Whiteboards & the Art of Visual Quotes
"Seeing words that matter to us written beautifully makes us more thoroughly appreciate what they mean to us."
Whiteboards are sneaky. We’ve had these unnoticed canvases hanging on our walls for years. Until now. We’ve always known whiteboards can be beautiful, but people are finally waking up to the idea that what you put on them can be just as lovely.
In a way, even the invention of whiteboards comes out of the art world. The most likely origin story involves a photographer in the ’50s. Using permanent markers to make notes directly on his film negatives, he accidentally discovered he could remove the marks with a damp cloth. That was the spark of inspiration that eventually developed into the modern whiteboard.
Whiteboard art history
Whiteboards have a long history as writing and visual communication tools, but there’s always been a hint of art breaking through. A fourth-grader tags a whiteboard with stick figures. A high school sophomore tags her biology whiteboard with a caricature of her teacher. Students can’t help but look at a whiteboard and feel an impulse to express themselves. The same can be said when someone at the office breaks out a few markers and leaves a quick drawing for the rest of the team.
Given how often teachers and teams use whiteboards for brainstorming and presentations, it seems inevitable that written words and artistic impulse would blossom into a new artistic genre: Visual Quotes.
A community of artists
A simple search on Pinterest, Instagram, or Google will quickly demonstrate that there is no shortage of artists creating beautiful visual quotes on whiteboards. It just so happens that we have a whiteboard artist on staff here at mcSquares. Alison Burnell is our in-house Graphic Designer, and she’s spent the last year finding her voice in visual quotes. Check out some of her best work on mcSquares’ Instagram profile or her calligraphy Instagram account.
Alison draws on a vibrant, global community of visual quotation artists. She explains:
“I start every quote by searching for other artists’ work for a couple of reasons - to check out what’s been done and what hasn’t. Sometimes I find examples that I love and add my own twists, or I go for something completely out of the box. Some quotes feel better served with imagery; some feel more impactful without.”
Alison’s awareness and respect for this blossoming community of artists are why her contributions are so valuable. She acknowledges the ongoing aesthetic conversations within the community, responds to them, and pushes the conversations forward through her own work. She admits that few other artists are working with whiteboards and markers as a medium. But she also explains that these materials allow her to work in ways others can’t:
“Most examples I follow are either hand-drawn using pen and paper, then digitally rendered, or done by hand with pens, pencils, and markers. You can see the lines I create much more clearly because of the partially-transparent nature of wet and dry-erase markers, which is another challenging aspect of the lettering I’ve been doing.”
The craft of visual quotes
Visual quotations might not be the first things that come to mind when thinking about art. But like painting or sculpture, it requires a ton of practice, skill with a chosen medium, and a distinctive voice. The visual quotations community is rich with all of them. But that community wouldn’t be thriving in the way that it is without the work having a powerful emotional effect on a wide variety of people. Alison explains how something so familiar can become so affecting:
“Calligraphy is becoming an everyday art form because something about seeing words that matter to us written beautifully makes us more thoroughly appreciate what they mean to us. I think the process of seeing what we need to hear in visual quotes amplifies their messages, especially in a time when social media platforms are being used so heavily to lead social justice efforts.”
It feels great to encounter a quotation online and feel moved. Rendering that quote as a beautiful image transforms it from an idea into art that resonates in our lives. The objects we hang on our walls can be powerful expressions of how we see ourselves. Maybe you love horror movies, so you have a framed poster of The Exorcist or Psycho. Maybe you are an avid hiker, so you decorate your home with images of mountains or forests and books about the Appalachian Trail. We surround ourselves with objects that express and remind us of who we are. Why should it be any different with visual quotations?