sketchnote tutorial

  • 4 Simple Ways to Add Shadows in Procreate

    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.

    Stippling with a dot pen

    Stippling is a technique where you use dots closer together or further apart, and was used in many classic comics, especially in black and white. Due to printing limitations, they would use dots to show shadows. Much like hashing, the closer the dots are together, the darker it looks. If you have a dot pen, you can even dots across your page, great for a classic comic look.

    Add Some Grey to a Layer Below

    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.

  • 7 ways to start a notebook

    “Nothing is good enough for this notebook.” Have you ever caught yourself thinking the same? It’s a common problem when you buy a slightly nicer quality notebook.

    The “first page syndrome” as some people might call it.

    Until you’ve made a few marks and even mistakes, nothing feels worthy of going in your new notebook. So you wait, and wait and wait. And eventually, you buy another fancy notebook.

    Well, here are a few simple ideas for how you can start your new notebook.

    New notebooks.

    1. Put the meta data about the notebook

    Meta data is data about data, and in your notebook’s case, that means who it belongs to, when you started using it, what you intend to put in, perhaps a table of content and so on. This is a simple, friendly way to get going.

    2. Write a Quote

    Quotes can be a great statement about what you want to go in the book, or a way to remind yourself of some important words or beliefs. Websites like goodreads are full of great examples, or you can keep a list from your reading or past sketchnotes.

    3. Write a message to yourself

    Sometimes we all need a kick up the backside, and what better person to do that to you than your trusty companion, your notebook. A couple of years ago I wanted to read more books, so I added this to my notebook and it worked! I read a lot more.

    4. Test your pens

    This is one of my favorites. Make a page with the words test at the top and start going through your pens. This provides a useful feature (testing pens) and it’s okay to make “bad marks” here as it’s for testing. At the end of the notebook, you will have a record of the pens you used .

    5. Draw a self portrait or sketchnote selfie

    Why not show who this sketchbook belongs to buy drawing a self-portrait. I like using a brush pen for some extra flare. You can even make a sketchnote selfie version where you add information about yourself rather than just a drawing of yourself.

    6. “The first page is profound” – Merlin Mann

    This is an idea I heard from Merlin Mann. In someways it is like the quote, but it’s a set statement. I love that it is self-deprecating but also true at the same time. The page isn’t profound because you are saying it is, but actually that is why it is profound: all pages are just pages.

    7. Redo the last page of your last notebook.

    You can redo the last entry in your previous notebook to provide a sense of continuity. If it was a sketchnote, then you have the chance to give it a second go. This is also a common approach in bullet journaling when people “migrate” from one notebook to another.

    How do you start your notebook?

    Those are just a few quick ideas for how you can beat the first page. I’d love to know how you start your notebook and if you have any other approaches.

  • 4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster

    One of the challenges every sketchnotes faces is getting things down on the page in time. This “curse” is actually one of the blessings of sketchnoting as it means you have to analyze and make decisions over what to include and what to cut, which is a key part of what makes sketchnotes more memorable. This does, however, cause problems when key ideas quickly follow each other. If only there was a way to get sketchnote ideas faster.

    Trying to get sketchnote ideas fast can be really stressful and while you’re thinking of the best idea to use, there can be a rush of information you aren’t picking up on.

    Fortunately, it is possible to get quicker at sketchnoting and here are 4 ways you can get sketchnote ideas faster.

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster leave space

    1) Don’t, leave space for later

    The first trick is to leave space for later when you have more time. This could be after the event you are sketchnoting, or at a quieter moment when the information is less relevant (or the talk less interesting).

    By leaving space you can come back when your mind has processed more information and doesn’t have the stress of requiring an idea NOW.

    The only issues arise when you can’t remember WHAT you left space for. To prevent this possibility, I recommend leaving a short note or…

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster get the basics first

    2. Get the basics, then fill the details.

    A house is a square with a triangle on top, right? Well, you can add a lot of extra details after that.

    • doors
    • windows
    • chimneys
    • gutters
    • flowers out front
    • whatever!

    All these details can be added later when you have more time. In addition to helping you remember what you wanted to sketchnote there, you also have the right amount of space taken so you won’t find yourself stuck with a small image later.

