Q & A with an International Graphic Recorder

Graphic Recorder Bernie Quah Photo provided by Bernie Quah and Sketch Post

Got a flair for the artistic? Want a job that allows you to travel? Look no further.

You could call Bernie Quah a professional listener, and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Her job requires her to listen, process, analyze and then produce a hand-drawn work of art over a span of anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. As the founder of the one-woman company known as Sketch Post, Bernie produces graphic recordings of talks, conferences and keynote addresses that happen around the world.

Watching her work is a fascinating process. During a presentation, she stands at the back of the room armed with a blank white board, an easel, and a slew of coloured markers. As the talk progresses, the speaker’s ideas are translated into illustrations and text blurbs that outline the key points of the speech. The result is a unique, one-of-a-kind memento for the speaker, and another creation for Bernie’s ever-growing portfolio.

I spoke with Bernie to learn how her international experience has fuelled her career:

What did you do before turning graphic recording into a full-time profession?

I did my degree in interior design with Nottingham Trent University, which conducted its program at KBU International College in Malaysia. I enjoyed interior design and did internships after every semester, but realized that I didn’t want to do it professionally. During my final year I took part in youth organizations and organized conferences, and that’s where I got my sketch noting skills. I was always in my sketchbook and taking notes in class, but I never actually thought it would be a career.

After graduation, I worked for a design consultancy in Singapore for a year. Then I got an offer to go to San Francisco for six months. I worked on illustration and branding, and got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug while I was there. I met a lot of people and companies who were doing graphic recording and they told me how to get started and what the process was like.

When I returned to Asia, I Googled “how to start a company” and then got my website and portfolio online. Singtel commissioned me for a job in July 2013 and from there I got more events and illustration work.

What are some of the most important things you learned from living and working abroad in San Francisco?

My time in San Francisco taught me that age doesn’t matter when it comes to creating new ways of doing things and building a business around that idea. I met many young adults there who were starting companies or being offered funding to pursue their own research. After a while, I figured I should give it a try as I had a good product and a great value proposition.

What were some challenges you encountered?

Scheduling meetings between countries was challenging at times, but my clients were flexible and patient and understood the nature of my business. Missing out on special occasions with family and friends felt like a loss, especially if relatives from overseas were visiting. I was also unable to commit to working with volunteer organizations I support in Singapore.

How has the relative mobility of your job changed your outlook on travelling?

It’s still exciting for me, since I didn’t take many personal overseas trips before Sketch Post came along. So travelling for work and experiencing a new country every few months is very much living the dream.

I usually travel within the region—mainly between Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong—so I hardly ever get jetlag. I’m never bored with one place. Many of my peers lament that having the same routine for months or years makes the city they live in “boring,” but mine changes from week to week with some level of familiarity.

Also, I’ve made more of an effort to meet up with friends and relatives as I’m away most of the time. Having just an hour or two to catch up means the world to me. I get to appreciate the best of both worlds: my lovely family in Kuala Lumpur and the freedom of mobility that Singapore provides.

What’s one event you would like to record someday?

I would love to do the actual TED conference in New York.

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Tiffany Wang

Tiffany is an International Fellow at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore, where she teaches in the School of Film & Media Studies. A Californian at heart, Tiffany previously lived in Greece and has visited 22 countries around the world. She spends her free time rock climbing, drinking coconuts and relaxing by bodies of water. 

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