sketchnote tutorial

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective Sketchnoters

    Yes, I stole the 7 lessons from Stephen Covey’s classic book and applied them to sketchnoting. They don’t fit neatly in some cases, but it’s a bit of fun and a creative exercise.


    1. Be proactive

    Don’t try to think of how to sketch in the moment.

    Build a bank of ideas (a visual library) which you can draw upon (pun intended) when you need them.

    If you know a topic, learn the key concepts and practice them.

    2. Begin with the end in mind

    Before you start your sketchnote, listen for clues to the structure.

    If you know this talk has 3 main points, you can plan a layout with 3 sections.

    If you know it will be a 1hr talk, don’t take up 90% of your space in the first 10 minutes.

    3. Put first things first

    You don’t have to get every detail down in the moment.

    Capture the main point or a reminder and you can add details later.

    4. Think win/win

    Highly effective sketchnoters are community members.

    They know there are plenty of great ideas and job opportunities. We can all share and help each other without harming ourselves.

    5. Seek first to understand then to be understood

    Sketchnoting is more about understanding than art skills.

    Make sure you’ve understood the speaker before putting pen to paper.

    And focus on clear, easy to understand images.

    6. Synergies

    A synergy is the combination of two things to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

    This can happen when we combine both text and words as elements in sketchnotes.

    We gain clear words that evoke stronger feelings.

    7. Sharpen the saw

    The best sketchnoters are constantly developing, growing and learning.

    The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to be always learning.

    • Try different styles,
    • Set limits,
    • Use new tools

    But above all, have fun.

    Recap – 7 habits of highly effective sketchnoters

    1. Be proactive
    2. Begin with the end in mind
    3. Put first things first
    4. Think win/win
    5. Seek first to understand then to be understood
    6. Synergies
    7. Sharpen the saw

    Which did you find the most interesting? 

  • 4 Simple Sketchnote Banners Anyone Can Do

    Banners are a great way to show what is a header without learning a fancy font and they work with those too. In this short post, I’ll go through the simplest way to create a banner for a header in your sketchnotes and then share a few variations you can try.

    Step one: write the header

    You could make the banner first, but for beginners it’s far better to start with the text. It takes time to develop an instinctive knowledge of how much space text will take up and even then, things can go wrong.

    By writing the heading first, you know how much space your banner will need to take up.

    Write the heading text

    Step two: draw a rectangle around the text

    In theory, you could stop at this step. That really would be the simplest banner! But we’re going to add a couple more steps to create something a bit more interesting.

    add and outline

    Step three: Draw some offset parallel Lines

    If you have a dot grid notebook or paper, you can offset your banner exactly. In a plain notebook, you’ll need to go with your eye. Try to keep them the same height and more or less even.

    Step four: connect the lines diagonally

    Now, add diagonal lines from the front part of the banner to the background elements. This should form small triangles which are the fold in the banner.
    With this step, you’re basically done.

    Step five: finish it off!

    At this point, all you need to do is close of your banner and add any final touches you want. This can include filling in the “folded” section to add some depth, or adding some shadow below the banner to make it appear like it is floating.
    If you are a using a digital tool, it’s easy to add multiple shades of colour with the front of the banner the lightest, the back layer slightly darker and the fold the darkest.

    More simple sketchnote headers and upgrades

    While this is a very simple way to create banners for sketchnotes, there are some alternatives and small upgrades that can enhance your headlines.

    1. The wavey banner

    Instead of a straight rectangle, create a wavey banner that looks like it is blowing in the wind.

    A couple of points to note:

    1. Make sure the waves are in parallel
    2. If you can, make the text warp to the banner coming closer or further away.

    2. The sign

    This headline uses a rectangle as well, but instead of making it look like a ribbon, we add posts to make it look like a sign. For smaller text, you can add one pillar, or you can use multiple for larger one.

    You might want to change the signs shape to match the message such as pointing in a direction.

    3. The cork board

    This time, we’re putting paper on a cork board. Start with an outline that represents a piece of paper with the information. This “paper” can be flat and even, or it can bend and flex as it comes of the board — it’s your choice.