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster practice

    3. Practice

    The second technique that really helps to come up with ideas is to practice. Practicing coming up with ideas will help you in two ways. Firstly, it gets you into the mindset of coming up with ideas regularly. Your brain starts to know where to look for ideas within your head.

    Secondly, you get a bank of ideas that you can call upon when you need them. It’s easier to think of something the second time and even easier the third.

    [p.s. looking for some practice activities? Check out 30 days of sketchnoting]

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster use a search engine

    4. Have a search engine handy

    If you really can’t think of an idea, then you can use someone else’s idea. You can search on Google (I usually add “icon” at the end of my search to get simpler images) or on a site like thenounproject which specialize in simple icons. This can help you get past the idea stage. If you make digital sketchnotes with an iPad Pro, you have safari off to the side, ready for when you need it.

    How do you get sketchnote ideas faster?

    Have you got any other tips or techniques to help you get sketchnote ideas faster? Share them in the comments below.

  • What Makes a Good Sketchnote?

    Do you ever look with envy at those insanely beautiful sketchnotes online? Do you wish you could make as good sketchnote as them?

    If you’re like me, then you weren’t the best artist at school then you may well feel frustrated at not being able to create as beautiful sketchnotes as other people’s. But as Mike Rhode often says, Sketchnotes are about Ideas not art. With that in mind, here are 7 criteria that make for a good sketchnote.

    1. Focusing on the key points

    If there’s one thing that helps sketchnotes, it’s to stop attempting to get everything down, and focusing on the key points instead.

    It’s build into the nature of sketchnoting as it’s impossible to write every word and draw a picture for everypart. Instead you have to analyze and make decisions over what parts are the most important.

    2. Clear structure

    Having good structure makes a sketchnote much easier to follow and understand. There are various structures that Mike Rhode suggests in the Sketchnote Handbook and Sketchnote Workbook inlcuding

    • Linear (Book like)
    • Radial (mindmap)
    • Vertical (top to bottom)
    • Path (a journey)
    • Modular (broken up sections)
    • Skyscraper (column like)
    • Popcorn (ideas here, there, everywhere)

    I started by simply flowing from top to bottom of a page, but adding a couple of other structures really took my sketchnoting to the next level. This better layout and organization made the Ideas in my sketch notes easier to follow.

    4. Using Color, shape and lines to help focus attention

    These three elements are great for directing your, and any other reader’s, attention. You can use one at a time or all three in combination.

    There can, however, be issues when they are used erratically or with little thought. If you are using multiple colors and use a color twice then it suggests that there’s a connection between those items.

    5. Legible

    It’s okay to use text in sketchnotes, but illegible text can make that text pointless. In the heat of a moment, it can be difficult to write clearly, but successfully delivering information is the key factor in good sketchnotes.

    Focus on getting the key information, or getting enough information so you can fill in the rest later.

    6. Personality

    Really good sketchnotes show your personality. They have the quirks of your style and preferences. Rather than just using a generic icon to represent an idea, they use something different which still clearly represents the idea.

    7. Art Afterward

    You don’t have to have good art in your sketchnote, but you can add it later. A great trick is to simply leave space for more complex ideas later. Or do the rough outline and then come back and add more details later.

    Art should follow though as a great painting isn’t a good sketchnote. It is great, but not as a sketchnote. A great sketchnote preserves information in a meaningful way for you on paper, and in your head.

    Have I missed anything?

    Is there anything else that makes a great sketchnote? Maybe you disagree with me. Leave a comment with your idea below?

  • Ideas Then Art

    I was in a Polish language class last week and so I was obviously sketchnoting my notes for the class. However, there was a problem I came across that I doubt I’m the first person to experience. There were too many things to record in a short space of time. I didn’t have time to get my spacing right as you can see below.

    Now, with a conference it’s acceptable to miss some information and even with a class, you could choose to prioritize which words you focus on, remember and learn. However, I don’t get many classes and I wanted to make sure I got every word down, after all, this is one of my best chances to acquire new words during the week.

