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?
One of the most common first questions I hear from people new to sketchnoting is “What should I write, and what should I draw?” It’s easy to understand the confusion. Once you’ve received permission to use images in your notes, now you have to work out when you should add images and when you should write instead.
Some new sketchnoters swing from one extreme to another before finding their balance. That’s not a bad approach as it allows you to explore the possibilities of using image by going “all in”.
In this post, I am sharing the general rules and ideas I consider regarding using text or sketches in my sketchnotes. In practice, I often go by gut feel and so probably break these principles a lot.
Warning: Some people use more text, others more visuals
There are some people who add only a few images to their sketchnotes, and have a lot of text. Other people follow the reverse path. Where ever you fall on the continuum is okay. You can also choose to use more images or text for certain sketchnotes that encourage that style.
Icons to set a topic
When you notice a general topic, you can use an icon to highlight the topic, or even group everything together.
Icons to highlight a point
If you’ve noticed an important point in a talk, or an idea stands out to you. You may want to use an icon to draw attention to that point.
Icons of physical objects
The easiest icons to draw are those for real objects like cars, coffee cups, and pizza. These make for an easy icon to draw and are easy to identify too. That makes them a great choice to draw in your sketchnotes.
You can combine images and text
You don’t have to choose between images and text, you can combine both icons and text to reinforce the message you want to send. For example, you could draw a letter and then write “email” on top to help show what it is.
Using other drawings to separate and divide
The visuals in sketchnotes aren’t just about icons. You can also use other elements like dividers to separate sections of your notes. These can also help divide and group information. If you don’t feel confident with drawing icons, starting with adding separators may be a simple first step.
When is text best in a sketchnote?
Text is generally best for quotes, explanations and specific information like names, temperatures and amounts. Sometimes these can be combined with images, but sometimes it’s best to just write the text and not worry about it. Just because you can use drawings, doesn’t mean you have to only use drawings.
It’s very difficult to give a hard and fast rule for when you should use text and when you should use sketches in your sketchnotes. This is much harder during live sketchnoting when you have to make an instant decision. I hope these tips can help you work out your own principles for when to draw and when to write, but regardless remember to relax and have fun working out your own system.
I’m a real fan of both analog and digital sketchnoting but recently, I’ve found myself doing sketchnotes on the iPad more. So here are some iPad sketchnoting tips that can help you improve your digital sketchnotes.
Many of these will work for other tablets.
1. Find an app that works for you
There are loads of different iPad drawing and note taking apps with their own strengths and weaknesses. In general, you can think of two different axis’s that are usually related. You get simpler apps and more complex apps. And you can get apps that are more for drawing anda more for note taking. Someone may want a simpler app so they can focus on taking notes, while another person may want a more complicated one. Someone may tend to write rather than draw, or draw than write. Depend on your style you may want a different app. Of course, you can choose certain apps for different occasions.
My personal preference is to use Procreate for important sketchnotes and occasional Paper by wetransfer or Linea for simpler and rough sketchnotes. I also use Concepts for sketching vector images which are required for certain animation programs. Concepts has the added benefits of being on both Android and Windows.
2. Pick a limited toolset
Too many options can be paralysing. The more options you have, the harder it is to pick. These drawing and sketching apps often have more pens, brushes and colours than you could ever carry with you. That’s great as you have an amazing toolset in your hands at all time’s, but can make it difficult to make decisions while sketchnoting live.
When you pick a limited tool set — 2 to 5 pens, a few colours — you can reduce decision fatigue. Of course, you could always use a limited set of tools when sketchnoting live and then use more tools later. And the next top can help.
3. Layers can be really useful
Layers are a real power feature. they basically operate as having two separate see through pieces of paper that you can draw on and edit. This means you can draw on top of a different image, but leave it unchanged. You can also move one layer but not another. You can erase one layer but not the underlying layer. When sketchnoting, layers are great for
making a rough first version, and a polished version on top
adding shadow under an image later
moving items around for better organization later.
4. Try hybrid analog/digital sketchnotes
You don’t have to stick to JUST using Digital or Analog. You can make a hybrid sketchnote where you take pictures of real objects and add sketches in between or on top of them. This can be a really handy way of either adding in a picture to a sketchnote for something to stand out, or creating a real background with a sketchnote on top that you can move around and adapt to find the limits you created.
5. Experiment with different pens and brushes and how they want to be used
Many apps have some unusual brushes and pens that react differently to pressure or create specific looks. It can be intimidating trying to work out how to use them but when you know how to use them, you can get some great effects. It’s worth spending some time just going through every brush and trying to draw the same object with each one, and then make a picture JUST using one brush. By combining both approaches you see how they differ and what they can offer.
6. Trace images for practice
If you aren’t confident at drawing, you can import images and trace over them. This is really great for adding a portrait of a speaker (faces are hard) where you trace the key details and then remove the underlying image.
