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Hand drawn Illustrations, Carbon for Kids & Going from Working Alone to Designing with Hundreds
Episode 217th March 2022 • The Carbon Almanac Collective • Carbon Almanac Network
00:00:00 00:37:37

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Featuring Carbon Alamanac Contributors Paige NeJame, Michi Mathias & Boon Lim.

From Singapore, the United Kingdom and The United States, these collaborators have backgrounds in teaching design, owning a family business, and spending years working with Greenpeace.

Having contributed to many areas of the Carbon Almanac, the three came together to craft one of the most meaningful parts - the Carbon Almanac for kids' content.

In this episode, we talk about digitizing hand-drawn illustrations, being inspired by the wacky inventions of kids, and why this environment was so drastically different but delightfully so - than working creatively on your own.

For more information on the project, and to pre-order your copy visit

This podcast is a part of the Carbon Almanac Podcast Network.

Production Team: Jennifer Myers Chua, Sam Schuffenecker, Leekei Tang, Tania Marien, Barbara Orsi

Cover Art: Ray Ong

Copyright © 2022 The Carbon Almanac Network

About the Carbon Almanac Collective: What happens when regular people work together to create massive, meaningful change on a global scale? Welcome to the carbon Almanac collective. A podcast where the volunteers who created the Carbon Almanac share the insights and aha moments they had while collaborating on this landmark project to help fight the climate crisis.

Hosted by Jennifer Myers Chua, and featuring the voices of Carbon Almanac Contributors. Reminding you that it's not too late to join in on the conversation.



[00:01:06] Michi: My name is Michi Mathias, and I live in the UK, at town called Lewis in the south of England. And my role on the carpenter Almanac ended up being a really interesting one. I was doing some hand drawn illustrations. The rest of the Almanac really was quite digital, um, infographics and charts and graphs and things. But this one section really benefited from just a whole different style. And I was really pleased to be able to contribute


[00:01:47] Jennifer: I'm wondering if anyone has learned one thing about the climate crisis from working on the kids project that has just blown your mind, anything.


[00:02:18] Paige: I was a rookie myself when I joined this project. And so when we talk about, current. And she says that she sees the buildings of concrete. It's such, it's so complicated, right? Because concrete is so cheap. So in developing countries, they use concrete to make, these buildings so that they can live and we all have to live. Right. So it's so complicated. We, we need concrete, but concrete is bad for the earth. So we've got to figure out a better way to do it. That's just as inexpensive, the other thing that really surprised me was I was one of those people that thought like, well, I'm recycling. And so I'm doing everything I can. And it turns out that like one of the first things we learned was that the, um, You know, when you throw something in the recycling bin, it doesn't mean that it's being recycled. That just blew my mind. I had heard that, um, and somebody had once said that to me and I thought, oh, he's crazy. But that was what came out. So I, I was a rookie and so I learned so much.


[00:03:28] Michi: My background is in environmental work, which is what I'd been doing for many, many years before in like in a previous life with working with Greenpeace. And ever since I was a kid I've been really concerned about pollution and extinction, all those things. So I'm just an environmentalist through and through.

When I saw it a chance to get involved with this, it was just the perfect thing. Um, I suppose I'm one of those people that I've been involved in environmental stuff for so long that I kind of, sometimes you despair, cause you've been involved for awhile and nothing's making a difference and I just needed, it felt like a way that I could really work with other people and make something happen.


[00:04:51] Jennifer: And Paige, why you sign up?


And I thought, oh my goodness. It has like, it has translated. So, that was just like so remarkable to be working with your hero and then a hero that didn't disappoint because they always say don't work with your heroes. They'll disappoint you, and this did not disappoint. And then to have things be so instantly usable.

And my professional development went so sky high instantly. So that is, that's why I did it. Um, but it's, it's, it's the reason I stayed was the impact that we were making.


[00:06:40] Paige: A hundred percent.


[00:06:54] Paige: With accountable people. That is the key, right? Everybody is so accountable on this project. And, not that I'm not used to accountable people, but this level of accountability is remarkable. You asked for something, it is done in a second and done better than I thought it should be done. Right. Like, wow. I never imagined Michi's illustrations would be as beautiful as they were. And Boon's designed would be as unbelievably captivating to children as it is. I think a lot of times I'm nervous about working with a group, sort of like a group project in school. And you're like, oh, no.

Right. Um, because you always are the one that is pulling me, at least in my case, I always felt like I'm pulling the most weight. And in this. There is there's none of that. We all were the people that felt that way in our school groups. Um, and so anyway, it, I really feel like the accountability and everything being made better by the people on the project, you know, you would say something and then somebody would just come in and add a few words, just made it so much better than you could ever do alone. So as much as I love to work alone, this was remarkable.


[00:08:17] Michi: Well, it was really unbelievable. I would have thought it was impossible that it could work it's, you know, to have that many people in such a non non-hierarchical way where any.

Um, no matter what level of background experience, expertise, whatever everyone was free to go everywhere And comment on anything and make suggestions and, you know, lead and form groups and all that. I just wouldn't have thought it could work. It just doesn't seem reasonable. Um, and yet it did, and it was just remarkable.

The level of energy has been incredible. Um, people just seem to be awake 24 hours a day doing. Um, I think you know, I've been thinking about how, how could this work really? And it, I still find it hard to believe, you know, that, that it did. We got a book together in such a short period of time, and those things usually take years.

Um, and all volunteers, you know, all around the world really was something else. And I think a big part of it is the way Seth managed it. You know, like, like Paige was saying, it was just really amazing to me. He let us run, but he was somehow always had oversights on. And if the thing's going a bit, the wrong way, you know, he would steer it back you with comments, you would encourage.

He was always positive. Um, but you know, he, he had certain things that had to be done. And aside from that, it could go off in all sorts of unexpected directions and let people's own creativity, um, you know, come to come to the fore. So, yeah, I've never seen a collaboration like that. I work on my own all by myself at my desk.

Um, you know, just me and a clients. Um, and I. I'm really used to that. So yeah, this has been a great experience that doesn't always have to be that way.


this experience affected you?


Um, yeah, but, but for this, um, I was actually apprehensive about joining. Um, but then again, Since it's a volunteer stint. Um, I guess people can be more forgiving if, you know, if, if we do not do as well as expected. Um, but it turns out that, um, I guess, to, to echo what Paige has mentioned earlier about Seth about him being a hero and preferably not to work with a hero, I was actually also very apprehensive about that.

Um, but yeah, he worked. So very, very happy about that. It's already very happy.


So like building a ship to ride into space with carbon catching vacuum backpacks. I don't know that could work. What kid or adult inspired climate change invention do you wish was reality?


What's going on? Why is nobody doing anything? if I could wave a magic wand, I would make carbon emissions visible. Right. So if fire spout out of your of your tailpipe every time you, you drove your gasoline car, you'd be pretty, alarm alarmed by that. But it's, since they're invisible, nobody's sort of alarmed. Um, so that's what I would do. I would make it more visible. And I think that people would act as if there was a fire. Because we certainly act when, when things are more viable.


[00:13:16] Michi: I haven't really, really thought that way. I'm afraid. In researching for four I'm encouraging kids to, become inventors themselves. I did look into some of the things that have been in there.

And we've got a few illustrations of those. They're quite sensible things that actually do make a difference that, you know, things that don't need electricity and don't need plastic. So maybe just a whole series of, of changing, what we take as normal, is going to go a long way. I mean, I'm old enough to remember when you didn't walk into a supermarket and you get given a plastic. And when Walter didn't come in bottles, watch about, Yeah. And even glass bottles back in the old days, the only people that had a plastic bottle of water were cyclists or campers, and life was perfectly good then. I think in some ways we have to not think about some, so much standard of living, but quality of life and those things don't. Really need to be happening.