    Next, add pins to each corner (and optionally, the middle) of the paper before finally adding the cork board behind the “paper”.

    Time to apply!

    There are hundreds more styles of banners, some subtle variations and some more complicated styles. The most important thing to do is to practice them. Once you’ve nailed these, see if you can emulate the styles of other sketchnoter, or create your own stock sketchnote header template.

  • In Procreate 5.2 they introduced Brush Size memory, a new feature where you can save multiple sizes for the same brush. Here’s why Brush size memory is great for sketchnoters.

    Procreate is great for sketchnotes…except

    I love procreate for making sketchnotes. While it can be a bit feature heavy and cumbersome when you first start, the beautiful brushes, multiple layers and powerful export options help me create sketchnotes I like.

    why sketchnote with procreate

    The only issue with Procreate is that it gives you TOO many options. There are so many brushes and colours that they can get in the way for people who prefer a simpler app like Paper by WeTransfer.

    One of my ways around this was to use a single set of “sketchnoting” brushes with about five pens for normal text, headlines, brush lettering, filling, stippling and airbrush effects. This worked well but if I ever adjusted the size of a brush (to move between headline text and subheading, or to add more detail in an icon) it would be near impossible to return to my previous brush size.

    My solution was to duplicate brushes but that made the interface more cumbersome and wasn’t perfect either. I could still adjust these brushes and then not be able to return to my previous state.

    This new feature from Procreate has solved that challenge.

    How Brush size memory works

    The brush size slider has been around for a long time and allows you to increase and decrease the size of your current brush.

    Now you just tap the plus icon that appears in the top right corner of the brush size preview and it will add a marker.

    This marker has some “magnetism” to it, so as you move up and down the slider in the future and get close to your saved point, the slider will stick there.

    Why the brush size memory feature is great for sketchnotes

    Let’s say you have a good brush to use for a headline and subheadline, you might want to keep your sub headlines roughly the same size but lose it when you change between canvases.

    Not an issue anymore, now you just put two markers down and you can just between the headline and subheadline size.

    This can work for sketching and having different size details or to have a tool to fill in large sections or colour in details.

    Thank you procreate!

    Honestly, this has removed one of my biggest frustrations with procreate and removed the need for my old duplicate brushes. Now I can have fewer brushes in my sketchnote set, more size variety, more consistency of style and jump to the option I want faster.

    Thank you procreate.

  • Creating and using a stock sketchnote header template

    Sketchnoting under pressure can be a real challenge. Having ready to go ideas and templates can help you make something good, quickly, without thinking. You can use templates for the whole sketchnote, but you can also use templates for part of the sketchnote. Recently I came up with a simple stock sketchnote header template that has helped take decisions out of my sketchnoting process and raise the quality of sketchnotes I can create under time pressure.

    What should you include in your sketchnote’s header area?

    Depending on the topic you are sketchnoting, you may want to include or exclude certain elements. For example, a date may be important to include for a sketchnote on a talk, but not as useful for a sketchnote on a book.

    • Title or topic
    • A picture of the speaker(s) or author(s)
    • The name of the speaker(s) or author(s)
    • The title of what the topic is connected to. (The event, a sermon series, book)
    • A logo (of the event, or the speaker,
    An example stock sketchnote header template
    An example stock sketchnote header template

    What header text should you use?

    There are lots of different types of text you can use for your header.

    The simplest is to use a “heavier” font, or bold text. This will make it stand out and be clearly legible.

    However, depending on the topic, you might want to use a font that is

    • more elegant
    • more futuristic
    • more formal
    • more causal

    There is a simple trick you can use if you aren’t sure. By simply placing a basic single line of your text, you can then embellish it later.

    Should you always add a portrait?

    A portrait can really had character to a sketchnote. But adding a drawing adds pressure for those of us who are less confident with drawing. One option is to add a simple outline in the moment, and you can add details later.

    When it comes to actually drawing the portrait, focus on the key details and characteristic attributes of the person you are drawing.

