Get visual and start sketchnoting
At some point in our lives many of us put down our crayons, pencils or markers and stop drawing. It is a truly sad thing. The benefits of drawing range from simple enjoyment to information retention. And if you think you can’t draw, you are wrong.
You may even remember when this happened for you, did you:
- see a friends drawing and thought it was ‘better’.
- get told your drawing wasn’t ‘good’ enough.
- get punished for doing it when you shouldn’t.
- stop because there was something else you ‘better’ at.
Or maybe you didn’t stop, but you only ‘doodle’. You draw in the margins, you create shapes in your notes or scribble on the newspaper.
If you aren’t still drawing, sketching or doodling you are missing out on an activity that is proven to reduce stress and aid in memory retention. It relaxes your brain and when you draw during meetings or sketchnote a presentation you are more likely to retain the information than when taking word-for-word notes. Here are some great sources which discuss these benefits.
- The “thinking” benefits of doodling – Harvard Medical School
- Why visual learning and teaching? – Insight resources
- How to stop taking useless notes at work – Fast Company
Drawing is a relatable activity that can cross cultural barriers. It is an engaging way to convey a message and is an activity that can be done on your own, or in a group. It also has a low barrier to entry: paper and pencil, whiteboard or butchers paper and marker, even digital drawing devices are becoming more common and easy to use.
One of my favourite doodlers, Sunni Brown, covers it beautifully in her TED talk.
Get over it
Now that we know that drawing is beneficial, there are some fundamental facts that we all need to acknowledge to be able to move forward and get sketchy.
- Drawing is a skill that can be learned
- Art is subjective
- Drawing and art can be mutually exclusive
To convey a message with a drawing you do not need a life-like illustration, you just need to have a reasonable representation.
In a nutshell – Anyone can draw. This means you.
Sketchnoting is a term to describe taking notes using visual and typographical elements, rather than handwritten notes. The Sketchnote Army describes it as “purposeful doodling while listening to something interesting”.
Any more specific definition would defeat the purpose. Sketchnotes are your perspective on the content you are recording. How you approach a sketchnote is up to you, but it can help to have some guidance on the how.
Find what you like to use, what you’re comfortable with or even experiment a little. But the safest place to start is with what you know.
It may be a pen or it may be a stylus, but you need at least two key elements:
- A liner (a pen, pencil, marker)
- A shader (a highlighter, a copic marker)
These will give you the ability to make shapes and lines, but also the ability to shade them which gives depth and interest.
Whether you use digital or non-digital medium is up to personal preference. But it is interesting to experiment with both. There are pros and cons to be aware of, and I have a sketchnote (both digital and analogue) which covers what you may want to consider.
Take the time to learn some basics to get you going. Take the time to practice these to prepare to sketch:
- Basic elements – Five shapes to make all the shapes
- Stick figures – give your people some body
- Expressions – make your faces make faces
- Arrows, containers and symbols – add finesse
- Lettering – Making your words stand out
- Layouts – How to set out and structure your page
These basic elements could be the subject of a blog post each (and may be in the future). In the meantime I recommend The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rodhe which (in my opinion) is the bible for sketchnoters.
A bit of planning will help you get in a comfortable space to do your sketchnoting.
Before you get started choose a subject to sketchnote and do a bit of preparation and research.
- Recorded presentations like TED talks
- Podcasts, particularly informational (rather than fiction)
- Meetings, if you don’t need to run it, sketch it
- Live events such as conferences or meetups
Pre-recorded sessions are a great place to start as there is no pressure and you can pause if you get stuck. 15 minutes is a good length to start with, but presentations are usually at least 30, up to 60 minutes.
It’s a little easier if you are sketchnoting in the comfort of your home when you can pause and run to the other room for a spare marker. But preparation is a good habit if you want to take your sketchnoting to a coming conference or meeting.
- Gather all your equipment, and have spares (batteries or pens)
- Know what you’re sketching before you start – if there is a synopsis, read it (no, it’s not cheating)
- Put the title and speaker name on your page (try a little sketch of the speaker)
- Be in a comfortable and well lit position where you can hear well
Like any skill, drawing and sketchnoting will improve with practice, and there is no better time than the present.
My sketchnotes have changed a lot since I first started doing them. This is through years of practice and experimentation.
If you start to practice sketchnoting I’d love to see your work! Post in the comments below.