When they are thick and bold – not thin and watery; when they are chunky with ink that wants to last forever; when they reek of chemicals so much that you don’t want to hold them for long – these are beautiful flip chart pens. (You can now get non-stinky ones too).
(They cry out for welcoming flip chart paper – not thin, blotty stuff that doesn’t hold their boldness with clarity – they want flip chart paper that can hold their boldness and encourage brave words that give birth to inspiration and commitment).
When they are lovely big, thick, pressure-pointy flip chart pens, then we are ready to dialogue as a group.
Flip chart pens are participants in group conversations. They really do affect how much people say, what they say, and how they say it – if that saying is written up on a flip chart.
Nice dark blues and blacks can be seen more and better from a distance. In smaller groups, the other colours of the rainbow can add texture and help create different types of information – red for urgent, blue for action, green for affirmation, yellow for highlighting, black for thoughts or facts.
Don’t use them if they are running out. Don’t skimp on them. They are tools for the craft of capturing conversation.
See them as tools for the artist, like a good paint brush. These are pens of expression, a way to render group conversation into a shared record – a creation we can feel shared ownership of or feel alienated, distanced from, due to the way our thoughts have passed through the clumsy hands or selective ego of the scribe-facilitator.
Flip chart pens are not designed for thinness, for little writing – they prefer not to be given up to joined up writing or put in the hands of unskilled scribers who can’t write across the big page without the line starting to sink down the page, like failing resolve. They want their ink to be placed firmly, properly in place and BIG.
A well written up flip chart sheet is a beautiful thing, especially if it can be read and seen without any trouble. Beautifully shaped letters, not perfect, scrawled and scribed consciously in ways that reflect the mood and the will of the group. Precise if needed. Rougher if needed. But always accessible.
Lazy flipcharters are like lazy artists – important aspects of reality and imagination elude them, and thus the rest of the group or community. Flip chart pens in the hands of lazy flip charters are like tools in the hands of lazy gardeners. Poor garden. Poor plants.
Start with beautiful pens. Try them out. Ensure they will let the ink settle onto the page and be at home there. Test out the colours – let them be bold and beautiful – allowing the archetypal and symbolic qualities fo the colours take hold – nothing insiipid or cheaply compromised. Look at them from a distance.
Easy to hold, stinky enough to make you want to put them down when you have finished writing or to offer them to someone else to use. The stink is important – the smell of the chemistry lab, we need to use them only for the purposes of writing – not eating nor inhaling – they scream out – “Keep me out of your mouth and just use me for my gorgeous purpose. I want to cover that paper with my ink! Then put me down quickly and remember there are others in the room!”
They need to feel right in your hand – ready and willing to write and draw. Some are designed to sculpt around your fingers. Straight ones can jar against your finger and thumb bones. I always practice with new ones before participants enter the room. The tools of my trade.
Sometimes they quite like some thick wax crayon to wash over them AFTER you’ve written.
Sometimes they like some images and pictures to dance with the words.
I mean it – flip chart pens can be utterly beautiful.