A Lifetime Coloring In

Never trust the grown-ups.

John Caswell
Just Thinking
4 min readJun 5, 2023


As I was approaching the end of school, I remember being told clearly to get a proper job. Or else!

I was told not to follow my passion for rock music, art, or photography—no creativity under any circumstances. There was no money to be made in it. They said.

So I left home and went to art school — my first rebellion.

The Crayonolithic Period

For as long as I can remember, I’ve drawn stuff.

It all began with a crayon and a line (of sorts). A shaky line at first, but I quickly got the hang of making them straight. Straight lines were always approved of. No idea why.

I remember loving to shade. You probably can’t say that any more.

I liked to make the line turn into something that made sense: a house, a car, a willow tree. The lines weren’t that straight.

My second rebellion.

Colouring in the Strategy for Structured Visual Thinking in 2002

Context Rules

I never drew a ‘thing’ without adding the context of the thing.

I couldn’t just draw a house. It needed a few trees and a garden shed. The shed wouldn’t be complete without a small window or the fence behind it. There had to be a path to the front door.

A mountain would dwarf the house. At the foot of the mountain would be a forest. In front of that, a river would flow through the garden and head under a stone bridge.

There would be rapids and an occasional waterfall. A fisherman would be wading to his knees or standing on the bank casting a fly.

In the foreground, giant dandelions and pampas grasses would frame the scene. Birds would fly through the sky. Clouds. There were clouds.

In every sense, a framework. If something were missing, I would carry on until it wasn’t.

The detail from just one of many crazy large 4-foot x 6-foot pen and ink drawings from back then

Stories And Structures

I didn’t fully appreciate it initially, but every drawing tried to tell a story.

Back then, the pictures had no words, but I could get lost in the story like in a book. After a while, the stories took a surreal turn.

The addition of submerged forests, strange flying fish and Japanese writing. Sometimes an underground view to explain what was happening on the surface.

It was a lot of lines and shading, and I was only satisfied if it made sense as a whole thing. It had to be a system. It would need to be logical. To me, anyway.

Someone challenged me to draw hands and people. Look what happened.

Head Of Crayons

Pretty soon, my work took over my life.

I always question everything. It’s the best way to engage. Asking the why, why not — the so what and the so that? There was a purpose required for anything to work. There was always a framework in my head.

Whenever taking a brief or a new meeting with a client with a challenge, I drew it all out. They explained their challenge, and I couldn’t stop picturing it. It was my way of understanding the context of it all.

And nowadays, if I can’t create a 100 feet x 8 feet whiteboard, the canvas isn’t big enough.

After sharing the drawing, the client often saw that what they came in with made no sense. Extending the discussion this way to satisfy my curiosity helped illustrate the challenge in context and illuminate the remedy.

The interdependent pieces and the remedies would come into view by zooming out like this. The story would tell itself.

Drawing took on the role of a Swiss Army knife. In this one tool, I had a translator, a decision maker, a team alignment device, a manifestor, a leveller, a storyteller, a forcing mechanism, a stimulator, and a planning tool — a creative laboratory.

Always building the box that lets us think outside of
Always colouring in

Drawing became an answering machine.

Life changed. Colouring in became a career. And the moral is, as Yuval Harari said — never listen to the grown-ups; they mean well, but they have no idea what’s going on.



John Caswell
Just Thinking

I'm John Caswell - The founder and CEO of Group Partners. We Help Clients Make Strategies That Work. I’m The Head Of Crayons.