For the third year in a row, visual thinkers in the world celebrated the World Sketchnote Day on 11 January. At the call of Mike and Mauro , the two geniuses behind the Sketchnote Army blog, hundreds of sketchnoters, graphic recorders/facilitators, doodlers, or simple visual lovers, shared on social media their piece of work on sketchnoting with the #SNDay2018 hashtag.  See the amazing creativity and diversity of ideas posted on Twitter or Instagram.

Since 2017 for #SNDay2017, where I participated alone, I feel that the visual thinkers community has grown on Internet, but in my working environment too. Thanks to Catherine and Gene, who are two colleagues very engaged in visuals like me, we have a small but existing community of visual thinkers in the European Commission. I sent them an invitation for a collective sketchnoting session on 11 January lunchtime and four of them were available: Catherine, Gene, Celia and Fred. We met on two different sites in Brussels via video-conference facilities (this is why some pics look strange).

I offered to practice sketchnoting on “What does visuals bring us personally or to our institution?”

My take-away of the session:

There is a particular energy to “work visually” together on the same subject, respecting and adding our different visual styles. This energy is even stronger when you feel united to a global community that the same day celebrates the beauty and power of the visual language.

We shared our pictures and sketchnotes on social media with other practitioners (it’s fun to notice pics from one side of the screen to the other). We also photographed ourselves in #eyecontact mode, according to Chris‘ idea.

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Le sens émerge dans le câlin du silence

Si vous aimez la musique, vous n’êtes pas sans savoir que le silence en constitue un élément important, autant que les notes.

Le silence musical est une valeur temporelle qui permet, en musique tonale, de séparer et de différencier les sons afin de mettre en exergue leurs relations.” – universalis.fr.

Comme ses soeurs les notes sonores, le silence possède une transcription dans la notation musicale. Pour être précis, il existe 7 différentes durées du silence qui correspondent aux 7 figures de notes. Ce sont la pause, la demi-pause, le soupir, le demi, quart, huitième, et seizième de silence.

Un peu comme le silence en musique, le silence me permet de séparer le brouhaha dans ma vie quotidienne. C’est lui qui différencie le bruit ambiant du sens. “Je vois ce que tu veux dire“. Sa durée et sa qualité me permettent de sculpter, de verticaliser, d’approfondir ce qui précède, la phrase, le sens.

Le silence dans une conversation, c’est comme les blancs dans la page d’un livre, les ombres dans un paysage, la longueur d’un vin. Plus il est long et plus la perspective change. J’entends, je comprends et assimile différement ce qui m’est dit. L’important n’apparait vraiment que dans le silence. Le sens émerge dans le câlin du silence.

Mais quand le silence prend le dessus sur le son, quand l’équilibre de la balance entre les deux s’inverse, alors j’entre dans une autre temporalité. J’entre dans la méditation, dans le royaume du silence, dans l’univers entier. Ce qui est important et ce qui est vrai envahissent l’espace autour et en moi. Mon égo se rétracte pour laisser s’épanouir qui je suis vraiment.

Cette réflexion sur le silence et son rapport au son, à la musique, à la vie, découlent de ma rencontre avec Jean-Paul Dessy  à l’Arsonic de Mons en Décembre 2017. L’Arsonic offre dans sa “Maison de l’Écoute” un espace dédié à l’écoute fine et intime de la musique, et avec sa Chapelle du silence un espace de recueillement et havre de silence où reposer son esprit et ses oreilles. Non pas que je découvrais le silence, loin de là, car lui et moi sommes intimement liés depuis ma tendre enfance. Mais Jean-Paul y a apporté une coloration, ou plus tôt une sonorité particulière. En tant que violoncelliste, compositeur, chef d’orchestre, et concepteur de l’espace Arsonic, Jean-Paul a des mots qui résonnent très forts sur ceux qui aiment le silence:

“Pour se reconnecter à la part la plus silencieuse, la plus paisible et la plus heureuse de nous-même, il faut du temps. Il faut s’offrir du temps. Il faut offrir du temps à la musique. On accède alors à un autre espace, à une autre temporalité, à un autre espace-temps. L’Arsonic a été conçu comme un temple du non mental, du non espace-temps horlogé. Il permet d’entrer dans une dimension plus large de nous-mêmes.”

