Stay Curious: Visually Recording Events

| Selva Mustafa

Selva Mustafa visually recorded the Not Another Co-Production Festival in Manchester earlier this year. We asked her to share her process and this is what she said:

First, I need to make it clear, I am a two-stage visual recorder. I make many notes and scribbles at an event, then I go away and turn it into the finished product(s). I also make this quite clear to anyone I work for!!

I do not and cannot produce a visual in live time. I am very jealous (but in a nice way!) of anyone who can do so! 

 It has taken me two years to get to this point, so please don’t read this and think:

 ‘I’ll never remember all this!’

I’ve asked many other visual recorders for advice and looked on online to get tips! 

For simplicity, I’ve divided my processes into three main areas:

  1. What can I do before the event? (starter)
  2. What I do during the event. (main course)
  3. What I do afterwards. (dessert)

Then, I’ve turned this process into tips for anyone who is interested in giving visual recording a go.

  1. For Starters
  • Prepare what you can beforehand to save some heartache! It gives you confidence to have some understanding of what is happening before you even turn up. 
  • Research the organisations/speakers before you go – get a ‘flavour’ of what they’re about – it shows interest and can help to give you an idea of possible themes. 
  • What is the event about in a nutshell? Can you use the title of the event, or make one up yourself? 
  • Think about the potential audience. Who will be listening or attending? This will give you an idea of the type of visual you can produce, for example, does it need to be serious or could there be an element of humour?
  • What is your brief? Have you been asked to produce a summary of everything, or concentrate on certain areas/people?
  • Are there any ‘brand’ colours, ‘catch words,’ or ‘catchphrases’ the organisation likes to use?
  • What can you decide or put on paper before the event even starts? For example, titles, subtitles, font types, colours etc. It’s not essential to do this, but it can be helpful, an empty piece of paper can be daunting!
  • Decide what you’ll need to bring on the day. Materials, food, drink? Think about your emergency supplies – for example, spare pens, chargers.
  1. The Main Course
  • Get there early, if possible.
  • Meet people, introduce yourself, explain why you are there. Most people are very accepting!
  • Go to the toilet, grab a drink, make yourself comfortable before you start!
  • Take photographs of everything, the people (if they don’t mind; some events will have made a note of permissions), the surroundings and any information provided.
  • Take in the ambience or mood of the room. You never know what might come in useful!
  • Where do you want to sit – at the front, at the back? 
  • Will you need to move around or sit where you’ll be less distracted?
  • Listen to everything. Listen to the chatter around you, you can get some real gems that way!
  • Notice everything! Look at everything and everyone around you. Are they happy, upset, indignant? Why?
  • Ask questions to those around you if you need to, join in the conversation when time allows!
  • Record the longer discussions, videos, podcasts aired. Remember, you cannot note down/sketch everything!
  • Does anything come to mind as you are working? Images, words, quotes? Note them down! 
  • Make notes to self to check anything you don’t understand, it will help you produce a more informed visual and demonstrate you really understood the topic! Tip: Post-it notes are brilliant!!
  1. Just Desserts
    Before I put pen to paper these are some of the things I ask myself:
  • What are the visuals meant to show?
  • Which themes can I pull out? 
  • What can I use to ‘spark’ further conversation? 
  • Is it socially/culturally aware – does it represent the ‘community’ it is aimed for? 
  • How can I make abstract concepts more easily relatable?
  • How do I avoid permission issues? I generally avoid this by keeping the focus on what was said, not who said it (unless they specifically ask me), so I don’t use names and I keep any images of people faceless.

Other techniques I use:

  • I break the content down into relatable areas, if possible.
  • I decide how many different areas there will be, and how many points in each area. Some will take up more space than others and I roughly work out how much space I will need without running out of room or having to squash anything up.
  • I decide which content needs images, and which images to use to ‘grab attention’. I consider whether I can use anything directly from the content or photographs I have, or whether I need to think of something else.
  • Once on paper, I ask myself if the visuals look balanced. It is too heavy on one side, are there too many words, too many images, is it readable, does it make sense?
  • Then I seek someone else’s opinion, someone who will be honest with me.

This isn’t an exhaustive list; I tweak and adapt as I am going along. Sometimes I include one thing, the next time I don’t. I experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m still making mistakes, but encouragingly less of them!

P.S. My final tip – don’t put your cup of coffee next to your work, or you might have to start over!!!

A little bit more about Selva Mustafa:

She is:

a mother
using lived experience to support others
a quiet activist and pirate
an accidental visual artist/recorder/harvester,
curious and interested in everything!

a 40+ year old who changed career (and so can you!).

Click on the images below to download a PDF for a closer look:

All artwork featured on this page was created by Selva Mustafa in response to the Not Another Co-Production Festival in Manchester. To get in touch with Selva, email:

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