    How should you arrange the elements in your header

    I recommend setting keeping your title text as the largest element, with a portrait or logo to the left of the text. You can then place any other smaller or less important elements under their respective parts.

    How to arrange information in  a stock sketchnote header

    So you can place the name of the speaker or author under the authors picture, and the date of the event under the title.

    Ready to use a stock sketchnote header template?

    You don’t have to stick ridgedly to your sketchnote header template, and you can even create one before the event if you are live sketchnoting, or afterwards to help you avoid time pressures.

    Do you use a different sketchnote header template? Let me know in the comments.

  • How to Start Sketchnoting today

    I struggled to start sketchnoting. Although I caught the idea immediately but putting pen to paper felt overwhelming. I don’t want you to suffer the same issue, so here is a simple guide to start sketchnoting today.

    This could be a useful classroom activity to introduce sketchnotes to students.

    Want a video guide?

    Sign up for the free course and follow a video walkthrough.

    Table of Contents

      What are sketchnotes?

      Sketchnotes are a form of visual notetaking that includes both text and graphical elements such as icons, banners, dividers, multiple colors and layouts. They don’t tend to follow strict left to right, top to bottom organization but instead are more flexible in their layouts.

      You can learn more about what Sketchnotes are and why you should use them in this post.

      Why should I bother with Sketchnotes?

      Visual note-taking, such as sketchnotes, helps engage with conference talks, lectures and lessons and remember more information. It’s no wonder students, teachers and average Joes have started using this note taking method in the classroom, at conferences and at home for study and personal reflection.

      Read this post if you’d like to know more about the benefits of sketchnoting.

      What should I start sketchnoting?

      You can sketchnote anything you want. It can be a conference talk that is occurring live, a lesson in your classroom or notes on a book you’ve just read.

      It can be information someone else has given you, or ideas and plans you are thinking through.

      For your first sketchnote, I suggest you make a sketchnote selfie including information about yourself. This is a topic that you are bound to be familiar with and will have a unique element of yourself.

      I can’t draw, can I still sketchnote?

      Yes! you can! There are three reasons for this.

      1. Sketchnotes are about “Ideas not art”, that means getting the idea down is more important than an accurate impression. As long as you can understand your notes, that’s okay. That means simple pictures are usually better than art.
      2. Sketchnotes are personal and reflect the sketchnoter. Some sketchnoters use more text, others use more images. You can choose to use more text in your notes if you like.
      3. Your drawing will improve as you practice more. The only way to improve is to start! So let’s start today.

      For more on how to sketchnote even if you can’t draw, join this free short course.

      7 steps to create your first sketchnote and start sketchnoting.

      Now that we know the basics of Sketchnoting, it’s time to create your first sketchnote. These steps will help guide you through the process of creating your own sketchnote.

      This approach is not the approach I would take for a sketchnoting a live event such as a class. It does, however, provide a useful intro to sketchnoting which will help you develop core skills. You can then apply skills these when making a live sketchnote.

      You don’t have to follow my recommendations at each point. Their purpose is to give you an easy to implement idea for your first sketchnote.

      1. Brainstorm your topic

      Before you start creating your sketchnote selfie, think about the things you want to include. Write a plain list of items you can include such as your:

      • name
      • age
      • location
      • job or studies
      • hobbies and interests
      • favorite… (book, food, etc.)

      At some point you’ll feel that you’ve got every idea down that you could include, don’t stop. Wait a few minutes longer and see if you can get a few extra ideas. Those extra ideas are often the most interesting items.

      to start sketchnoting, think about what ideas you should include

      2: Group your ideas together

      Now, you have some ideas written down, it’s time to group them together. By identifying information that work well together, you’ll help yourself create an easy-to-understand layout.

      You could write your list out again, this time with your information gathered into groups. Alternatively, you could add marks to the side to signify what belongs together.

      3. Plan your Sketchnote layout

      A good sketchnote layout can help arrange information clearly and tell a good story. Some sketchnoters seem to have a magical ability to group information together.

      Most of us aren’t like that.

      By grouping your information together, you may already have an idea about how you could layout your sketchnote. Alternatively, you could look at the most common sketchnote layouts and find one to use.

