“I would say the work found me; instead of I found the work,” says Jayce Pei Yu Lee. Jayce, whose Chinese name is Pei Yu, is a graphic facilitator and visual designer whose main line of practice is graphic recording and scribing at large group meetings, especially in the Greater China and Asia-Pacific regions. Although she thinks of herself as a newcomer to the field of graphic recording, she has been drawing her whole life.
Jayce grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. She has only one sibling, but she describes herself as a member of a big family full of “many aunties.” Her parents were first generation residents of Taipei, having moved there from mainland China in the 1940s. They considered their children’s education of the utmost importance, and so when Jayce was 18 her parents decided to move the family to New Zealand. This was an important shift for Jayce, who had never found a sufficient outlet for her love of art in Taiwan. In New Zealand, she was able to pursue art seriously for the first time, studying Fine Arts at University of Canterbury.
After finishing university Jayce surprised herself by moving back to Taiwan to work in a small graphic design firm. “This was out of my comfort zone,” Jayce explains, saying it was quite an adjustment to come back to Taiwan. After two years in the design firm, she moved into a retail environment, where she worked in visual merchandising. This, too, was step that stretched her capacity and helped her build management skills. Then, after eight years in retail, she began a new period of searching and shifting. “Being in the corporate world wasn’t in my plan,” she says.
She became a freelance designer, and then came the “sudden twist.” In 2010 she got an email from a former boss. Somebody he knew was looking for someone who could draw, and who was bilingual in Chinese and English. The candidate needed to be able to work well in a team and as an individual, and needed to be bold enough to stand in front of a crowd if necessary. Jayce’s former boss asked, “Maybe you’re interested?”
This email “sparked everything that has happened to me since,” Jayce says. Following up on this lead, Jayce discovered that it was an opportunity to work as a graphic recorder at Summer Davos in Tianjin, China, with an organization called The Value Web. “This was the first time I had heard of the profession of graphic recording,” Jayce says. She did some research, and she told herself, “I think I can do this.” Talk about on-the-job training! After only a ten-minute conversation with one of her co-facilitators, Alicia Bramlett, (which involved a whiteboard, of course) Jayce was off and drawing. “I didn’t wait to know what it was before I said yes,” she says, admitting to an adventurous streak in her DNA.
It was at this engagement that she met Kelvy Bird, who is a member of The Value Web network, as well as the Presencing Institute team. Jayce remembers one moment in particular when, after a day of work, Kelvy came up to Jayce, offering a green whiteboard marker as a gift. “It really took me by surprise,” says Jayce, “because she had noticed me, and noticed that I used that color marker a lot.” Looking back, Jayce thinks of that as a ceremonial gesture by which Kelvy welcomed her to her new profession.
In 2012, Jayce met Otto Scharmer when Kelvy recommended her as graphic recorder for the IDEAS China program. This was the beginning of a continuing partnership with the Presencing Institute, including graphic facilitation for many programs in Indonesia and China. Along the way, Jayce has come into her own, harnessing her skill set, developing her own distinctive style, and pulling together a team of friends who now often scribe as a team.
At the beginning, Jayce used a lot of acrylic markers. But three years ago, she says, she made a conscious decision to try something different. She and a team of graphic facilitators were working in a very minimalist, modern space, and they wanted their drawing to match the simplicity of their context. So they started using Chinese calligraphy brushes and black ink, and eventually, rice paper.
With these materials, Jayce is tapping into deep roots, both culturally and personally. “I learned calligraphy after school when I was very young,” she explains. “I hated it, but I still finished the class, and my writing in Chinese when I finished my childhood was good.” Now, the practice has influenced her signature style, which she describes as fluid and brushy. The brushes and simple color scheme, she says, helps her to “be expressive through simplicity, down to the essence. Whoever has the brushes can be the messenger.”
Jayce says her work with the Presencing Foundation Program in China has been a highlight. A few years ago when the project needed more visual support, she was able to bring together a team of graphic recorders. Such an arrangement unlocks the power of multiple perspectives, Jayce explains, and it also creates room for inclusivity and professional growth. “I’m used to having the space to myself. When someone joins me, that requires sensing. How I listen has become different. Now, I am also listening to my partners. When there are two, three or even more, the dynamic feels like group dancing. We have to rely on each other to make the whole thing greater than one person.”
As graphic recorder for many Theory U sessions, Jayce notes her peculiar position: a participant who turns her back to the circle. Nevertheless, she says, Theory U has had a strong influence on her. Working as a scribe requires a deeper and broader capacity for listening, she says. “What is the full level of listening? What is the full level of scribing?” she asks herself. But listening is not only about listening to others, she notes. “It’s also about listening to myself, to strengthen my capacity when the situation becomes more complicated.”
In the coming year, Jayce is looking forward to the publication of Kelvy Bird’s new book on graphic facilitation. “To see Kelvy’s work come to life in the form of a book, it’s such a gift for this profession, especially for me personally. All this work being crystallized into something we can hold in our hand.” She senses new frontiers in her own work, as well, including working with a friend to translate Kelvy’s book into Mandarin. “The Mandarin-speaking world is an emerging place,” she explains. “That we can collectively expose this work to the world is very exciting.”
Watch Jayce’s video-interview here: