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I am an incessant doodler and constant illustrator. I tend to make sense out of ideas by sketching them in notebooks and whiteboards and random scraps of paper. However, when I first began this blog back in 2002, I hid my artistic side. I wrote personal posts but I didn’t include any of my sketches because I wasn’t a “real artist.” Over time, I began slipping in a few sketches and eventually began making my own sketchnote videos. It wasn’t a branding decision. I simply wanted to express my ideas visually. I had always been self-conscious about my voice and drawing ability. And yet, I now regularly create podcasts and sketch videos, like the one I posted to YouTube last night:

When I delivered my first ever keynote, I convinced myself that my slideshow had to look professional. I defined “professional” as being business-like, clean, and minimal. However, I included two different slides that I had drawn by hand. To my surprise, those two slides resonated the most with teachers. In my next keynote, I added a few more sketches and noticed the same thing. Eventually, I switched entirely from a corporate / professional look and toward something fun and playful and hand-drawn. These illustrations are now a key part of my keynotes and workshops. I know this sounds odd but I feel like I am able to be myself when my sketches are a part of my presentations.

Over the last year, I have started using my sketches in stickers and t-shirts. Here’s what I mean:

Recently, the folks at RushOrderTees reached out to me to see if I wanted to test out their t-shirts with one my sketches. Here’s what I chose:

When the package arrived, I immediately noticed the quality. It feels soft and fits well. It doesn’t feel like the typical t-shirt you might get from an education conference. This was important to me, because I want to give away t-shirts when I speak, just like I give away stickers and books. RushOrderTees has a lot of options in their t-shirt category  and I love the way they give you a lower price if you order in bulk. I also love the ease of re-sizing and customizing the actual designs. It’s fast and intuitive. I chose to go with a teal shirt with my Make Something Awesome robot:


A few weeks ago, I wore this at a workshop for the first time. Initially, I had packed a suit. However, with Covid cases spiking, they moved toward an outdoor, socially distanced model and told me to wear a t-shirt and shorts. The good news is I had packed this shirt and had a pair of shorts and my Space Jams themed Chuck T’s. I’m not great with selfies but here’s what it looks like.

At the end of the day, I decided that I’m going to start wearing this shirt in other keynotes and workshops. Actually, I’m going to buy multiple shirts to give some away. I might just do some sweatshirts and play around with other designs.

A decade or two ago, I had hidden artistic side because I didn’t feel like a “real artist.” Now, I want to share my work with others. I want to put my sketches on stickers and plaster them on my laptop cover. I’m going to keep using sketches in videos, slideshows, and blog posts. And, yes, I’ll be making more shirts, hats, and sweatshirts with my illustrations.

I realize that it might not look as professional as a suit. However, I’ve been thinking about that word “professional.” It comes from the Latin word professiō, meaning “public acknowledgment.” It’s also where we get our words profess and professor from.

If professional means “public acknowledgment,” then maybe sharing my work is the most professional thing I can do. If it relates to the idea “profess,” then one of the core convictions is that we are all creative and we should all be bold in sharing our creative work. If clothing is a manifestation of our beliefs and our style, then maybe something fun and quirky and creative might just suit me better than a suit.


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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