Jugez-en par vous-même:

Inspiré par Jean-Paul Dessy et le silence

J’ai visité l’Arsonic dans le cadre d’une visite de sites à Mons qui ont bénéficié des fonds Européens (FEDER). Subjugué par l’endroit, j’y suis resté quelques heures alors que mon groupe poursuivait son parcours de visite dans la ville. J’ai entendu par trois fois Jean-Paul Dessy accueillir des visiteurs et ensuite les gratifier de ce morceau à son violoncelle ami (que j’ai filmé avec mon téléphone à la troisième et dernière fois). Entre chaque visite, je me suis cloîtré, seul, dans la Chapelle du silence où j’ai médité et esquissé le dessin. Entre Jean-Paul et moi s’est tissée une belle entente basée sur des valeurs communes. Que de sens ce jour là.

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A loop of gifts (on social networks)

Connections on Twitter have something incredible (probably on other social networks too, but Twitter is still my favorite). I am always amazed by Twitter ability to connect strangers who share the same interests, passions, and offer them this opportunity to enrich each other. The necessary condition is to work out loud. See for yourself.

One day, I read “Thinking Like a Network 2.0” Curtis Ogden’s article on the train while going to work. Each of the 10 principles resonated with me that I took my sketchbook and started to quickly illustrate each of them (despite the vibrations and discomfort). It’s my way of memorising things that matter or that I like. As per usual, I shared my sketchnotes on Twitter mentioning the article and its author:

The author, Curtis Ogden, contacted me to ask permission to post my sketchnotes. I of course gladly accepted, and “we both agree it is a wonderful example of what happens when you work out loud“.

Some weeks later, Curtis published my visual notes in a blog post of the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC), along with… a revised version of the 10 principles that I hastened to reread!

That’s the loop of gifts on social networks, and on Twitter in particular.

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I like silence to focus

13 December 2017, it’s a quarter past twelve. I am alone in a still empty conference center. I have the feeling of a cold and too big space. I don’t like that feeling before the start of a 2-day event where more than 150 communicators coming from all over Europe should engage into conversations about next year comm’s actions. The waterspouts that pound the ground and the stormy wind outside the large windows reinforce my feelings. My colleagues of the European Commission, Anne and Matteo, who organise the meeting should arrive soon. Participants and speakers will arrive in a couple of hours. Few time to change my feelings into another reality.

Silently I observe the large room. Its configuration. Hundreds of empty chairs around the lectern. The large screen on the wall shows a big Windows blue logo. Silence. I note that the walls are not suitable for drawing. Bad. I note that there is a lot of space available and the room is bright. Good.

I use the silence to focus. To center myself. To sense the space around me, its nuances. I try to sense what can follow. How my work as graphic recorder can help participants to enter more deeply into the topics that will be presented. How it can encourage them to open their minds and take an active part in conversations.

This reflection convinces me even more that I have to be visible; I will be in front of the audience. My visuals have be visible from afar; I will draw big. I have to try to warm up the atmosphere and minds; I will use warm colours.

With the help of a worker, who popped up at the right moment, we find large wooden panels in the stock. We install them against the wall in front of the audience, on the left of the large screen and of the lectern. From my position I can connect with the speakers and with participants. I install a roll of paper 4 meters long on the wooden panels.

Setup for graphic recording at the INFORM meeting

With a string, I hang on a corner of the panel a little snowman doll (to be disruptive, not to be too serious, and also because the holiday season is approaching).

My markers and pastels are ready. The setup is ready. I feel ready. What will happen is the best that should happen.

My colleagues enter the room. Participants some time later. The meeting starts.

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingClick the picture to enlarge it

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingClick the picture to enlarge it

The next day, Catherine and Frederic, two colleagues-friends, come to help me in the graphic recording of the parallel sessions that I cannot cover.

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingGraphic recording: INFORM meetingGraphic recording: INFORM meeting
Click the pictures to enlarge them

At the end of the 2 days, we have filled up meters of paper with our graffiti, the visual essence of all presentations, discussions and debates.

Being present from the beginning of the meeting, I have a huge fresco that sums up the two days:

Graphic recording: INFORM meeting
Click the picture to enlarge it

Have my intentions (those of the previous day before everything starts) been reached?

I don’t know. But the comments that participants, speakers, my colleagues, shared with me during and after the event, make me think so. As well as the smiles and the sparkling eyes of some people (like Agnès, my boss) in front of the fresco.

I’m happy. Catherine and Frederic, my friends graphic harvesters, too. Anne and Matteo, my colleagues, too. A great collaboration.

