Stashed away among the numerous shelves of books in the Beltline office of Calgary Reads is a giant board covered in colourful, cartoony drawings and words. It’s an impressive piece of work, with nearly every thought paired with a quirky illustration, and the whole thing reads like meeting minutes taken by a cartoonist. If you’ve seen similar drawings popping up in locations across Calgary lately, you can thank Sam Hester for that.
Hester is a graphic recorder. Through her business, The 23rd Story, she illustrates presentations in real time using a large canvas, drawings and writing to record discussions, meetings or speeches. If you’re not familiar with the occupation, you’re not alone. “I had never heard of it until about two years ago,” says Hester. “And now it’s my full-time job.”
Hester, whose comic work has appeared in publications including the 9-11: Emergency Relief and Project: Telstar anthologies, says she came by the job by accident. In 2012, her aunt prodded her to go to a graphic recording workshop given by Kara Stonehouse of Aha! Graphic Facilitation, which Hester wouldn’t have attended if not for some serendipitous scheduling.
“I was like, ‘No, I have to take care of my kids,’ and, as it turned out, the workshop was in the same building as my son’s preschool and at the same time I had to be there,” she says. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll just go.'”
She found her first clients almost immediately, as people at the workshop asked Hester if she’d like to do some work for them. Two years later, she’s now working full-time and has illustrated for the City of Calgary, the YWCA, TEDxCalgary and other organizations. Hester even had her work on display at this year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.
She works in Edmonton once or twice a month, as there are so few graphic recorders in the province. “It’s still a really new, emerging field, and I don’t know of too many people in Alberta who are doing it,” Hester says and notes the unique opportunities the medium affords her.
“I’m a visual scribe and I think of myself as a writer who loves storytelling,” she says. “Working as a graphic recorder lets me be creative with someone else’s story, and I think I would like to keep doing it for a long time.”
To see more of Hester’s work, visit the23rdstory.com.