John Waters RISD Commencement Address Sketchnotes

I have to admit that I didn’t know John Waters by name before watching (and sketchnoting) his commencement address at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2015.

Though I don’t (yet) know his work well, I enjoyed his advice to recent graduates. Here are some sketchnotes that I took of his address:

Reflections on the Ideas

First of all, shoutout to Blake Boles, whose newsletter brought this commencement address to my awareness.

Here are some thoughts on the ideas I chose to pull out:

50 years of getting up at 6:00am to NOT work for somebody else but instead think up insane stuff. This is essentially my dream – build a career not around a job that someone else provides but that I’ve created. And as it happens I also wake up at 6:00am and the first thing I do is sketchnote, so I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: all you need is one person to say “get in” and off you go. This reminds me of Neil Gaiman who talks about throwing bottle after bottle filled with messages into the ocean. Eventually those bottles reach someone and off you go. Keep sticking that thumb out, keep making things, and keep walking until someone pulls over to give you a ride.

Remember that play and work are equally important, and that they should often overlap. This is the one that I need to be constantly reminded of. It’s easy for me to get too serious about (and overthink) my work. But when I’m able to approach it with a sense of play, good things happen.

Keep up with what’s causing chaos in your own field. Any thoughts on what that could be in the world of sketchnoting right now? I’m keeping my eyes open.

Enlist youth spies when you get to old to blend in. As of recently, youth is something that I only see in the past. Time to start enlisting others so that I don’t get stale.

Build your own trojan horse for sneak attacks on society. I’d tell you what I have planned for this but that would just ruin it.

Got out in the world and fuck it up beautifullyI guess I’m starting with myself on this one.

Count your blessing: you’re here, you made it, remember those who didn’t. Gratitude is a practice. Do it daily.

Reflections on the Process

Let’s talk a bit about the sketchnoting process that I used for this commencement address.

I started with the portrait and title in the center of the page. That made for a useful warmup and also created an anchor to the rest of the notes.

I initially thought I would do more of a mind map around that portrait, with lines connecting the various ideas.

As it happened, though, the address was more a handful of unique pieces of advice as opposed to a connected set of ideas, so the structure of individual ideas surrounding the portrait and title worked well.

I also like the balance between ideas and white space. It feels full but not cluttered.

This is definitely a process that I’ll turn to again.

I hope you enjoyed these sketchnotes and the ideas contained within them!




Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

If you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.

And if you want to create new personal and professional opportunities by sharing the authentic journey of your skill development online, check out Learn In Public.