Reinventing for the NOW Normal

From visualiser to graphic recorder to digital recorder – who says you cannot teach old dog new tricks?

Baby boomer? Gen X? Whatever generation you are classified to belong, I would put the generation that joined the workforce in the 1980s survived several global economic meltdowns and still STANDING by 2020 to be the Super Hardboiled Generation!

Chan Wai is that Hardboiled. He started as a visualiser in the advertising industry in the early 1980s. He then rose through the ranks to become a Creative Director, battled the challenges of the industry and economy. After 30 years of conforming, he threw in the towel to become a “free agent”.


Rather than to stick to the familiar, he decided to turn his focus on graphic recording or live scribing.

“I first knew about graphic recording when I came across Sketch Post, a graphic recording company. The owner, Bernie Quah, was just 25 years old! When I saw what she was doing I said I can do that! So, I went to talk to her after the event, offered to help for free,” reminisced Chan Wai.


His first job as a graphic recorder was at a TEDx event with 16 speakers. He worked alongside four other graphic recorders but this newbie was the first to go. “It was nerve-wrecking. I was thrown in cold. I just ‘hentam’. But when they put up the sketches during the break everyone loved it!


“I learnt something new -- the drawings do not need to be perfect. My perspective changed and my confidence grew!” recalled Chan Wai.

He revealed, “It is not about drawing. It is listening, capturing information and transferring them visually on paper. I don’t have to know the industries but I have to listen. I realise that I am not supposed to be a content creator but a note taker albeit visual notes.”


Chan Wai partnered Sketch Post for three years, live recording at seminars, conferences, and workshops spanning a cross section of industries. In 2017, he set up INKA.


Work continued to flow his way many of which were from multinationals and international NGOs. Graphic recording took him throughout the region. He was meeting people outside his regular circles and learning new things – zero waste, sustainable fashion, wellness, insurance and finance and more. To him, it wasn’t work as much as new learnings.

In January 2020, a solutions coach appointed him to cover a workshop. The catch? The recording is to be done digitally – not live recording. Chan Wai took up the challenge which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.


“When Covid-19 struck, work was zero! I decided to participate in the many free webinars to practise my digital recording and to go ‘fishing’”, said Chan Wai. He would email his digital recordings – free of charge -- to the organisers of the webinars. Soon, he was hired to cover online webinars.

“Digital recording is yet another new learning. It is totally different from live. In many ways easier because there is more time to draw, I can change colours digitally and I don’t have to worry about fading colours,” commented Chan Wai.


Aside from recording webinars, Chan Wai is also conducting webinars of his own on sketch noting.


“This lady called Ly from the Saigon Children Charity saw my work and wanted me to teach her kids. It was not to be an art class. She thought it would be a good way for them to remember what they learn because the mind can recognise visuals 600,000 times faster than words! Visuals help with memory and revision.


“They were to illustrate the visuals in their own way for their own use. They can even google for illustration references. I tell them start with copying. There is no shame in copying. As Picasso said, Good artist copy, great artist steal! They can then move on to innovate and incorporate their own styles.


“We started with basics like drawing stick men. At the end of the session, I was floored by the results!” revealed Chan Wai.


To date, Chan Wai has conducted more than 10 webinars on sketch noting. Each session, which takes up the entire day, has 12 to 15 participants. He is enjoying every minute of it!


“With my digital recording and sketch-noting webinars, I earn enough to put food on the table. And I don’t mind helping those who cannot afford to pay provided they are genuine cases. We need to help one another,” he said.


Despite the challenges, the downturn-hardened Chan Wai has a somewhat philosophical view of 2020.

“Everyone says 2020 is a horrible year. To me, it depends on how you see it. How sure are we that 2021 will be better? Our mindset has to change.


“If you ask me, we are not living the NEW Normal but the NOW Normal. I mean it has been 10 months! It is no longer New! It is a way of living and we have to change to accept it, like it or not. Honestly, we cannot expect to go back to the way we used to live before. We need to unlearn and relearn,” he commented.


And for NOW, Chan Wai is revelling in what others are just getting themselves used to the new normal!



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