7. Record a video or time lapse of creating your sketchnote
Procreate has a built in feature that records a time lapse in the background. on iOS (and I believe some android devices) you can record your screen as you make your sketchnote too. You can use the video you record to share the process of creating your sketchnots. I love sharing both the final result and the time lapse on instagram so you can see a bit of how I approach sketchnote and create certain effects.
What are your iPad sketchnoting tips?
Do you use an iPad to sketchnote? Have you got any extra tips that are missing? Leave them in the comments.
“But I won’t be able to draw and keep up with the talk?” This is the number one issues with live sketchnoting.
And it’s understandable. Most new sketchnoters I know struggle with keeping up with a live talk.
I mean, how are you supposed to get everything they say down not just with text but with icons and other visual elements while not making a complete mess.
I was exactly the same and it was the thing that prevented me from “sketchnoting” and kept me “making notes with the occasional picture” for a long time (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Well, today I want to share six simple tips and a mindset shift that really helped me with live sketchnoting.
Mindset shift: You don’t have to sketchnote everything
We often think that we have to record every single bit of a talk, it’s probably due to the way we were taught at school, but that’s not really the case especially in a live talk. With the exception of really great speakers, there are often bits which are a bit repetitive, not essentials and even irrelevant.
It happens even in a good talk. You may repeat some details or give an example to give your listener time to process what they’ve heard.
As someone listening to a talk, we can choose to omit some details and not write down every single word.
Tip 1: Do some research and fill in some information before the talk
If you know the basics like the talk title and who is speaking, you can add that before the speaker starts talking, saving yourself precious time later. You might want to look up some information about their views or ideas and think of some icons that might be handy. All these actions will save you mental and writing time later.
Tip 2: Listen for the structure of the talk
A good speaker often gives an outline of a talk at the start. This could be a brief “I want to talk about three things today.” or they may go into more depth with topics and perhaps even lengths.
If you have an outline, it can help decide what you should spend more time on, and what you should include less of, helping avoid running out of space and lagging behind the talk
Tip 3: Use a standard template to keep things organised
Templates really help me keep things organised and plan what to include or shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s easier to choose a template than others — for example, when a speaker says “I’m going to talk about four things” then you know a modular grid is a pretty good choice — but even when it’s not clear, using a radial structure give you a framework to fall back on and not have to worry about the organization of your sketchnote.
If you are looking to introduce sketchnotes in the classroom, giving your students a template can be a great way to help them get started. They get a helping hand for organization and layouts and can focus on other aspects like icons, colors, dividers and arrows.
Tip 4: Leave space for later
Because you don’t have to record everything in your sketchnotes both now it makes it okay to leave space. You might decided that a certain aspect just isn’t relevant for you and so you can skip it. Or that you don’t need the example that goes along with the point.
In addition, you may decided that you want to add that element later. Perhaps they reference one of their books and you know you can find it easily online, or you have an idea for an icon, but decided to add it later instead of spend time drawing it now.
Tip 5: Use multiple layers in a digital app
Apps like procreate have layers, these are independent surfaces to draw on. Think of it like using see through paper instead of white paper, you can place one on top of another and move them around independently or even hide one. This allows you to have a draft layer where you can write down text and notes quickly, and then you can have a “polished” layer where you clean up your writing, simplify points and so on. This allows you to use your old note taking system and add sketchnotes on as you learn and adapt.
Tip 6: Develop your ability to get ideas faster
It’s possible to speed up your ability to get ideas for your sketchnotes using a few simple techniques and ideas. We’ve already covered one method (don’t, leave space for later and come back) but I wanted to share the other three I wrote about in this post.
Get the main idea, do the details later
Have a search engine handy
Live sketchnoting gets easier with time
It would be great if sketchnoting was simple straight away, but if you aren’t naturally artistic then it won’t be. But there is good news. You can improve and every time you practice it gets easier.
Plus with these six tips in your pocket, you’re going to find it a lot easier to keep up with a live talk.
If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments below.
It took me a long time from first coming across sketchnoting until I started doing what I would call “sketchnoting”. The main reason for that will probably resonate with most of you. It’s because I “couldn’t draw”.
I still don’t think I can draw well and I’m not sure that I’m much better at drawing, but I now call myself a sketchnoter. That because I realized you don’t have to draw well to sketchnote.
Here are 7 reasons why
1. Sketchnoting has always been about ideas not art
In the first sketchnoting book by Mike Rohde, he kicks it off by tackling this concern head on. Sketchnoting is about the ideas, not art. The art is just the cherry on top. It’s the nice added extra but as long as the information is there, who cares.
As I’ve mentioned before, sketchnoting helps with creating information in your brain to be recalled later, as well as creating better notes to look at later. That’s why even if no one else can understand your notes, it’s still great that you made them.
As others have said, ”the process is more important than the product.” The process of analysing and thinking about an idea deeper is more important from sketchnoting than the final product.