[00:14:24] Boon: I mean, if, if it's going to be some kind of magic contraption, then probably be something to, to snag. Feels Politicians, we're not doing anything about it's kind of changed. So maybe like your trumps and your bar is Johnson's. Yeah. People like that. Snap them, put them away.


[00:14:57] Boon: I guess I just feel that I didn't expect to work so well with both of them. Because when we started off with the cup of, of neck, I don't think we actually crossed paths too much, I guess it does a little bit. Everything was very organized where it's going and when we have discussions, it's very open. So yeah, it was just because this familiarity also kind of straightened this, something like that.


[00:15:39] Michi: Well, Paige has the most incredible energy. And nothing. She doesn't seem to word to know the word, no, or can't do it. This is all new to her, as she said.

And the whole idea of coming up with a kid's book was a completely new idea. And she's just leaped into it with such an admirable level of enthusiasm, which I just think, is fantastic. Um, and my God working with Boone, all I have to do is make , a simple drafty little sketch and heal. You know, place it in the text and do, graphics around you and colors and whatever.

And you can just see how brilliant it's going to be. I was watching your work, you know, during the whole carbon Almanac, the main book process and just amazing, the sort of graphics you were coming up with and to get to work with you directly on this. I just love it. And you're so quick.


[00:16:41] Michi: that. It was, Seth. It was Seth's idea.


[00:17:35] Michi: evaporation. Rudiments of evaporation.


It's so adorable. And she had done that for her kids. And so I now have it on my bathroom. The clarity at which she illustrates was remarkable to me. And so it was just so much fun. We just had so much fun. And the other thing about, um, Michi is she keeps me completely scientifically honest and, um, climate. Honest too. So like whenever I would mention a car, she's like, well, you're assuming that a car is normal. Why don't we go ahead and assume that cars are not normal and then write it. And it just like opened my eyes to the fact that here I am writing a book on climate change, assuming that a car driving a gas car is normal, and now we have to Talk about behavior to sort of mitigate that versus maybe it's not normal.

Maybe we can come up with other ways to travel. It was just so wonderful and Boon. So I had seen boon, we did not work together too much on the actual carbon almond app, but I saw his work because we're allowed to sort of peek in at all the different work streams and. If I do this kids a book or the kids' materials, I want to design it because I just saw, again, clarity of thought,

The ability to, turn something around and make what he was doing on the adult carbon Almanac, or, the regular carpet Almanac was making, chart. To illustrate things that were not necessarily very clear and easy to understand. And all of a sudden I was understanding them. So again, as the target audience for the rookies, I was just blown away by how, how well he could communicate with, with his graphics.


[00:20:27] Boon: I would say it's actually just, um, no one when I read something and I don't understand, I've convinced you that I understand completely before I started to design it. So like what Paige mentioned, she didn't understand idea.

And after seeing the graphics that she's like understand. So for me, it's, I'll need to read articles. Um, sometimes if it's cured, then I'll look at some of the links that get attached, touch with articles. And then once I get through a picture, then I'll try to get up and I'll see that. I'll see what I could. I understand it.


[00:21:05] Michi: It just how my brain works. I really. Planets. Um, I just, I visualize things, like that. But I dunno, I mean, Paige mentioned that graphic recipes, for years, even before I started doing them in a, thinking of publishing or anything, if I read a long, complicated recipe, It would be so annoying.

Like you have to keep going back. How many grams of flour was that? When did he put in the celery? I would just sketch it literally like on the back of an envelope before I could cook just with really rough sketches and arrows and things like that. And to me, that's just how, how I think. I dunno. My, my style, if I have one is very. It's hand-drawn of course. And there's a line between quirky and downright messy. And I'm always fighting with where I sit on that line because, at some point it's, it's good. And at some point it's bad and I'm a really not the right judge for that. But having said that I've been doing some really, really sketchy illustrations just for the drafting at this point.

Because, people may not be aware of this, but when. Like putting illustrations into printed pages, they've got to be the right size. And there's no point coming up with the finished product, because you don't know if it's going to be shrunk or expanded, you want to draw the right size.

