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Kelvy Bird’s image–activating potential

How do we respond to challenging times? How can art-making help us literally see differently so that we are able both to respond accurately to the present and to re-imagine the future? 

I’m delighted to share a conversation/ interview with Kelvy Bird about her new book Generative Scribing: A New  Social Art for the 21st Century in which she discusses just these topics!

Full disclosure: I coached Kelvy on the process of writing this book. We worked together from the initial concept to getting a clear structure and format for the book, and through a lot of doubts and resistance that sometimes blocked the always-present big vision and importance of this project!

One of the things I love about the work I do is the way is the synergy between my interests and the interests of the writers I work with. Though I hadn’t heard of generative scribing before, when Kelvy described it to me I was immediately intrigued, and the more I learned the more enthusiastic I became. 

This is really a beautiful and inspiring book, and I’m so glad it’s in the world!


The book is for anyone interested in both the product and the process of making art;  in both seeing and responding to what we see;  in the demands of the present and what we are able to imagine for the future. 

Whether you’re a visual artist or a writer or work in any other form, the book presents a beautiful model for how to be present with our own dynamic creative process.

I hope you’ll watch the video and share it with others if you enjoy it.

We discuss:

  • art making both as a solo activity and as a collective activity
  • the power of pausing during any creative act
  • how to approach the challenge of writing a book
  • the synergy of finding like-minded people to work with
  • the power of making art in our unstable and challenging political times

I find Kelvy’s work really inspiring and I hope you do, too. Here’s one of the things she says in our interview “in these challenging times I’ve found that my coping strategy is to create. I’ve always created, but I feel especially now that the most impact I can have is through trying to connect with potential  wherever I sense it, if it’s in a person or with how I’m drawing or in writing a book.”

I hope you enjoy the interview below.

I’ve also included some journaling prompts beneath the video, and beneath that a very lightly edited transcript of the conversation so you can read the conversation or refer back to it.


Nadia Colburn interviews Kelvy Bird about the power of mindful seeing and art making and Generative Scribing


Journal Prompts on Mindful Art-Making

  • What do you do to connect with potential in the world?
  • Do you think of your artistic practices as solitary or part of community or both? In what ways? 
  • Think of something that you find challenging–now make a visual representation of that situation. Does that representation help you get a better understanding of the situation?  Now can you draw that situation in a different way? Does that help you re-imagine the situation
  • Do the same thing for something that you want to celebrate. Does drawing the situation help you deepen the experience and expand the potential there? 
  • What happens when you pause before and in the middle of a creative act? Try it! 

If you enjoyed this please share with friends

Click to read the full transcript below!

If you enjoyed this please explore my other interviews:

writing-hard-stories.html with Melanie Brooks

how-do-we-listen-deep-listening-with-jillian-pransky.html

Transcript of Video Conversation
​With Kelvy Bird and Nadia Colburn

​Nadia Colburn         00:03              Hi, I’m Nadia Colburn and I am here today with Kelvy Bird. We’re going to be talking about generative scribing. Kelvy is an internationally recognized graphic facilitator and she’ll tell you more about what that means and her book, Generative Scribing, was recently released. We’re going to be talking about that today. I am Nadia Colburn and I am a writing teacher and writing coach and you’ll learn more about what I do as well. So let’s begin.  So thank you Kelly for being here with me.

Kelvy Bird:                 00:39              Thanks for having me.
NC                               00:42              So first will you tell us what generative scribing and graphic facilitation are?

