The Benefits of Drawing

I have been very fortunate to have several exceptional coaches and teachers. I have noticed that they have a lot of things in common. They have a lot of trust in the success of their students. They attentively listen to us. They challenge our assumptions. They know how to engage us. They are very kind and supportive when pushing us to try new things. They remind us to be open and curious, and also to trust ourselves. They encourage us to see our mistakes as a natural part of learning. With their help, our confidence in our abilities steadily grows. More than a dozen years ago, one of such coaches for me was my vocal coach, Larissa Shekhovtsova. She used to say to her students, “As long as you have a voice, you can sing.” More than a dozen years later, I’ve heard a very similar phrase, “As long as you can hold a pen, you can draw.” It was Emily Shepard, a graphic facilitator, teacher, and trainer who said that in 2016. That’s when I met her and I immediately became her fan.

Thanks to Emily, my inner creativity has been boosted. I learned how to skillfully draw lines, circles, buildings, and people in a matter of minutes. She helped me see how any simple drawing can make a profound impact if it is fun, clear and to the point. Nowadays, image creation inspires and supplements writing of my newsletters. For example, below is the portrait of Emily that I drew for this newsletter. I have been impacted by Emily and her work in a major way. This is why I want to introduce her and her work to those of you who have not met or heard about her. I hope you will enjoy reading part of my recent interview with Emily.

  Olga’s drawing of Emily Shepard


Interview with Emily Shepard from the Graphic Distillery:

The Benefits of Drawing

Olga Africawala (OA): “Emily, what does drawing mean to you?”

Emily Shepard (ES): “It means a lot of things to me. First, drawing is an act of being present in the moment and can almost be a meditation. Second, drawing is evidence of what happened on the page at any particular moment – it is an act of capturing and connecting. Third, drawing is an act of expression. I feel inseparable with the line coming out of my pen. I can draw a calm and smooth line or I can draw an agitated line. Every line in a drawing can have an expressive quality. There is energy and life force in a line.”

OA: “How do you think drawing can help people in conflict?”

ES: “When we draw something in the presence of conflict, we can put the conflict out “there”. We can represent the conflict in a safe space – on the wall, as a drawing, mapping out the issues. We can draw the items people disagree with, externalizing the conflicting issues. This separates the conflict from the human beings – the paper becomes a neutral place which holds the content of the conflict.

This may allow people to reduce their tension a bit. Drawing invites imagination – people may start seeing themselves as builders of their new understanding and reality. It may provide a space of possibility and hope.

Also, drawing can invite new associations and build collaboration between people. It brings people together as they work with each other on the project of drawing the framework of their conflict. The result shows two parties represented together on one piece of paper. In a way, they are at least in community on paper!

Drawing in service of graphic facilitation is different than fine art. In fine art we can make marks that are abstract, that are solely about self-expression. In graphic facilitation, drawing is used to make things tangible and understandable. If someone says something abstract, we can’t represent that with an image. Instead, we ask questions to get to the specifics. What did that look like? Where did that happen? What’s the timeline? People constantly provide their feedback and the visual is modified to incorporate their feedback.

In comparison with verbal meetings only, we have a visual record of what is unfolding, so people can benefit from also employing their visual sense. By seeing all the points we have discussed and captured on the paper, there is less each person needs to hold in his/her/their head. And we can notice if anything is missing. Another benefit of drawing is that pictures can contain people’s emotions in addition to their words — through the intensity of the marks or through metaphorical images they may offer.”

OA: “What is your secret ingredient?”

ES: “When I am in front of the page, I connect to it. I feel like I am together with my paper and I say to it, “Hi! What’s up?” I feel empathy, I am in a relationship with the paper as a physical space. For example, right now, this is my flip chart pad and I want to draw on it. I feel open to it and I am connecting to it. I may notice that I want to draw a border on it, I want to see where the edges are. Then I may ask myself, “How do I relate to this shape?” The page is like a dance partner, like my friend. I trust it. Maybe I have this feeling because I have been drawing for a long time; however, I want to inspire other people to make a connection with the page, to trust it and connect with it through drawing like I do.”

If you need an inspirational kick, reassurance in your natural drawing talents and a few drawing tips, please check out Emily Shepard’s blog post So you think you can’t draw? Think again!  Emily is currently developing an online class for consultants, teachers, and coaches. I have had the honor to participate in a pre-release testing of that class. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in drawing for visual thinking on their own or with groups. Emily has offered you her FREE lettering video training and workbook. To get the free training and learn more about her upcoming course, visit

Lastly, I have had the pleasure to work with Emily. She has recently designed customized characters for my website. I absolutely love them. Please go to to check out the drawings.

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