By JAYDEE LOK
NOT many people get to fly around the world doodling for a living. Bernie Quah does. And she does it for some pretty high profile companies and individuals. We’re talking heads of state, corporate big-wigs and some of the biggest multi-national companies.
The 24-year-old from Petaling Jaya, Selangor took her knack for illustrating her lecture notes in college – and her love for doodling in school – and turned it into a successful business as a “graphic recorder” with her own company, Sketch Post Studio.
Never heard of graphic recording? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Graphic recording, as explained by Quah herself, is basically what it sounds like – recording things graphically.
“It’s actually information visualisation, but I usually say it’s ‘taking notes on a large scale’,” she said. Basically, she attends conferences, takes in all the information, and translates everything into hand-drawn illustrations on a board, all in real-time.
It’s an effective way to summarise information, because humans usually think in visuals.
The challenge for Quah as a graphic recorder, however, is doing everything on the fly and handing over the finished product by the end of the speech or session.
So what if she makes a mistake?
“A lot of people ask me that!” said Quah with a laugh. “The answer is liquid paper.
“What I do is I take the visuals home, scan or photograph them, edit the mistake out using Photoshop, then print the final image onto another board.”
Having found her niché in the creative industry, Quah’s reputation has grown steadily over the past year.
She has already illustrated talks by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin Yassin, US Secretary of State John Kerry and activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir.
Corporate clients like Nestlé, Singtel, HSBC Bank and Censof Malaysia have also flown Quah – who is based in both Singapore and Malaysia – overseas for conferences.
“Many Asia Pacific companies, especially those based in Singapore, already know about graphic recording because they would have seen it in conferences like in the US. So when they come to Singapore, they know what they’re looking for and they find me,” she said.
But the brilliant thing about Sketch Post is that it pretty much advertises itself. By presenting a finished illustration (more or less, minus the Photoshop touch-ups) before the end of each event, people tend to take photos of Quah’s work and upload them to social media. Quah herself makes it a point to post everything on Sketch Post’s Twitter account (@Sketch_Post) to make it easier for organisers to share what their conference or event was all about.
Where it all began
As much as Sketch Post is a business, Quah is an artist at heart. Her story, however, isn’t that of a typical misunderstood artist.
Some of her teachers in school did get annoyed with her incessant drawing, but her parents were always incredibly supportive.
In fact, it was her mother that persuaded Quah not to do a business degree, and to take up interior architecture instead. That was when the magic began.
Throughout university, Quah would visually record her lectures, sowing the seeds for what would later become her career.
“I was good at interio design, but after doing my internships, I knew it wasn’t the best profession for what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up using my internships as opportunities to travel instead,” said Quah, who completed internships in Singapore and Hong Kong.
When she graduated, she found a job at a design consultancy firm in Singapore, where she could do more sketching and graphic design, which was followed by a six-month contract with a creative agency in San Francisco, US.
Quah developed her skill set through these jobs, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I do want to work with a team, but for now it’s easier to run Sketch Post on my own because of the mobility it allows.”
Check out our time-lapse video of how Bernie Quah creates one of her graphic recordings! It’s up on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/RageOnlineTV.