Why you don’t have to draw well to sketchnote

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.

In reality, everyone needs to practice. Soccer players and sketchnoters alike. If you see someone doing a task well, with skill and precision, take a moment to admire the amount of practice they’ve clearly put in to be able to reach that level. It didn’t happen overnight, even they seem to have emerged from nowhere. Dude, Sucking At Something Is The First Step Towards Being Sort Of Good At Something GIF

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.

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