I feel happy and grateful for what happened.



The meeting brought together the two networks of communicators in Europe of EU Cohesion Policy, INFORM and INIO, and the expert groups of programme communication officers from two DGs of the European Commission, DG REGIO and DG EMPL. It took place in the Mons International Congress Xperience (MICS) on 13-15 December 2017. “Our graffiti”, the graphic harvesting material, are part of the final report that was shared with all participants. More than 80% of participants said in the satisfaction survey that graphic recording was useful for them.

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Draw my mind: The benefits of visual note-taking

As internal communicator at the European Commission, I had the privilege to participate to the 2015 Internal Communication Summit organised by Melcrum (now CEB) in London. During the summit, I took visual notes, sketchnotes, of many sessions and shared them on Twitter. Organisers quickly “found me” in the room and an interesting chat on the power of visuals started.   What follows is a transcript of the interview, of me by Iliyana Hadjistoyanova from Melcrum, that was originally posted  on the Melcrum site on 9 Nov 2015 (see the note):

#melcrumsummit 2015

The 2015 Melcrum Summit brought together internal communicators from around the world for two days of lively conversations about organizational purpose. As delegates followed #melcrumsummit on Twitter to get the latest on Summit presentations, they noticed a set of incredible drawings pop up throughout the day, capturing presenters’ faces and arguments. Claudio Nichele from the European Commission is the communicator behind these drawings and he kindly agreed to share with us his personal highlights from the Summit along with the story behind his interest in visual storytelling.

#melcrumsummit 2015

“For me the Summit is an opportunity to recharge my batteries by listening to great speeches and different points of view,” Claudio attested. “Purpose matters both at the top and bottom of the organizational pyramid, which is why it’s so important to make sure there’s a strong connection between organizational and individual purpose.” That balance between the two brings meaning to Claudio’s own work as an internal communicator at the European Commission. “A better Europe for me, for my friends, for my children, a better Europe to live in, work in, grow in; I’m totally aligned and working for that. At the Commission, we may disagree on different aspects of execution, but we are all aligned on the idea.”

Beyond child’s play: How does doodling work?

A study in the Applied Cognitive Psychology journal concluded that doodling can help us to better comprehend and retain information. When randomly tested, research subjects who were requested to doodle while listening to a phone call were able to recall 29% more of the information from the call versus those who just wrote down notes. According to the lead researcher on the experiment, doodling is instrumental in reducing episodes of daydreaming, which is a frequent response to the boredom a particular task might cause us to experience.

For Claudio, doodling is faster and easier than old-school note-taking, and the fact that he is an artist also helps, but that’s not the reason why he’s chosen to practice it. He insists that the goal of doodling isn’t to produce art, or anything beautiful, for that matter. Moreover, even though he started drawing at a very young age, he says that this is not an activity reserved for children. Claudio believes in the neurological superiority of doodling versus traditional note-taking and that’s the argument he uses to convince colleagues, who are unsure of their drawing skills, to try to take visual notes.

“When you’re doodling,” he says, “you’re working with both sides of your brain.” Taking text notes, for example, requires mostly using the left part of the brain. But when you start to draw, you’re accessing the other side, too – the one that controls imagination and creativity. In addition, you have the added layer of kinetic movement and you find both your mind and body involved in translating what you see and hear into visual notes. That kind of comprehensive internalization is crucial later on when you revisit your notes because it provides multiple reference points for teasing out memories.

Active listening makes for superb scribes

Claudio shared that he loved doodling about Rolls-Royce Claire Clark’s Summit presentation because he found the content extremely engaging (“I’m a techie guy also”).
#melcrumsummit 2015 sketchnotes

Another favourite for him was BNP Paribas Vinay Kapoor’s visual representation of the path from exclusion to inclusion. ”This for me is a complex topic that is brilliant to visualize,” Claudio explains. “The simplicity of his sketches was amazing and I actually took very few notes there because I just wanted to sit and listen.”
#melcrumsummit 2015 sketchnotes

This brings us to another ‘must’ for productive doodling – the quality of one’s listening. When coaching people how to take visual notes, Claudio talks about different levels of listening. One could just listen and record everything word for word. Or, you could draw a simple image that depicts part of the presentation but that way you can fill pages and pages with disjointed drawings. However, there are deeper levels of listening where one builds connections between the elements of what’s been said, so being an active listener is essential when trying to tell a story visually. Read Kelvy Bird’s excellent post on “The 4 Levels of Scribing“. And if you’re too tired to doodle, just sit back and listen, Claudio advises.

