Spotlight on Esther Bordet

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We had the pleasure of learning more about longtime Yukonstruct member, Esther Bordet, and her new business. Esther has been a member of Yukonstruct since the early days, first joining the old makerspace where she constructed elements of her cabin (which she built herself!), transitioning to the current Makespace, and then becoming a Cospace member shortly after it opened. She brings a lot of expertise, humour, and interesting conversation to the space, and we are so happy she is a part of our community. 

Hi Esther! So, I know you’re a geologist and artist, but it looks like you are working on something new. Can you tell me about your new business?

In the fall of 2020, I launched a new business called Yukon Graphic Recording. I offer illustration and live graphic recording services.

Can you tell me the difference between graphic recording and illustration? How are these two services different?

These two services use a similar set of skills. Both take concepts and ideas, map them, and present them in a clear and synthesized way by combining text and images. Ultimately, these are tools which can clarify and elevate the process and outcome of a project. 

The main difference between these two services is the delivery format, the product generated, and the audience they address.

  • Live graphic recording is a powerful tool to facilitate productive group meetings or individual brainstorming sessions. It is a very effective way to visualize the different components and steps in a project, and making a plan for moving forward. The outcome of graphic recording usually consists of raw visual notes captured on a paper board during a meeting. Graphic recording is a tool which can be used to advance a project within an organization and achieve clarity within the team.
  • The illustrations I have created in the past consist of 1 to 3 pages of visual summaries, including graphic elements and text. They are visual communications tools, usually published in reports, posters or web pages. The creative workflow involves researching visual elements and layouts, creating multiple rounds of sketches, and eventually turning these sketches into a clean, nicely laid out deliverable.  The outcome being a communication tool for the client that will easily and clearly reach the intended audience, often the public.

My website includes examples of both live graphic recording projects, or finished illustration work

That sounds really useful! How did you get into illustration and graphic recording?

I used to work for the Yukon Government, with the Yukon Geological Survey. I decided to quit my job because I wanted to ramp up my existing artistic practice as a professional activity. 

A week after I quit my government job, I was having lunch in the Cospace kitchen, when John Glynn-Morris came and introduced himself [surprise, surprise 🙂]. When I told him my background in geological mapping, and that I am an artist, he asked if I had ever thought of combining the two. He mentioned this tool called graphic recording (which I had never heard of) – a few weeks later I was working my first gig at a meeting he was facilitating. And I really saw how impactful it was. 

During the following months, I had a few other contracts, all thanks to new Cospace connections. One of these projects was with Dennis Zimmermann, which led to more collaboration in 2020, including both graphic recording and illustrations. 

One contract leading to another, I decided to fully establish my illustration services as a separate business, distinct from my artistic practice

It sounds like you discovered a new way to put your illustration skills to work. Your background as an artist obviously lends itself well to this type of work, but have you found your geology background helpful?

Absolutely! I think my geology background is helping me in several ways:

  1. My scientific background means I am used to dealing with multiple layers of complex data, analyzing the data, and synthesizing them. Most of the illustration projects I have been working on deal with complex issues (land, communities, industry, health), involving several layers of historic data or events, and need to be communicated in an effective way, usually to the public. So my scientific brain really helps me focus on the important facts.
  2. One of my favorite definitions of graphic recording is that it consists of mapping ideas. Since I already specialize in mapping rocks, why not transfer the process of map making into a different field? A geological map comprises colours, lines, and symbols. It is a synthesis of months, or years, of scientific research. However, for a map to be useful, it has to look good! The map design and layout is as important as the map content, and in this case, visual skills totally support the delivery of the information. What I have found is that this principle of presenting complex content in a visually appealing way enhances the potential of all kinds of data. 
  3. My field geologist experience is also very important in a Yukon context. I have a unique understanding of the land, acquired from years of roaming remote mountains on foot. During my time working in the field, I didn’t learn only about rocks, but also about vegetation and animals. I have already had a couple of opportunities to transfer this knowledge of the Yukon wilderness into illustration projects, which I am very grateful for!

It sounds like your skills are uniquely well suited to this work. What do you think are the greatest benefits to this service?

My services can be seen as a vehicle, or filter, helping people to see clarity in the midst of a complex process. The use of graphic recording or illustrations completely depends on the project needs, but can also be complementary. 

Projects are like stories, and they really benefit from a visual output, which illustrates the dynamic evolution of thoughts and ideas over time. Ultimately, the text and image content create a cohesive map from which to organize and plan from.

It sounds like you are revealing a hidden potential in not just the content of the information being discussed, but of the contributions being made throughout the meeting or presentation. That must be really satisfying. What do you enjoy most about this work?

I really enjoy learning about new subjects! In the past year, I have worked with a French university on a Europe-wide translation program, I have learned about the Chinook salmon life cycle and its importance in the culture and life of Yukon First Nations, and I have created an illustrated timeline for the Dawson Regional Planning Commission. I also always learn new skills and tools: last fall I created my first animation for Yukon U (IncubateNorth).

Is there an area of running your own business that you would love to get some help in?

I still spend a lot of time making plans rather than getting/doing actual work, and sometimes I feel like I could use an assistant, especially for business and marketing decisions!

Okay, maybe someone reading this knows someone who can help you with that. Thanks for sharing so much with us. Before you go, do you have any content recommendations? Cool Instagram accounts, podcasts, books, music, standup comics. . . anything that brightens your day, or enriches your life in some small or big way?

I am a big comic book reader, and I find the selection at the Whitehorse Library really amazing. I read comics in French and English, so that means the selection is twice as big for me! One graphic novel I have read lately is called “Paying the land”, by American comic author Joe Sacco. I believe everyone who lives in the Yukon or the North should read this book, whether they are into comics or not. I was very impressed at how the author handles the subject of residential schools. It isn’t an easy subject for anyone to talk about, let alone illustrating it! I think it works really well in this book, because the story isn’t actually told by the author (a white American). All he does is facilitate the storytelling, using his artist skills to give their voice to NWT First Nations.

Thanks so much, Esther!