So for now I'm just doing really sketchy things and somehow Boon is coloring them? digitally and I'm thinking, oh my God, that almost looks like we could live with it. It's amazing. My creative process involves a lot of drafting, basically. That's that's what takes forever is pencil sketch after pencil sketch And getting things in the right place, getting things to work together on the page. And to fill the space nicely and then, you know, to be really, really clear that you can see what, what happens first, what happens next?

Which part of the illustration matches what, what you want your eye to be drawn to. And what's just sort of background detail. It I'm afraid it's it I'm completely self-taught it just all kind of intuitive. But know I've been doing it for a few years now. Not a lot of years, but a few years. And yeah, still learning constantly.


[00:23:34] Paige: So, we actually interviewed, a bunch of kids, who were the kids of, a lot of the collaborators of the Almanac. And the one thing, um, that kept coming out was don't treat us like babies. So it was, we had to make something is, obviously written at their level, um, is a design that would attract a kid, but not treat them as a baby.

And, the, I think Boone did such a service to our, to our kids materials by, I hope I get this right boon. He are our background. Isn't what. Which would be a little kidsy. Our background is off-white, which is a little more adult, but not quite so adult that a kid wouldn't want to, to engage in it.

And then the primary colors that he used, we do use primary colors, but you'll notice that they're all slightly muted. So the purple is just a little. There's a little mute, bit of muted in the purple and the green, and that made it a little more adult for the kids. Same thing with the writing. You'll notice that it's very conversational and very easy to follow.

And honestly, I think some adults will learn a whole lot reading the kids materials. But we really, really tried to make sure we were not treating the kids like, like babies. That's one thing that they really, asked us to do and what we're going to do. We're right now, about three quarters of the way through the first draft. We will, we're going to throw the whole set of kids materials by the kids again and get their feedback, which I'm sure that they'll love little love to give them.


[00:25:28] Boon: Um, I don't come into contact with lots of kids. So, I did try to get hold of my friends, nieces and nephews. But after a while, I kind of realize that may not be at UVA accurate because. The of vest studies versus the grid of U S the kids. So it's quite different. So I kind of got like very different, feedback from Asian kids.


Some of the endangered species, which would make more of a connection with the kids to think about what they actually are. I've never made a step-by-step illustration guide before, so that was quite, quite fun, um, and challenging.


[00:27:13] Michi: well, yeah. Fair enough.


[00:27:35] Paige: So before I started working, I really thought that individual working, working on their own, in their own little households, you know, sort of starts starts at home. that type change would work and that change We we need to model good behavior. I'm not saying that we shouldn't recycle or we shouldn't, teach children to eat more plants, but what's really got to happen is big systemic change because we all still need to your charge our laptops. Right. And nobody is going to stop charging their laptops. Again, there's no fire coming out of the laptops when you charge them.

We need, um, we need electric companies to switch over to renewables so that when we do plug in our laptops it is better for the environment than the coal that they might be burning to generate that electricity. We need to elect officials that will promote climate change.

Big companies need to change things, right? We still need to buy potatoes. Um, but maybe we buy potatoes, not in a plastic bag, but I can't change that as an individual because potatoes that I need for my mashed potatoes tonight, comment, a plastic


[00:28:44] Michi: I suppose, like I said, at the beginning, the whole idea that you can collaborate with hundreds of people, to get things done. That's a really good model for what we need to do. You don't have to make this happen. And we can't all do everything on our own. Like we all have our particular strengths and weaknesses.

And for instance, I feel very passionate and I feel like I have fairly good knowledge of things, but I don't feel like I'm a, a strong speaker. And that's not something I particularly want to do is go out and argue with people. Well, that's not the right the right way to do anyway, but you know what I mean?

That's probably not the. Take, but if I can do things to help amplify other people who are doing that, then you know, that's a, a legitimate role, which, which can help. So yeah, the whole idea of, um, working with. Lots and lots of other people, which is something that I would have been allergic to before. I see it can, it can work. It can be a good thing.


