Home

Robert Black’s
Cartooning Journal  



We live in an age of information overload.

All the easy problems have been solved. What are left are the trickier, abstract and nebulous problems that take creative insights to solve. What I love about my work as a Strategy Cartoonist, is finding visual metaphors that help people see things in a new or different way.

Here are some samples of the kind of work I do...


A workshop with The Lot 

Last week I participated in a large two day strategy workshop, and this time the client wanted the works — huge pre-drawn workshop banners detailing the structure of both the workshop and the next 12 months, my attendance at the workshop to draw metaphors capturing both the mood of the room and key issues, and a Journey Poster at the end based on what had been discussed in the workshop.

The client was the management group from a division of one of the big three banks…

Tinderbox’s flaming 7 

Every so often, I get an interesting job that brings my skills as a cartoonist to a design project. Recently, one such project was modifying the application icon for Tinderbox 7.

Tinderbox is incredibly powerful yet easy to use ‘pro’ software for writing, dissecting, structuring and working with complex information, that is used by everyone from novel writers to security data analysts.

The lovely original icon was designed by Brian Bell, who’s highly regarded in the Mac community for his app icons, but when Tinderbox 6 came out two years ago, Brian wasn't available to revise the icon, so the developer had added a number 6 to it himself.

As a cartoonist, it seemed to me that using a plain white Helvetica numeral was missing an opportunity, so I changed the flame in the old Tinderbox logo into a flaming ‘6’, and sent it off the the developer, Mark Bernstein. Mark loved it, and so my 6 ended up emblazoned on the icon for Tinderbox 6…

Fast forward two years — Mark was working on Tinderbox 7, and he needed a new flaming number 7. Ah! While the flaming was 6 had seemed obvious, a flaming 7 in the same style wasn’t so immediately apparent. But, after a little doodling I realised that the flame could fit inside the number rather than above it.

I’m really happy with the final flaming 7 — it’s kind of nice to sit down to my computer each day and see my work right there in the application dock, adorning software that is so widely and highly regarded. I guess I should start thinking about Tinderbox 8 soon?

Company Blogs and LinkedIn Posts 

Recently I’ve had a number of companies approach me to draw custom cartoons for their corporate blogs, or articles they’ve written for posting on LinkedIn.

It’s a smart move by companies wanting to use tailored imagery that stands out from the pack, while at the same time reinforcing the message of a particular post with humour and visual metaphors.

I’ve adopted a style for these cartoons of drawing them mainly in black, white and grey plus the main branding colour from the client. In some cases I even integrate the client’s logo somewhere into the image to reinforce their brand online…

(samples above taken from work done for Nuffield Group)

Finalist at the 2016 Stanleys! 

Finalist at the 2016 Stanleys!

Last night I had the great honour of again being a finalist for Australia’s Single Panel Gag Cartoonist of the Year at the national awards for professional cartoonists — The Stanleys. That’s 2 years in a row for The Sharp End.

As I’ve said before, these awards are voted on by all of Australia’s professional newspaper cartoonists, and the competition for this category is very high, so I’m thrilled!

Congratulations go to this year’s well-deserved winner Matt Golding from The Age!

Journey Posters 

One of the things I get to work on are journey posters. They allow a company or group to put something complex into cartoon metaphors.

These are detailed large-scale images made up of many smaller drawings that use multiple metaphors to build up a bigger picture of the evolution of a process/​company/​culture/​values over time. Here are some very recent Journey Poster projects…

AEMO Video 

Jock and I have been doing a lot of videos in the last month or two, for the Victorian Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Lake Macquarie City, Manningham City, etc. This is one of two we’ve done for the Australian Energy Market Operator, AEMO — it’s on the topic of Power System Security, a subject that’s been in the news here a lot lately…

There’s a page dedicated to our videos where you can see more examples of how our engaging videos can be used to explain the ‘why’ behind complex issues.

COP21 Paris 

In November and December I was commissioned to draw cartoons for the European Climate Foundation, which they used as communication tools for various contentious issues in the lead-up and during the United Nations’ COP21 climate talks in Paris. I developed imagery based on issues from delegates at the conference in Paris, drew them here in Melbourne and sent them back via email. It was all very exciting!

(move cursor over images to pause slideshow)

2015 Stanleys 

I just wanted to share some news… The national Australian cartoonist awards, The Stanleys, were held last night, and I’m thrilled to say I was one of a handful of nominees for the coveted Stanley Award for Best Australian Gag Cartoonist of 2015, for my work on The Sharp End.

No, I didn’t win – but it’s a huge honour to even be a finalist after only a few years as a cartoonist, because these awards are voted on by all of Australia’s professional cartoonists.

Congratulations to the well-deserved winner Cathy Wilcox (2 years in a row!)

Theatre Posters for God of Carnage 

Theatre Posters for God of Carnage

Occasionally I get to design posters for the theatre, which is always a treat. I’m particularly fond of my latest design for the stage play “God of Carnage”.

Here’s the blurb for the play, which will give you an idea of why I’ve drawn this image…

“This widely staged and acclaimed play questions the values of society through a discourse between two couples meeting to discuss their sons and a fight that resulted in one injuring the other. A civilised and moderate discussion evolves or rather disintegrates into chaos as the couples begin to disagree.

Dramatic and dramatically funny.”

It’s a great play.

The Age, the weird and the truly wonderful 

The Age, the weird and the truly wonderful

In December I had a chance few in my industry get – to draw a cartoon for Australia’s pre-eminent daily newspaper, The Age.