KB:                              00:50              Sure, yes.  So graphic facilitation is a process where a group is speaking and I will visually capture what it is they’re saying and help make connections. I don’t write down every single thing they’re saying, but I help create an overall picture of of the content. That’s what is generally known as graphic facilitation or scribing. And generative scribing expands on that by drawing from source or drawing in considering energy in the equation. So it’s not just working from the head but it’s also working from the heart and through the entire body and sensing what wants to come into the room and into the drawing and adding that in. So it’s in a way a more integrative approach to the drawing.
NC:                              01:44              Beautiful. I didn’t know about graphic facilitation or scribing until we met. And we met because you were in the early stages of working on this book and were looking for a writing coach, and we worked together on this book. There’s a lot of overlap between the work that you do and the work that I do. In my writing coaching I try to go beneath the surface as well and ask what’s trying to emerge. So, I think both of us to have a real interest both in the personal dynamics of what happens in that process and the social implications for doing this kind of work. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
KB:                              02:34              My background is in fine arts. So I studied fine arts at college and art history and I painted for a long time and then I started doing this graphic facilitation in the context of collaborative workshops. And what I quickly realized and really loved about it is that it’s activated by the people in the room. So the drawing doesn’t exist without the people in the room. So whereas for studio artists, the content is mine. And the painting comes through me alone. But scribing comes through a group. So by nature it is a social art and, and it’s dependent on the group.
NC                               03:28                You talk about how society is in desperate need of seeing, how we need to open our eyes to see clearly and act. And part of that is to come out of the individual self and to listen to and pay attention to the collective. And so you’re talking about scribing as a new art form for the 21st century that looks at this more collective experience and, and responds to it appropriately.
KB:                              04:06              Yeah. Another thing that I think is important to note about the practice is that scribes are drawing in context all over the place in all sectors, in local community meetings, in, you know, high level global meetings. We’re in government, in education, business and so we’re working with people who have lots of different views and are coming from a whole spectrum of positions. And we were working together around the time of the election and my belief is that as scribes, it’s the role of the artists is to help, to help reveal, to mirror back in some way what’s happening in society or what’s happening in ourselves that then we can reflect upon and then, take action based on reflection rather than just mindless action.
KB:                              05:21              And,  given that we’re in so many places, the scribes, it just seems like the right time to really be considering that responsibility and the privilege of showing up. We have influence because we’re choosing what to reflect back on the wall. So by the choices that we make, the quality of attention that we put to the choices that we make while we’re drawing subtly feeds back into the group that’s looking at it. So that’s what I mean by the seeing. We’re seeing as individuals, but we’re facilitating collective seeing through our work.
NC:                              05:58              And it’s really interesting to bring art into these spaces that aren’t necessarily artistic spaces, the World Bank or fortune 500 company, these big meetings.  I would imagine you’re also translating some of what’s unspoken group dynamics coming to a visual representation so that the people in the meeting then can see themselves. Art can show us ourselves so we can be more self reflective and then act differently.
KB:                              06:47              Yeah, it’s tricky because I always try to be very respectful of what said and I never write something. I will only recreate words that someone has spoken. I should also note I’m going to hold up a drawing just so people who aren’t familiar with this can just see like what this was about to do that too. So it’s kind of like that’s a drawing on a chalkboard.
NC:                              07:14              You can bring it even closer to the camera
KB:                              07:17              So that’s a drawing on a chalkboard that was about eight feet long that I did during a 90 minute session. And let me just see if I have one more like this is one that was in a conference, so this was a big like maybe 20 or 30 feet long, a big mural and then this is what it looks like when I’m doing it. I’m just drawing while people are talking onto a surface and sometimes the surface is white, or black, dry erase, big, small; they’re all different. So that’s just to give people a sense of what it looks like.
NC:                              07:57              I also want to give the audience also an image from the book. So the pictures that Kelvy showed you were pictures from the graphic facilitating conferences. The book is self reflective and talks about the process. And I wanted to show you this picture here because it’s really beautiful. It’s like Chinese calligraphy. The generative process is helpful for scribes, but it’s also shaped how I thought about things, how I think about the creative process. The book is really helpful for anyone thinking about creation, showing up in the world, making change, being present.

NC:                              09:27              Here is the image: the top part is what we see, so it’s like the tip of the iceberg and then all the rest, which is the majority of the book, is below the iceberg, so the creative process goes from “being”  to “joining”  to “perceiving” and then to “knowing” more like the root of the process and then from there it goes back up to “drawing” or facilitating or coaching or whatever  kind of action.
NC:                              09:32              So this could also work for writers because I would imagine we have some writers here listening to the conversation.
KB:                              10:16              That process is also the flow of the book. It orders the book, but to write the book, I had to break it down into a sequence, but when we’re scribing or writing or facilitating, all those things are going on at once. So it’s not so linear. Where were we? Say like, okay, now I need to check in with myself and my own awareness and sort of open up from the inside out and then I need to step into someone else’s shoes and be with them all.
NC:                              10:50              So to some extent that’s a challenge for all creative acts, right? Things are happening at once. How do we manifest? And I was interested in working with you because you’re used to the creative process. But you weren’t as used to writing, although I have to say the writing in this book is really beautiful.  But you know, maybe you could talk a little bit about that translation process because there’s so many forms of translation, things are happening at once, and so how, when so many things are happening at once, do you get it into a form thsat has a shape you can share with someone else and then maybe isn’t a medium that comes so naturally, but that you learn to work with.