[00:29:49] Boon: I'm not sure if this is considered, um, but okay. So, so I love I, I, I always love to beat up about them to observe them and I was much younger. Um, but I was a love animals and another way I love to eat meat. So when I teach design I do weave in, topics about sustainability.

I do talk about gender equality. Talk about diversity. So I do discuss things with my students. But I used to think that, okay. So I can't just be talking about these. I need to take some action on my own. So, I am cutting down on me, by kind of still few that may not be enough. And then I joined this and then like, oh, I suddenly have a lot more to talk about when I go back to teach my. So this competition has come up a lot more. Ever since I


[00:30:52] Paige: No, but I do have a comment. I think both of them, when they, how you were asking, how do they do what they do? I think both of them. Approach things with a Le they, the child in them, in both of them never died. Right. There's a piece of of children in both of their minds that is open-minded and willing to be a little wacky. So I, I really appreciate that. Just the ability for them to, first of all embrace the wackiness and really go with it. It makes things so much better. Now I'm going to give you an example of something that happened the other day. Seth had mentioned something. We are doing, we have an in in the kids materials about, how to sort of notice greenhouse gases, how to, how a child can understand about the greenhouse effect.

And we have the kid build like a little greenhouse with a glass bowl. In both cases we needed a thermometer and Seth said to us, well, you don't really need a thermometer. You could use cheese. Like if the cheese melts it's warmer. And I thought, oh my goodness, I, that is something that like I might have mentioned in a corporate meeting and everybody would have just been like, that is so crazy. What are you talking about? Melting cheese, but we all sort of got around the fact that maybe you don't need a thermometer for this project. Maybe we could have the kids meltdown. Chocolate chips or butter or cheese. And that way, if they didn't have a thermometer, they could still do the experiment. And so the ability to keep everybody's everybody on this team's mind open to those wacky ideas, made things so much better


[00:33:13] Michi: Oh, well, thank you. Thank you, Jennifer. I mean, it's been a real great experience for me to actually work with designers. I've never done that before. I've just, as I said, worked on my own, I do things here and, you know, sense to the client and I've had to do. To actually work with the designer and who makes little suggestions along the way that make it better, , like what if this thing were a little bit taller and what if the smoke went here and, um, yeah, with, with an Idaho, it's going to look on the page and the ends. It that's been a great experience.


[00:33:56] Paige: What I want everybody to understand that I learned. Was that I thought in order to enact change, I'd have to maybe go pick it somewhere with a sign. And then maybe that was the only way to do it. Um, and that, you know, that's not really me. And so what could I really help with? So I love to write, I don't mind leading something. And so here I was able to use my. the things that I find fun, to help a cause move forward. And in thinking about, in thinking about like how other people could help, we have actually in both the rookie section, then the kids materials, given ideas like, maybe you don't want to carry signs, but maybe the kids could babysit for people who are carrying the sign. So that's a great contribution. If you're, if you love to cook, maybe you are making food for the volunteers. Maybe you have, maybe you're a bookkeeper and you can help with the, the QuickBooks in the green candidates office, there's so many ways. You don't have to just go and pick it up and you don't have to sit on a phone and fundraise. Those are like two things that I would never consider myself. A good person four, but there are just so many ways. So in my case, it was writing and, , and organizing, and who would have thought that actually could make a difference, but it ended up being such a great hobby. Right? It was the thing that when, whenever I was doing something at work that was hard. I'd always come back to the carbon Almanac and do something that I found sort of joyful. And then I'd go back to work and I'd be in a better mood. Um, so I think that's really important for people to understand that you don't have to just stand there and, carry the signs. You can do so many things.


And there's a sort of general policy that you don't work for free, except in very special circumstances. I've always thought if it's something that I would have done anyway. Of course, I would do that for free and this is exactly, fitting that bill. , my illustration tends to be for educational or environmental or social change or, that kind of thing. Whereas trying to get a message out into the world, and contribute. It's just been such a delight. And you meet such wonderful people here as well. I mean, the energy, the commitments, um, it really is an experience like no other.



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