It came about because one of the paper’s most respected cartoonists had taken up my cause, championing my work to the editors. With things quiet over Christmas, my opportunity came – would I like to illustrate a Sunday column by one of the paper’s stalwarts, John Elder?

Umm… Yes!

My simple brief was to illustrate a column still being written, that would pivot around 5 odd stories that had been in the media that year…

I had two days to turn it around, and they expected some sort of montage – after all, how could such disparate stories fit into one image? But it occurred to me that there was one place they might all cross paths in their stories: a hotel lobby. So that’s what I drew, from the kitchen table of our rented holiday house on Christmas night.

It got a big thumbs up from the editor and writer, and went to press as-is. Here’s the image that appeared on page 4 of the Sunday Age, 28 December 2014

They even used it as the poster outside newsagents around Melbourne. You can read the full article here.

Moving Pictures 

After being asked for the 100th time by clients if we offered animated videos of our cartoons, Jock and I decided to try our hand at producing one. That brought in some orders, and we’ve since done a bunch of them. Here’s one we did recently…

Thanks go to Jock Macneish my cartooning colleague, and Sarah Dempster for the voiceover.

Update: I now have a page dedicated to our videos where you can see more samples.

Mensa Journal Cover 

Mensa Journal Cover

My cartoon is on the cover of Mensa Australia's journal, just out — the theme of the issue is humour.

There's also a full page article inside about my work as a strategy cartoonist.

Here’s a link to a large version.


Hypothetical Customer Contact 

A week ago I completed work on a series of eight large posters that mapped out customer contact and interaction paths for another major energy sector company. While I normally do workshop cartoons in person, these were different — they were produced in advance of the workshop, scripted, and highly produced.

The international consulting firm that brought me on board used the drawings as the centrepiece of a 5 hour workshop which brainstormed hypothetical customer interactions and ways to improve them. The drawings were digitally printed as posters one metre high by 4 metres long.

Word has since come back that the workshop, and the posters integral to it, were a huge success…

"Today we had a 5 hour workshop with over 20 client team participants, with most of the time spent on the cartoons. They enabled us to have structured and energised conversations on important elements of the new propositions. It worked really well and the clients enjoyed this ‘different’ way of workshopping. Feedback was very positive. … this really provides us with an added value"

Customer 1

The AGE and my newspaper cartoons 

Robert Black

It’s not quite Strategy or Corporate, but there’s a nice newspaper article about me in the Melbourne AGE and the Sydney Morning Herald, about how I use an iPad to draw cartoons for my series in the Warrandyte Diary newspaper.


Cartoons for consultancy website 

I’m just wrapping up a project doing a series of cartoons for the website of a boutique consulting company in Western Australia. They’ve got a very nice website, but they felt that it was just a bit text heavy for their audience, so they asked me to create some cartoons based around the work they do.

I think their logo is really attractive, so I based my cartoons around combining it in various ways with the subject matter on each page of their website. A bonus is that anyone visiting the website will recognise that the cartoons have been drawn specifically for their site.

Partnership workshops 

Partnership workshops

I’ve just helped out at 2 one-day workshops for the Australian division of a major international energy company. Run by a consultant who specialises in relationship management between companies in strategic alliances, the workshops came about because the client is working with two Australian infrastructure companies, and together they’re all learning how to work together in a ‘high-performance’ way. I was there to visually explore the issues they’re grappling with - trust, shared-risk, dealing with regulators, etc - by using cartoons.

Mining illustrations 

Mining illustrations

I've just completed a huge project for one of my major mining clients. Eighteen posters and over a hundred drawings using cartoon characters to explain some highly technical details.

The 3D computer-generated images they already had were so complex that people were having trouble reading and understanding them, whereas cartoons allow them to put in exactly as much information as is required for people to understand what's happening, and strip out everything else. Sometimes, too much detail is just overwhelming.

Safety handbook 

I've just done a series of cartoons for an Australian mining company's safety handbook. They already have an amazing safety procedure manual as thick as a phone book, to appease the lawyers and regulators, but they were finding that many of their workers just were refusing to read through such verbose and boring documentation. So they've commissioned this 20 page handbook to capture an overview of the principles of their safety policies, and make them easily accessible and visual for their workers.

Contamination awareness 

Contamination awareness

I've just completed a commissioned series of cartoons and a logo for a contamination prevention awareness campaign. A large Australian company has realised after doing a little research that it can save tens of millions a year in reduced maintenance, spoiled supplies, and equipment down time if they lessen lubrication and fuel contamination.

It may be as simple as people leaving the lid off a drum when there's dust blowing around a work site, leading quickly to very large and expensive equipment needing to be taken out of service.

Interestingly they intend using these materials in countries around Asia where they have other operations.

Financial services company leadership workshop 

Just completed a three day Leadership Workshop/Forum with the management of a major Australian financial services company. The meeting was run by a professional facilitator, and my role was to sit in the corner and draw large cartoon metaphors for the discussions between the participants, visually capturing some of its essence. The setting was the beautiful sea-side retreat of the Melbourne Business School at Mt Eliza.

It’s interesting how people grappling with abstract ideas and lots of words, gain fresh insights when they see them interpreted as image metaphors.

Financial services company leadership workshop

This photo shows the posters pinned up for further discussion on the last day. That’s Paul the facilitator out front - I’m behind the camera, taking the photo.

The Pencil Sharpener logo, logotype and
all artwork and content on this site are
Copyright © 2017 Robert Black