2. Drawing badly is the first step to drawing not so badly
We have this crazy idea that we should be expert like in skill when we start something new. It’s part of the Dunning-Kruger effect whereby newbies dramatically overestimate their skills AND when we see someone do something, we believe we can too.
It’s like watching Cristiano Ronaldo take a free kick and thinking “I could do that” even when you’ve never kicked a soccer ball in your life.
The bad news is if you’ve never really drawn since you were a child, you’re going to have to suck a bit before you can not suck so much.
3.You can use more text in your sketchnotes
Some sketchnoters have more text than sketches and some have more sketches than text. That’s fine. The key elements of sketchnoting are the creative freedom to add not just text but visual elements, to not just go from left to right and top to bottom as well as the thought process of analyzing what information is the most important.
Traditional notes favor verbatim recording of details, sketchnotes favor summarizing and adding your reflections.
Traditional notes seek to get AS much information as possible, sketch notes focus on highlighting the KEY information.
Pictures can be a great means of expressing a complex idea simply, but they can also be ineffective and confusing for some ideas. Not every situation demands an icon or image.
4.You can copy images you find online
As Austin Kleon wrote in his book, Steal Like an Artist. One of the best ways to learn is by copying. If you find it hard to visualize what a simple graphical representation of an object might be, look at what someone else has done. For example, searching for an icon on google and then copy an idea you like.
This provides you with the idea, and then you can focus on getting the execution right. If you have time, you can even try and trace your phone screen through a piece of paper.
5. You can import images into digital sketchnotes
I believe that part of the charm and effectiveness of sketchnoting is the mechanical process you engage in. Putting pen to paper (even stylus to screen) helps create a stronger kinesthetic connection. However, once you’ve made your first draft of notes, you can always go back and make a digital copy using images from the internet to replace your drawings.
This combination approach allows you to get the benefit of making notes yourself — while improving your drawing skills — as well as having an end product of notes that are attractive and easy to understand.
Resources like the noun project are a great resources to use for images to import.
6.You don’t have to share your sketchnotes
There are some great things about sharing sketchnotes. You
can help other people discover ideas,
find inspiration from other people,
get feedback, ideas and insights from responses and comments
compare different people’s points of view
But ultimately your sketchnotes are for you and should be made for you if you don’t want to share a sketchnote, that’s fine. If you think the pictures aren’t worthy of sharing. No problem. As long as you find sketchnoting useful it’s okay.
7.You can revisit old sketchnotes later
Over time, you will get better at drawing. Maybe a lot, maybe a little. So you can always revisit your old sketchnotes and polish them up with new drawings. That way you revise your notes, helping you remember the old lessons you learnt AND you can have good pictures in them as well. Win, Win.
Hopefully you can see why it’s okay to be bad at drawing and yet still be a sketchnoter. Obviously, it’s great to be able to draw well and sketchnote but listening and analytical skills are far more important for note taking. If you sketch a beautiful image of a dragon for a sketchnote in a talk about teaching but miss the key points to apply to your lessons, then that’s a failure. But if you draw a bad picture but still recorded the key points and take action on them, you’ve done well.
Want to start sketchnoting even though you can’t draw (well)? Sign up for this free course that has more tactics and some exercises to get you started.
Adding Shadows to your icons really helps to make your sketchnotes stand out. But what is the best way to add that extra depth? Today we’ll briefly look at three different ideas that you can experiment with in procreate.
Hatching comes from traditional drawing and is the process of using lines at different distances apart to introduce the idea of more or less darkness. The closer they are together, the darker it is.
This is easy to do in procreate, find a small, thin brush like a pen and then add lines to your icon where the shadow should be. You can make them closer together to show more depth, or add lines from a different angle for extra depth in one corner.
The airbrush is a tool which injects paint into a stream of air. Depending on the amount of air injected and the nossle shape, the airbrush will have a narrower or more concentrated shape. This is my personal preference, I usually add another layer below a black outline and use the soft or medium airbrush. Then I just start adding some shadow and add a second layer for the darker parts.
Perhaps the simplest way to add shows is to use a broader pen on a layer below with a great colour. This will hide under any lines you’ve already put down and you can erase and parts that end up where they shouldn’t.
Using an extra layer makes it really easy to add shadows later on and save time during a live sketchnote. This produces a flat design style where there is either shadow, a line or white.
Combine More Than One
You don’t have to just use one style, you can combine more than one for extra effect. For example, hashing with a grey layer underneath or dots with an airbrush (my favourite).
But What About Color?
If you have an image with colour then adding dots or hashing on top will still work and produce a very distinct style. Airbrushing and a solid layer also work too but if you use grey, you will need a different type of layer and potentially not fully visible, for example soft light at 75%. Alternatively, if you have a flexible pallet you can use a darker shade of the colour with a normal layer.
Give them a go
So there you have it, four different ideas of how you can add shadow to your sketchnote. Give them a go and see which you prefer and let me know if you know any other techniques.