No art superpowers required

But what if someone is really embarrassed of his or her drawing skills? “I’ve witnessed this many times,” Claudio confirms. “Many people regard doodling as something reserved for kids. If you see someone doodling in a meeting, you might assume that they’re not paying attention, that this is not serious, and I want to fight this assumption.”

Claudio isn’t alone in hoping to empower aspiring doodlers. Michael Gough, a developer at Adobe, argues that drawing might be as important as reading or writing for the way we learn to think and communicate. Thus, as part of the “drawing as literacy” idea, Adobe made its first investment into hardware in 2014 by creating an internet-connected stylus and ruler, which makes drawing on an iPad significantly easier, especially for those who aren’t great at art. For Gough, who was on the team that developed the new hardware and matching apps, drawing is one of the most creative and distinctively human activities in our technology-driven world because, as he puts it, “Machines don’t dream.”

To help peers overcome their shyness, Claudio advises them to start small by maybe trying to draw very simple images, like a cup of coffee, at home and then progress to more complex drawings, executing them gradually faster. He even recommends getting a group of trusted friends together to try out doodling collectively in order to exchange ideas and tips without feeling judged.

What’s in it for communicators?

Claudio believes that these are all points that could help communicators deliver messages more effectively. For instance, some years ago, his department was appointed a new Director-General (the equivalent of a CEO in a private company), who requested major changes in the way the Commission ran its intranet. When Claudio’s boss told him about the changes, Claudio tried to explain his department didn’t have enough time to apply all of them, given its available resources. So, he asked his boss to give him a chance to personally make his case to the Director-General. And instead of using Powerpoint or Excel, he quickly sketched a story, presented it and the Director-General accepted his proposition. Why? “Because I was disruptive. I approached him with unconventional thinking. When I went to his office with a drawing, he said, ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ And when he looked closely, it helped him think differently about the problem. This for me was the opportunity to make my case and he accepted my explanation.”

Indeed, at a time when the average human’s attention span is one second less than that of a goldfish, communicators need to fight a tough battle to keep employees interested. According to Claudio, creative visual storytelling offers a potential change in mindset that could provide a solution. “If you go to someone with a Powerpoint, which is something that is in their comfort zone and they are desensitized to it, they will carry on with their current thinking,” he explains. “But if you go with a drawing, which is personal and unconventional, they are startled for a second and that gives you a short window of time to really get through to them and to access a part of them that’s less resistant.”

“It works, I can personally confirm that,” the doodling communicator concludes and sends us off to try drawing our first cup of coffee.

Note: The Melcrum/CEB site is restricted to the company’s customers, you may have no access to it.

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Photos and sketchnotes of my trip in India

This article was originally published in the Sketchnote Army blog on 25 April 2016.

I prepared well in advance all practical details of this solo trip to India, like visa, vaccines, drugs, itinerary, hotels, etc.  My goal was a journey which makes me grow internally rather than only enjoy the visit to tourist places. Therefore I also prepared myself to accept the unexpected as part of the journey. See my sketchnotes one month before leaving about that.

I also prepared carefully my material for photography and for sketchnotes. Considering my desire to travel light, I chose the essentials only. One notebook, 3 black markers (0.2, 0.5, 0.8), one marker for shadows, my favourite black pencil, a set of Faber-Castell watercolour pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener. All these preparations turned out to be what I’ve had need, no more no less.

Sketchnotes from India - my itinerary

One thing only did not go as I had imagined it: sketchnoting on place! Before leaving I planned to sketch during the day and every evening what I’ve seen, learnt and experienced during that day. This plan was based on wrong assumptions; that I would have had the availability, the right conditions and the proper mental state. I was immediately faced to a different reality.

Delhi - Pahar Ganj area

My first days were very intense with a tour by car (with a driver with me). I visited many cities and beautiful sites on the pre-established itinerary from Delhi to Jaipur, then Agra, then Delhi again.

On a rickshaw in HaridwarBetween Jaipur and Fatehpur Sikri

See the photos and the sketchnotes. During these days I changed the itinerary on the spot from time to time to follow my intuition or my driver’s advices.

