nate Kadlac two weeks ago.

The idea was to help our fellow writers express their essays visually.

Angie and Nate are two talented visual thinkers. It was fun hosting with them and learning from them. Check our their portfolios to see some of their creations:

One thing we tried was "drawing from conversation".

After Angie, Nate and I explained our own approaches to drawing, students would brainstorm their ideas together in groups of 3-4 before putting pen to paper (or Apple Pencil to iPad). Students also had permission to copy and remix other visuals in their own style.

Similar to writing from conversation (i.e. talking about your idea for an essay with a sparring partner), drawing from conversation helped students get out of their own way.

Conversation is where we express ourselves most naturally. It removes some of the blocks in the creative process. We gain confidence from people nodding their heads and gather direction from suggested improvements. Our thoughts are random, scattered half-ideas, which our conversation partners can fill in and make whole.

Writers who draw.

The A/B method

As for my own approach, here's the low-down.

After going through my old sketches, I realized two things:

  1. I enjoy illustrating quotes.
  2. I tend to illustrate before and after images or wrong vs. right images. Image A compared to Image B. I'm not sure if this is an actual technique, but I'm calling it the "A/B method".
A clear trend

This is how I came up with my illustration on anti-goals:

  1. Pull up a quote. “It's a funny thing, Markos, but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they're afraid of. What they don't want.” ― Khaled Hosseini
  2. Draw a line in the middle to distinguish A from B.
  3. Think about what the two opposing forces can be. Right vs. wrong. I started with two rocket ships - one had an extra boost from anti-goals. But this didn't really capture the effect I was looking for. So I pivoted to illustrating anti-goals as traps that you are trying to avoid. Signified by red/dangerous sinkholes.
  4. Explain your idea to someone. Eventually, through conversation, I landed on traffic signs: - the sink holes are big warning signs - the goals can be big "GO!" signs. Multiple "GO!" signs can be confusing. In which direction should we go? Compared to the clear guidance of the warning signs.
The A/B method in action. From rockets to traffic signs.


Everyone has their own unique style. Lean into it! Here are some resources to help you on your way:

  • Recording: Watch the recording of our workshop here. Angie, Nate and I give a glimpse into our drawing styles and we practice drawing from conversation.
  • Essay: For a brilliant intro article on drawing, read this piece by Nate.

Are you interested in learning more about creating visuals?

Join our community at Creating Visuals for Writing to stay in the loop on future workshops.