Drawing pictures for your presentations

Back in February this year, I was asked to give a presentation about a project I was working on.  The presentation needed some diagrams in it to depict graphically how the project was going to achieve the client’s business goals.  Since things were at an early stage, the situation was not yet well understood, but I found that the diagrams I drew using the excellent Omnigraffle Pro were creating an impression of polish and completeness which was really quite wrong.

After some iterations and trials, I ended up redrawing the diagrams by hand.  It felt right to do it like that because it very powerfully conveyed the sense that here was a work in progress, needing to be questioned and refined, rather than being something mature and well polished.

Since then I’ve taken this approach quite a few more times, for different reasons, and it’s been pretty successful.  The slide I’ve used above to illustrate this is taken from Rethinking the Presentation, which I’ve talked about in the past in these pages.  I’ve also noticed other people, most of them more artistically talented than me, also taking this approach.  Most notable among these for me has been the remarkable Sacha Chua, a fellow IBMer, with her award winning “About Me” presentation.

My secret weapon in the field of drawing has been a fantastic piece of software, that I bought last November, called ArtRage 2.5. I quite regularly use this to draw pictures or diagrams for presentations, such as the one shown.  It is a very full featured art package which lets you draw using very realistic pencils, felt pens, chalk, oil paints, coloured glitter,  and more on a range of accurately simulated surfaces.

I’ve tried a few combinations for presentations, but I have mostly settled on the chalkboard surface on which I draw using… chalk.  ArtRage also has various tools that let you smear or smudge what you have made, realistically mixing paint colours etc. together as it goes.  I’ve used this to make chalkboard drawings that look as though they have been done on a knackered old smudge-filled board.  I’ve so far resisted the allure of using glitter in a presentation.

It’s worth noting that drawing with a mouse is quite hard, and it gets a lot easier if you use a graphics tablet, such as Wacom’s very reasonably priced Bamboo or more professional Intuos3 ranges that you can get from Amazon UK. Some of these products may even come with ArtRage licenses included, so check before you buy anything.

ArtRage is available for both Mac and Windows, and it comes in two flavours, a free version and a full version for $25, which is a bargain!  The full version supports layers, which I find particularly useful.  I often do all my drawing on a layer, and then delete the background layer (ie. the chalkboard itself) and export as a PNG.  This contains just the drawing on a transparent background which can then sit nicely on top of my “Gradient” themed slides in Keynote.

I’ve had ArtRage almost a year, at the time of writing, and I can’t say that I’ve constantly used it during that time, but it certainly fills a unique niche which I now find hard to imagine having to do without!