Sketching for solace and sanity

Sketching and sketchnoting as a hobby and sometimes a side-gig has taken a new dimension for me this year. The reasons for that new dimensions are known to everyone, but the benefits are more accessible to you than you may realise.

I get asked a lot how to get in to sketching and sketchnoting. I am adamant that it is something which is achievable for anyone. I have written in the past about how to get started.

What I have to share with you is a journey through 6 months of lockdown, and the different ways I have benefited from sketching during this time. Perhaps one of these ignites a little spark with you, and gets you to put pencil, pen or stylus to paper or tablet.

Comic relief

If you have a funny idea, something on your mind, a bit of satire maybe, grab your pencil and get it down.

Earlier in the year, when the global impacts of COVID were just coming to light, in Australia we had already experienced fire and flood. Then I read a news article that suggested an asteroid was headed our way in April.

I learned: When times start to get tough, a bit of humour can provide relief. Even if it’s just for your own consumption.

Summarising a new experience

Most commonly I sketch at events to summarise a session, but in March I felt compelled to summarise an experience. My first digital conference was the Microsoft MVP Summit. I produced a brainstorm style sketchnote at the end of the event to summarise my experience as an attendee in a style of conference that I was not used to, and that was a different approach for the organising team.

I learned: Collating my thoughts in a bit of a visual pro/con list helped me understand how I would approach things differently next time.

Virtual Conference Experience #MVPSummit
Virtual Conference Experience #MVPSummit on Flickr

Another day, different style

Just like writing a list can give you a tangible view of your tasks, sketching your day can give insights in to where you are spending your time.

In May Luise Freese and I put the challenge out to listeners of the Uptake Podcast to sketch a day in their life, and of course I shared my own.

I also chose to use pastels on black paper, because I was craving something other than a screen.

I learned: Putting your day on paper is an eye opener when you are under stress. Trying a more lo-fi medium can be freeing and refreshing.

Sketchnotes of my average day at the moment
Sketchnotes of my average day at the moment on Flickr

Back to basics

In May I was also co-organising M365 May. The last sketch shows how much I was pushing into a day. This sketchnote was the only other one I did that month, and for the next few. Of the 115 sessions we ran, I sketchnoted one. I wasn’t able to make the time to do any others.

I learned: If I don’t have time to sketchnote (i.e. do things I enjoy), I am not managing my time well. Sketchnoting is like riding a bike, you don’t forget.

Drawing a journal

Skip forward to August when I have realised that I am no longer in an introverts paradise and lockdown is taking it’s toll. I embrace a lovely gift and use my sketchbook from The Sketchbook Project to draw every day in August.

I treated it like a journal, picking something which represented my day and tried to use different stationery from my stash.

The image pictured shows the 5 km circle around my home which is the travel limit under lockdown.

It’s not easy, but it is rewarding.

I learned: That the days I wanted to draw the least, ended in some of my favourite sketches.

Capturing a process

I use sketchnotes at work a lot to lay out a process on whiteboard or paper, but I had not done it for something in my personal life. To compensate for not being able to buy a good coffee regularly, I have tried my hand at pour over and sketched out my morning coffee routine as part of my August challenge.

I learned: Sketchnoting something that may see a mundane part of your life can help illustrate the joy that exists in the little things.

My morning coffee routine
My morning coffee routine on Flickr

Escaping the digital

By the end of August I had been spending most of my working day in front of a screen, so I found myself avoiding it in my spare time.

When it came to another large conference which was supposed to be in-person but moved online, I made a last minute decision to sketch on paper, rather than on tablet. I didn’t know at the time what a great choice it was.

I sketched my online conference set up to demonstrate the digital overload, and unintentionally created a guide.

I learned: Sketchnoting an online conference allowed me the ability to focus on the content, and not the distractions around me. Doing them on paper, rather than digital, reduced the screen exposure and was less tiring.

Online conference set up
Online conference set up on Flickr

Break down the day

During the August conference, I again became aware of where I was spending my time. I was curious about how I would feel about where I was spending my time if I could see it represented in a simple graphical format.

This day in particular was one of many where I did not leave the house (house = 2 bedrooom apartment).

I learned: The simplicity of a pie chart is a powerful way to look at how you spend your time.


Gratitude journaling is not a new concept, but it is one that I have actively not embraced. I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. Sometimes it takes the right person and a particular angle to get you over the line. I took on the advice about the benefits of gratitude journals, and watched Shawn Achor’s TEDxBloomington talk. Then I added my own spin.

In my journal I have been adding 3 small sketches, every day, that represent what I am grateful for from the day.

I learned: Adapting something to your own style can be a gateway to new ways of thinking and learning.

Extract from my journal, Friday September 4. Deck chair, TGIF flag and injection.

Note: While the icons trigger my memory, they may not make sense to you. By way of explanation I have drawn 1/ My new deck chair for my balcony 2/ Thank Goodness It’s Friday (TGIF) 3/ The injection I get every 3 weeks that keeps my chronic illness in control.

Go big when you’re at home

Large scale sketching is something I usually save for meetings where I hit the whiteboard. It’s been years since I have done it for an event. Sounds a bit dramatic, but a sports injury in my shoulder makes it a bit challenging.

When Microsoft Ignite came around I just didn’t want to be sitting in my chair, glued to the screen. So I grabbed my Sharpies and my 3M flip charts, stood up and sketched on my wall. It was a perfect solution from my spare-room office.

I learned: Standing and sketching brings a next level of energy and engagement in content. Bringing my full range of movement felt freeing, if only because I wasn’t confined to a seat.

Sometimes, if you want to do something you have to force yourself to do it, even if you enjoy it. That is my key learning from the last 6 months. That I needed to give myself the space to do something I enjoy and do it in different ways.

I encourage you to flex your sketching muscles and try something old or new. If you do, please let me know as I’d love to see it.

If you have had a similar experience to share, or have questions, please post below.

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