Capturing a nation’s soul through art

Posted on 07 Jun 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Our Community

Wood Debbie illustrator202305 DAY2 CIC14 027

The talents of graphic artist Debbie Wood helped bring to life the theme of the 2023 Communities in Control conference – “A search for the soul of the nation”.

Debbie’s clever “graphic recordings” struck a chord with conference delegates, who were challenged to consider a central question: can a country have a soul?

We caught up with Debbie to learn more.

How did you find participating in the Communities in Control conference?

The Communities in Control conference is truly one of a kind. It’s not my first, and it won’t be my last!

I doubt there’s another event like it that truly inspires action and gives its attendees an opportunity to think differently the way this one does.

The line-up of speakers is always first class and the format is curated so cleverly. I noticed as I was capturing my graphic recordings that the program really creates an opportunity for people to sit with an idea across speaker sessions, which is quite powerful.

The space between one side of my canvas and the other was often filled with connection between two speakers, as the ideas evolved and merged.

How would you describe your work?

I’m a graphic recorder. I spend my days in rooms with people, listening hard while they share ideas, and create a visual representation of what I hear.

Sometimes that may be a small team workshop looking at a prickly problem, or sometimes it’s a spectacular conference with an incredible speaker line-up – such as Communities in Control.

I absolutely love the work I do. It’s very satisfying seeing what starts as a blank page emerge into a rich visual full of metaphor and cracking quotes in a matter of hours!

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Debbie's artistic take on Professor Emerita Cynthia Mitchell's views on the importance of connecting our soul and the natural world.
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Bringing to life the Australian Inequality Index launched by Executive Director Per Capita Emma Dawson.
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Capturing the 2023 Communities in Control Conference theme: A search for the soul of the nation.
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Debbie's unique visual style gave CIC delegates a new perspective on leadership expert Holly Ransom's presentation.

How do you approach an event like Communities in Control?

Excitedly! When I saw it was coming up, after having captured the odd speaker on my iPad in the crowd just for myself in past years, I thought it would be worth reaching out to Denis Moriarty (Our Community group managing director) to see if he’d like to have me there in my professional capacity this year.

How would you describe the feedback you received from delegates at the conference?

It was wonderful to be approached by so many of the delegates during the breaks with such positive feedback.

What I do does seem a bit magical to an outsider. The graphic recordings were pinned up out in the main room where delegates enjoyed the catering and sponsors’ booths.

It was great seeing so many people taking photos so they can reflect on the content later on. That’s what they’re there for!

Communities in Control 2023 » Graphic Recording Melbourne (

Debbie Wood illustrator 202305 CIC5 007
Debbie working on on one of her graphic recordings at the CIC Conference.

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