Courtesy of Geert Gratama

Art and the conference

Dutch conference illustrator Geert Gratama on putting words into images

An increasingly common sight at conferences around the world is an artist or two stationed by the stage with bare-bones supplies, scribbling away as speakers orate and PowerPoints fly. No, they’re not taking detailed notes for you, but casting the most potent quotes and sentiments pictorially, with that slight touch of cheekiness that makes large, weighty topics stick more securely in the mind (think: Calvin and Hobbes on economics).

At the recent Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany, Dutch illustrator Geert Gratama used his pens and markers to capture two days of talks on Indigenous rights, as discussed and shown below.

Illustration biodiversity
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

As told to Landscape News:

“Every child draws, and I never stopped. It never felt like something I shouldn’t do. At a certain age people start to tell you that you have talent, and then you start thinking about it and developing. So I went to Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, studied art and painting, and made a profession of it.

Illustration of Indigenous collaboration
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“It was in about 2000 that I started doing the illustrations I do now. A friend of mine called me and said, ‘I’m about to go to a conference, and they asked me to do illustrations. Would you like to join me? I think you might like it.’ He was very right about that.

Illustration climate saviors
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“That conference was a totally different from the Global Landscapes Forum. It had to do with urban development, and there were five or six illustrators and every kind of stakeholder. I really liked being in the middle of all those people, drawing with them. I never really found it intimidating. Conference drawing has changed my way of working now. Even when it’s not required to draw very fast, I still work that way, because I like it.

Illustration economic progress
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“With choosing which [quotes from speakers] to illustrate, there has to be an image. Not everyone is capable of evoking images, so in some cases, you need to see if you can emphasize what people are saying by using a metaphor. But that can be difficult when there are many cultures, such as at the GLF in Bonn, as not everyone uses the same metaphors. Metaphors are bound to culture. I usually use Greek mythology metaphors, but I wasn’t sure everyone would like or understand them. I do think you can use Star Wars metaphors always.

Illustration sustainable development not taller than a palm tree
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“The GLF’s theme of Indigenous rights was new for me and fun to illustrate. Sustainability is a very important issue. I also do a lot about mobility and traffic solutions for the future, which has to do with sustainability of course. I’ve done a lot in urban development, which is mostly about how people behave and what people can do to improve their consumer habits. I learn so much at these conferences. I feel like a tourist in society.

Illustration sustainable finance
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“I’ve had some very inspiring role models in my life, but you can’t imitate people. It’s just not possible. When you’re young, you’re trying to imitate artists you really like, but you can’t, and what remains is your own style. When I was young, I really liked the illustrators of Mad Magazine. I thought that magazine was very inspiring, but I can’t draw like that. I have a different point of view.

Illustration women's rights
Courtesy of Geert Gratama

“I just finished mentoring a young illustrator, and I think the best thing she learned was that there’s only one possibility for standing out in the crowd, and that’s your own personality. Don’t try too hard to find something new, you’ve already got it – it’s who you are. From experience, I’ve thrown away many drawings because it didn’t look like my heroes’. It looked like what I did, and so it couldn’t be good. Don’t be afraid of yourself – that’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned.”

Illustration I See a Different You, Soweto creative agency
Courtesy of Geert Gratama



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