    I remember Mike Rhode’s old mantra, Ideas not art and went for simple images that would capture those ideas for me to review later. But after the class, I realized I could polish up my Polish notes (pun intended) and so I would get my “art” after all. This made me think that it was really a case of Ideas, then art.

    Ideas, then art

    This isn’t really that much of a new idea. In the first book on Sketchnoting — the Sketchnote Handbook — Mike Rhode describes a “two-step” sketchnote approach, where you draft a version, perhaps in pencil first, and then you draw over that in pen or on a new piece of paper. This is basically the same idea with a minor adaption for the context of rapid information which is all important.

    Of course, in this context, there was the added benefit that I got to revisit and revise my old notes and so I was better prepared for my class. So here’s my simple two-step approach

    Step one: Get the idea.

    The most important part here is to get something down which you can reference later. It doesn’t have to be a perfect idea but something identifiable.

    • Misspelling a word isn’t a problem,
    • Not having a picture isn’t a problem.
    • not having items organized neatly isn’t a problem

    What is a problem, is not understanding what you wrote down.

    Get the ideas down.

    Step two: Organise and refine your art

    The first draft can now be your reference point. You’re free to change the order, the picture you used, the spelling everything. For language vocabulary sketchnote I do have a couple of suggestions for organizing and laying out your sketch notes.

    • place synonyms or antonyms near each other and show the relationship
    • Don’t just write a word, write down an example sentence or describe the picture you sketched.

    Not always the best approach

    Usually, I don’t think a two-step solution is always the best approach to sketchnoting. In fact, the vast majority of the time I adopt a one-step, done and gone approach so that I have to focus more on what a person is saying and identifying the key points. However, with a lesson or other situation where you have a lot of information coming at once which you need to get it all, it isn’t a terrible idea to make temporary notes to refine later.

    You also have revision built in, another bonus.

  • Sketchnote throughout the learning process

    When I first came across sketchnoting, I knew it made sense fo education and teaching. The idea of “better notes” that helped students retain information better seemed like a no-brainer. However, sketchnoting was born from conferences and most modern teaching methodologies don’t treat learning like listening to a lecture and taking note. Instead learning takes place from interacting with information and a group (referring to Vygotsky and Piaget’s theories).

    As such I wondered how sketchnoting might look within a more modern teaching methodology. How could we use sketchnoting in principled ways. So I started to wonder about the stages of learning and a lesson and why you might use sketchnoting. So here are some ideas how you can sketchnote throughout the learning process.

    Sketchnoting to prepare

    Often lessons have a period of preparing before engaging in new material. This is to activate pre-existing knowledge so that we can place new information within pre-existing mental frameworks. It also allows the teacher to identify weaknesses and strengths of the students in the class. Finally, we can also motivate students by generating interest in a topic.

    Sketchnoting can help students graphically show their knowledge, it provides an easy to check record for the teacher, it’s also proof of work so you know the students are on task AND drawing can be motivating for students and so helps generate interest.

    Mindmaps have long been used for this purpose.

    Sketchnoting to record

    The original use of sketchnoting was to record details. However, this doesn’t have to just occur from a lecture. We can record data from a whole lesson to note our learning. Or we can record notes from books we are reading, experiments we conduct or projects we make.

    As a teacher, we can provide guidelines for the students to follow along with (with areas set aside for certain information or tasks) and then invite the students to customize as they wish.

    A simple language teaching example is the “emerging language framework” this is where there you divide a piece of paper into four sections. One for new vocabulary, one for new grammar structures, one for idioms or collocations and one for questions the students want to ask.

    Sketchnoting to demonstrate

    It’s good to get students to demonstrate learning as it helps them notice their progress as well as being a skill in and of itself. Presentations, posters, essays and more are common approaches and sketchnoting can be used for all of these. A sketchnote could be used to present from, a sketchnote could be turned into a poster, and a sketchnote could help provide the outline for an essay. Alternatively a sketchnote could be the final proof of work where the student can show their learning.

    Even if the final output is spoken, the sketchnote can be used to guide their spoken words.

    Have you got other ideas?

    These are three simple ideas I had but there may be more. Can you think of any other stages of learning where sketchnotes are useful? Have you got any other activities to use sketchnote in.