Sketchnotes - The art of driving in India

Taking notes in the car while traveling was quickly discarded due to the mad Indian traffic or due to the bad road conditions. I was only able to write down keywords and some signs on the corner of my pages. At night, after a shower and a good vegetarian dinner (in different places every night) I was so exhausted that I felt unable to take decent notes or to draw. I still was thinking about my second week to do that correctly.

Sketchnotes from India - Along the road

After the tour by car, I left my driver in Delhi and, alone, continued my trip by train, towards the north. Well, I finally managed to start to fill in some pages in the train. It’s worth to mention that this was possible only because this train offered me good conditions to do it. This was far to be the case in the train on return one week later.

Sketchnotes from India - From Jaipur to Agra

During my stay in Haridwar and in Rishikesh I was again faced to the same difficulties to take notes. Traveling by bus, tuk tuk or rickshaw is worse than by car. But I continued writing down keywords and signs, many signs, on another small notebook that I bought locally. Then I arrived in the Phool Chatti ashram, a heaven on earth, for a retreat of one week. I was expecting to have time to sketch, to write, to draw. Again, wrong assumptions… The daily schedule of the ashram was intense; see one of my sketchnotes on it.

Sketchnotes from India - program of the day in the Phool Chatti ashram, north of Rishikesh

I also spent the free time of my first days washing my dirty clothes. I had the opportunity to work on my sketchnotes in the last days of my stay but in the meantime I continued with keywords and signs on the small notebook.

Sketchnotes from India - Some sacred symbols in India

The drawings of the meditative walks are the only pieces that I did on the moment while I was on the place. The watercolor on the banks of the Ganges river is even done with water from the river itself.

Sketchnotes from India - Meditative walks in Phool Chatti ashram, north of Rishikesh

My take-aways from this experience concerning sketchnoting:

  • Never plan in advance too much, be flexible and ready for the unexpected
  • Related to the previous point, and really linked to me: Put aside beauty and draw like it comes naturally on the moment
  • In case of lack of time or for any other reason, quickly write down a maximum of information on the spot, can be keywords or simple signs that will remember you what was your idea, your feelings, your impressions, the colours, etc [I use these technique when I practice live graphic harvesting at work during events]
  • When visiting, especially in crowd and choppy conditions, just take with you a small blocnote and a pencil. Leave other material in the car or in the room, they will be useless and they only risk to distract you from the essentials
  • Photography is also helpful to remember later what was seen to draw it

Last but not least, the best feedback I received on my return after I published my photos and my sketchnotes is about the latter. People told me that they were able to perceive more my emotions through the sketchnotes than through photos. Another proof of the power of handmade sketchnotes.



In the original article on Sketchnotes Army, my friend Mauro added this part at the bottom:

You can see the whole bunch of sketchnotes and photos here:

Sketchnotes from India
Photos from India
All sketchnotes and drawings

I’m speechless Claudio! But there is one more of your sketchnotes I want to add to your story.

For our readers: Claudio live and work in Brussels.

Sketchnotes from India - How I lived Brussels terrorist attacks at 7500 km distance

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this story with us, Claudio!


– Mauro

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My first blog post

My first blog post is about my trip in India in March 2016.

I prepared the trip alone and travelled solo. This means that my journey began months before the real departure. My “One month before” sketchnotes and transcript:

India: First post

In exactly one month I will travel to India. I prepare this journey, and myself, since months. I think about it since years. Looking back I certainly think unconsciously about this journey since my twenties at the times of my stays in Taizé and in the San Masseo community in Assisi.
Since the first days it was clear to me that India would not be only a tourist destination. Not only wonderful landscapes, amazing colours, unknown perfumes, beautiful palaces and mosques, ancestral cultures, and interesting people to meet. Not only that. India represents to me a spiritual universe to which I feel attracted. I feel that India is one of the places where I can deepen my quest of who I am, why I am here and now, and many other questions on the purpose of life and of my interactions within my daily eco-system.
As I said to my family and to friends, I’m not going there to convert me to another religion or to follow a spiritual movement. I want to be there because India is the cradle of ancestral spirituality/ies and because people are still strongly connected to them.
My journey is my quest. India is one element of both of them. India is not the destination. The unexpected can happen. I’ll not be disillusioned nor disappointed. I’m ready for the unexpected because what will happen is what has to happen in my journey.


I can finish this first blog post with same conclusion: “What will happen is what has to happen in my journey with this blog“.

See all pictures and other sketchnotes of my travel in India.

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