KB:                              11:38              So the process of the scribing or writing processes?

NC:                              11:46              Both, but you could talk about either one, what was it like for you?
KB:                              11:50              With scribing? It’s so immediate because there’s no time to really reflect very much. So that proceeding bit is instantaneous. You have to in one moment completely immerse yourself in the situation and pull back to see the patterns and um, you know, get to the edges of the room and then anchor in and draw. So in scribing it’s very, very fast. And then when their people are done talking, usually you’re done drawing and so that’s it, right? So 60 minutes it’s done versus however many years it’s in writing.
NC:                              12:27              Okay.
KB                               12:30              Gosh, you know, I haven’t thought about my own model applied to my writing process to be honest, but it was a real struggle so I can’t talk so much about the writing process, but in the translation of my internal processes, trying o break that apart in another language, to describe it, took a lot of conversations in my own head. And then once I had articulated some things through language, through  the written language, practicing again and actually testing out: Was that true? That works. So an example, for example, just at the start, do I really take a pause and a breath before I start drawing or am I so nervous that I forget that, you know. So I wrote about it and now when I’m at the wall I’m like, “Oh, in my book I have this whole piece on, on connecting with this, with the sky and with the earth and sort of with the surface or the paper, let’s take a moment and do that.” And so my practice has actually shifted because of the writing process . But it took a lot of back and forth to be authentic about the content.