      A selection of different sketchnote layouts

      While you could choose any sketchnote layout, I’d recommend the radial layout for your first sketchnote.

      It’s probably more familiar to you as it’s similar to mind maps. This style also works well for a selfie as all the information is about one central item — you.

      4: Identify some icons you can include

      One last step before we make the sketchnote. Identify some icons that you could draw for points on your sketchnote. For example, if you like photography, you could draw a camera.

      Need inspiration for what to draw? Look at the Noun project

      While you could just do a Google image search, I recommend using The noun project. This site contains simple icons that represent different ideas. It is a great tool to see an example of a simple drawing that represents and idea. You can use this to get drawing ideas.

      5. Start your sketchnote: Add your title

      Start by adding your title and an image of you. If you are going with a radial format, place yourself in the center.

      Your portrait doesn’t need to be accurate. Focus on the main details like the overall shape of your face and distinct features. If it doesn’t look accurate, never mind, this is just your first time.

      6. Mentally divide up your paper

      With your layout in mind, imagine some dividing lines on your paper. Think about how much information you need to include in each area and plan space accordingly. Make sure there is a gap between different sections.

      If you want, you can pencil in some lines to help plan your space. I recommend using pencil at first as you may get this wrong.

      If you are making a digital sketchnote using an app like procreate, you can add a layer with some guidelines.

      7. Fill in your information

      Now start filling in your information. Use your groupings to direct what you include where. I suggest you start with the main points, and then expanding outward to the smaller points and details.

      You can add banners with text to show groupings like “Favorites” for your favorite things, or “bio” for some biographical data.

      Leave space between sections so you can see what belongs where.

      8. Stand back and appreciate it

      You’ve done it! Your first sketchnote! I promise the next will be easier.

      What’s next?

      Now you’ve defeated the first sketchnote, you can continue to grow and the best way is with regular practice.

      If you’d like some more guidance on the fundamentals of sketchnoting, sign up to 7 days to start sketchnoting. This free course will get you exploring the different types of sketchnotes available.

    • Sketchnote Layouts: The Ultimate Guide

      My biggest obstacle to sketchnoting was arranging information. For a long time I stayed making “Sketchnotes lite”where I had text (with occasional colour) broken up by the odd image. Discovering sketchnote layouts changed all that. Suddenly the shackles were off and my notes radically shifted.

      This may not be the case for you; there may be a different area that holds you back like drawing. But understanding sketchnote layouts can help you plan and organise the content in your sketchnotes.


      Although some people confuse mindmaps with radial sketchnotes, there is a subtle difference. Regardless, this layout has a central element and then spokes coming out from the centre. Radial mindmaps are great if you have a core topic or concepts.


      The grid layout divides the page into squares with each square containing a single aspect. This is great for talks where there are clear division in content and works well when there are four or six items covered.


      Columns group information together from top to bottom. You can use these a bit like a spreadsheet to show the same information for different items. It also works well for panel discussions.


      The popcorn style involves random chunks of information across the page. This can be very handy when there isn’t perhaps a clear structure or logical flow (for example, question and answer sessions). It can help you gather your thoughts as well.


      The portrait layout involves a large, central image that the whole sketchnote is connected to. This works well for biographies of people as well as for food sketchnotes…can you make a portrait of a meal? Well you can with a sketchnote.


      The path style shows progressions and time as we move from the start to finish. This can happen in a variety of different ways like a giant U, Zig Zagging, spiraling in to the centre, or out from the centre, or just randomly across the page. This can work well to show how the order of a talks or the chain of events.


      A storyboard is used in cinema and TV to represent key parts of a story with image and dialog below. For sketchnotes, this involves equal squares or rectangles with space for text below.


      Comics are very similar to storyboards expect each frame can be a different size depending on the importance or requirements of the frame. This can lead to more dynamic sketchnotes.


      There are more variations and unique ideas for layouts that grow all the time. The layouts above provide an overview and framework that you can adapt. And you can invent your own unique layouts too. What is your favourite sketchnote layout?