World Sketchnote Day 2016

As it’s World Sketchnote Day 2016 tomorrow, I couldn’t let it go by un-mentioned. Looks like it will be a day full of enthusiasm and evangelism for sketchnoting.

Early beginnings

In common with lots of people who sketchnote now, my initial move towards incorporating visual elements came out of the realisation that purely text based notes were not that effective for me. I tended not to go back and read them, and the futile attempt to capture everything from a lecture or talk had the counter productive effect of turning my handwriting into an illegible scrawl.

I have some early drawings I did whilst at a conference way back in 2005, but they were more like observational drawings or single idea illustrations.

Sketchnotes from @media2005

It wasn’t until I undertook some Postgrad study and needed to take notes more systematically that I needed a more robust solution. I came across mindmapping as a more effective note taking strategy and my notes have progressed from there.

Lecture Mindmap

Process not capture

The big leap forward for me was the simple realisation that notes aren’t just about capture, but they are also about processing what is in front of you and creating an artifact that is useful to YOU. The decision to be more visual has the fantastic effect of demanding you be more engaged with your notes, and the effort you put in is amply rewarded. The simple pleasure of making marks, and playing with shapes provides a focus that is very difficult to achieve any other way.

Collection of first big conference sketchnotes

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to attend some great conferences and I’ve found them the best way to hone your note-taking skills. The examples above from my first big exercises in live sketchnoting where I found time pressure is wonderfully constraining - you know you can’t capture it all, so you take just what is of particular interest to you. The main point of sketchnoting is to take notes that are useful to YOU. All my most useful sketchnotes have come when under pressure to move on and not get distracted by how enjoyable it is to draw. I’m sure that I’m not the only sketchnoter to get so caught up in drawing letters to realise I’ve spelt a word wrong.

How to kill a sketchnote

Sometimes, I’ve started a sketchnote with the knowledge that I will be sharing it, and I have to be careful that it doesn’t kill it. The pressure to create something more finished and presentable can easily rob the sketchnote of the very individuality and energy that makes them work for you (and often the very thing that intrigues other people). The line between illustration and sketchnote can be pretty blurred sometime.

I’ve been lucky enough that the lovely people at Five Simple Steps asked me to put some of what I’ve learnt into a little book that might help people get started with sketchnotes, and following my own advice I’ve decide to..

Trying new things

Luckily enough I’ve just finished a book I was reading, and thought it’d be a good time to try a new sketchnoting method. I’ve previously been mostly analogue in my notes, enjoying the immediacy and tactile pleasure of pen and paper, so for this one I thought I’d try ‘Paper’ by FiftyThree.

I’m still getting to grips with it but enjoyed the way that blocking out areas of colour is so easy. The principle of working with the properties of the medium hold true whether it’s a super advanced tablet and pencil combo or the humble Biro.