IN FOCUS: Small Business – Moving pictures

Posted on Aug 1, 2014 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Walsh Portrait for Sketchbiz

Pictured is a self-portrait of visual recording artist Mick Walsh, who launched his company, SketchBiz, last year. Courtesy Mick Walsh

Students and CEOs alike fall victim to the three-day rule: an estimate that 90 percent of the information you hear is lost after 72 hours. Accompany those same words with relevant illustrations, however, and memory becomes almost seven times as potent.

Enter Mick Walsh, whose company SketchBiz turns drawing into a performance art, a blurring of the lines between the concreteness of artistry and the action of film.

“As people talk, I draw,” Walsh says. His primary technique, known as visual recording, involves standing at the front of a room, listening in to his clients’ conversation and drawing out their ideas in real-time.

“When you leave and this guy leaves, you don’t go away with different thoughts in your mind because you can see it,” he says.

Introduced to visual recording little more than a year ago, Walsh founded SketchBiz last October. He has since been hired as a contractor by Crowley & Co. of Washington, Alchemy of Denver and School Specialty of Appleton. His immediate success in the industry can be traced to his 35 years as a graphic artist and an interest in art from a young age.

“In seventh grade I started drawing hot-rod cars and popular cars of the time, like Chevys, Corvettes and T-Birds with big engines, but I would put a monster driving the vehicle. And I did these with Magic Marker and I would do it on the backs of T-shirts.” The going rate was $1. If you wanted color, $1.25. “From that time forward I always knew I could make a career out of drawing.”

From his upbringing in northern Illinois Walsh traveled, propelled by talent but subject to the uncertainties of the creative industry. He joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and served for four years, returning to Northern Illinois University to complete his degree in graphic design illustration. 

After living and working in Colorado, Boston and Minneapolis, Walsh took the position of creative director for School Specialty in Appleton. The company’s 2012 bankruptcy left him in freelance work, experimenting with quick sketches for the New North and Fox Valley  Technical College.

Ann Duginske, director of marketing and development at New North, Inc., worked with Walsh on the video for its Fast Forward 1.0 initiative. “It can be difficult to use very few words in that process, really condense the storyline,” says Duginske.

“The video was really effective for those who were visual learners and needed to see how everything fit together in a picture … and those who needed it to have a story and a description,” she says. “There were a lot of different needs, and this was able to bring a lot of needs together into one with a single unique solution.” 

Walsh’s success prompted him to take an entrepreneurship class at FVTC that exposed him to a field he had been well-equipped for but did not know existed.

“I took the class and learned from my research that there’s an international group of visual  recorders that do this for a living,” Walsh says. This 250-strong community held a conference in New York in which Walsh learned the business end of his trade.

Visual recording is a global enterprise, but with only 300 professionals in the field (a 20 percent increase from 2013), the industry has a lot to prove. “It’s still new enough that companies are not sure about it, and if they’ve heard about it they’re not sure if they want to do it,” says Walsh.

Indeed, both interest and uncertainty is high. Recently Walsh was scheduled to draw in Brazil and India, and to do work for Disney and American Family Insurance – all of which were cancelled at the last minute.

Nonetheless, SketchBiz has received many local contracts, especially from FVTC. Walsh hopes to expand his business beyond regional boundaries. 

“I’m considered more the Midwest Guy,” Walsh says. “What I’m trying to do is train a bunch of people as subcontractors to SketchBiz. I could train them on how to do the FVTC workshops, because a lot of times I’ll be committed to FVTC and I’ll get a call asking if I can go to Cincinnati.”

Walsh hopes to recruit locally, and notes that many of his colleagues are former teachers because of their experience in classrooms. “The key thing is to capture the content – and not be afraid to stand up in front of people and draw.”

To Walsh, visual recording is not just a tool but a unique art form. “Even though I’m capturing content for a meeting, people come up to me all the time and take pictures between the breaks, and they’re always amazed.”

“Most people have never seen an artist at work,” he says.