For the 700 attendees at this week’s GeekWire Summit who took notes during our fireside chat sessions, most probably jotted words on notebook paper or with a computer.
Guillaume Wiatr, however, opted for a different method.
Throughout our two-day event, which features technology discussions with top innovators and executives, Wiatr was positioned just left of the main stage with a huge canvas that he used to sketch drawings inspired by what was being talked about in a given session.
It’s a fun alternative to traditional note-taking, and a method that Wiatr has been practicing since 2008. That’s when Wiatr, a senior visual strategist for Seattle-based company Point B, was inspired to start sketching ideas versus simply writing them out.
“I came to Seattle from France and was amazed at how many great thought leaders were here,” Wiatr explained on Friday as he put the finishing touches on another canvas. “I wanted to start getting so much of that knowledge and the natural way for me was to just draw. I was tired of taking text notes and storing a notebook on a shelf that collects dust.”
Wiatr never had formal training as an artist and simply said he’s been a “doodler” since childhood, growing up in Normandy, France. But for these particular “notes,” he’s not just drawing a picture — Wiatr is listening to the live conversation and immediately morphing the spoken words into art form.
“The first thing that people see is the output and product, but really it’s about the process,” he explained. “Most of the work is listening — 75 percent, in fact. It’s about having a wide enough visual vocabulary that I can access in a nanosecond.” While taking in the content on stage, Wiatr said that his brain works a little bit like a “multi-track recording machine.”
“As I draw something, I am still actively listening,” he said.
Wiatr’s background is actually in business and finance, which has helped him create drawings from the sessions at the GeekWire Summit. He was also a jazz pianist at one point, and that experience helps him think quickly on the spot.
“Improvisation is not new to me,” he said. “If I could improvise with piano keys, I thought I could certainly do that with pens and chalk.”
Wiatr added that his drawing style changes depending on who or what is being talked about.
“As the conversation gets deeper and more interesting, insightful, and unexpected, you can see my style change quite a bit,” he said. “I always have to remind myself that I can’t go too deep into the details — that’s when I get carried away or get too excited.”
Wiatr’s artistic skills actually provide value at his day job at Point B, too.
“Every time I come across a new piece of subject matter, colllateral, or an executive presentation, I always to go the whiteboard and listen to people and help them translate their story,” he said. “They see the drawings and they can interact with their own ideas and reflect on them, organizing their thoughts so they can come out of it with way better stories that will make their ideas a ton better.”
Wiatr’s masterpiece covered eight massive poster boards. Seeing it spread out across the Sheraton Seattle hotel lobby at the conclusion of the Summit was truly impressive.
His favorite session to visually interpret during the two-day Summit?
The fireside chat with venture capitalist Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, and Brady Forrest, a vice president at the Highway1 hardware accelerator.
One of the hardest aspects to interpret came after remarks by venture capitalist and anti-gun activist Nick Hanauer, who emotionally addressed the horrific school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
Wiatr simply wrote a question to the tragedy: “How many more kids?”
We’ll post some of Wiatr’s work on GeekWire later, so stay tuned for that. We also plan to auction off sections of the giant poster boards, raising money for our Geeks Give Back charitable campaign to support STEM education scholarships in Washington state.
Editor’s note: The Summit mural project was sponsored by Flowroute.