NC:                              13:53              Yeah. That’s so interesting what you say because when Iead workshops and classes, I often lead people in a meditation before we write. And it’s amazing how much writing can get done in a very short time if there’s a little meditation beforehand because it really clears out that space. So you can just come through with that kind of clear channel. And I think we have to practice that, though, get in the habit of doing that. And it’s not the norm to take a pause and so
14:35                   to remember, to have techniques— if it’s writing books or whatever it is, as practitioners to say, listen, we’re going to do this and change how we see, how we interact, what we create, the ease with which we draw our line, whether it’s a visual line or a written line.
KB:                              14:57              It’s so true. And also throughout. So now that you’re talking, even as you were speaking, I was so eager to kind of interrupt and keep going because the idea really sparked something for me. But the value of pause, um, you know, in daily settings, certainly when we’re working and want to be connected with our truer self before we start, before we put mark to paper or word to paper, and then throughout. So we create a rhythm that enables a break and pause and restabilizes and  keeps consistent with an intentional rhythm rather than just the pressure of a deadline — it’s hard. I mean, scribing is very pressured because it’s in real time. But yeah, so the, the value of the pause. So true. Well, so it’s not to just remember where are we operating from, but also where we are coming from. Are we just putting words out because we’re supposed to be writing? You know, every time I had to, we were meeting and I needed  to have another little chapter done, my two page chapters. I was like: oh, I have to write, and the value of just settling in can’t be overstated.
NC:                              16:28              In your model and practice section, you write “this model of practice addresses the internal coordination required to process multiple inputs and draw” and we all the time aare ttending inward and outward at once. So often we’re outward focused, but you’re asking us to see that the outward and the inward are connected. It’s not one or the other, but they are in a kind of dialogue. Right? Which is a movement, right? And it’s like a dance. Just the shape that you have drawn have so much movement. So we often think of creative products as static. You know, there’s this static thing and if we imagine and as relational and dynamic and connecting the inner and the outer, how much that opens up for us, how much that shifts, how much more we can be in the flow. And that happens in real time. And then with writing it’s very interesting, too, because we can take a lot of time, write and revise and so we’re both present and working with revision and practice.
KB 2:                           17:59              There’s definitely something to the action and inaction or the breath, you know, the in breath and an outbreath.  I was at a session once where someone did an exercise with a bell. It was a mindfulness exercise where , I’m sure you know this, where he would ring the bowl, and it was an attention exercise. So you pay attention to the sound. At first the sound is loud and then it starts to get finer and finer until there’s no sound. And so then you pay attention to the sound again. So the whole thing is this infinity loop between sound and silence and I think it’s similar to what we’re saying now between the living dynamic in creative acts of expression and contemplation or, expression and, maybe an emptiness so that what’s coming through is what’s meant to come through. It’s an authentic sound, or not authentic, genuine gesture. It’s not not forced.
NC :                             19:17              And it’s always changing, and we notice that when we attend to the present, to what it is in the moment. You’re also a co-founder of the presencing institute. And could you tell us a little bit about what that is your about and how that fits into this work that you do with your graphic facilitation.
KB :                             19:44              I’ve been working with the presencing institute for just over 10 years now. And I wouldn’t say I’m technically a co founder; I wasn’t there when the seed concept was started, but I’ve certainly been working in the field that generated the presencing institute and have been been with the core team almost since the beginning. It was founded by someone named Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaeufer, who are partners, and some other people as well. And so early on when I got involved, I was mostly helping with the website and things that were not related to visual practice, although at the time I was painting and had a studio and so everyone was aware of my painting and they were aware of my professional work as well, which came in later. And I think a few years ago, maybe four or five years ago, it was harder ways to find scribes.
KB:                              20:42              sorry I’m veering off a little bit, but I’d been teaching workshops and people had been asking about where there were opportunities to do generative scribing. People would say, You know, I really want to practice. But if you go to a conference like a business conference, it may or may not be the right or appropriate place to be sourcing energy. You know, you have to find the right kind of setting and client to really be able to go to a deeper place. But it was with the presencing institute that I started to understand that there was even another place to be sourcing information from more, not cognitive information, but, I guess emergent information. So the presencing work is really about sensing into an emerging future and ringing that into the present moment.
KB:                              21:45              So rather than projecting an idea or an intended vision into the future forward in one direction, it’s kind of going like this and having a sense of what’s coming and then what do I need to let go of, what’s coming, what do I need to let go of? And sort of a gentle, um, a rocking almost very much into the present, present, present moment. And then from that place, gaining insight and finding the seeds of the future or determining your action from that place. Does that make sense?
NC:                              22:32              Yeah, I mean I think there’s a lot there and people can and I encourage people to explore the work that the presencing institute does. It’s really interesting. And I’m thinking about shapes, you know, re-imagining, putting a new shape to what we normally think of as linear time moving into the future, kind of like the arrow heading that way, but we imagining what does that shape look like? How can we be in the present and be in a different relationship to what’s emerging? And I know that there’s a large social awareness aspect of the work that you do there as well. What do we need in this period of time that is so fragile and when so many things are happening so quickly? How do we respond appropriately? So, you know, for people who are listening, whatever field you’re in, I always tell my students to read greedily so please take from this conversation greedily; think about the shapes of your life and think about whatever it is that sparks you in this conversation.
NC:                              23:38              Go explore that! How do you engage with your own creative act? How do you engage with the relationship between internal and external? between personal creativity and collective being? I think as you were saying that in the presencing institute, you found, other people asking these questions and what I think is so nice is: oh, here’s this field, here’s Kelby who found me, you know, because I was doing something that spoke to her and then she wanted to work with me and then your work, Kelvy, spoke to me. There are these nice synergies if we open up and look for the things that resonate for us. And I think that’s so much what your book is about: being open to what you’re perceiving and shaping that perception and having it be a kind of co-creation, to use the overused term.
KB:                              24:46              I think too, looping back to something we were talking about earlier that, that—and I know we probably need to wrap it up for everyone viewing —that in these challenging times I’ve found that my coping strategy is to create, you know, I’ve always created, but I felt especially now that the  most impact I can have is through trying to connect in with potential  wherever I sense it, if it’s in a person or with how I’m drawing or in writing a book. That by amplifying the potential in the world is a way to be in this world now.

NC:                              25:40              Yeah, that’s really beautiful because we can think again, we can think the future is heading just in this one direction, but there so much more potential than we’re often aware of. If we can really be aware of that full presence and then tap into all of our sources so that we can manifest, we can create what we want to create. And again, as you said, you’re not creating a fantasy. You’re creating from what you see, what’s necessarily in the moment, what’s grounded in the present with discernment and, and you know, a lot of beauty.

NC:                              26:19              So I really recommend this book. It’s beautiful and whatever your creative practices may be, I think you’ll find a lot in that. I’ll write some more information about how you can find it down below, and thank you so much Kelvy and congratulations on the publication and it’s great to talk to you.
KB:                              26:43              Oh Gosh, thank you. If you hadn’t coached me, I never would have gotten it done at all.  It’s in large thanks to you that it exists and I’m grateful for this time together now too, so thanks very much.

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