Sketchnotes: Why I do them, how I do them, and how you can get started


Why do I sketch my notes?

A few years ago, I sketched a presentation just for fun, to see if I could do it on my Nintendo DS. The Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work has been viewed more than 50,000 times. People told me they liked the style. So I sketched more, inspired by books such as “Back of the Napkin”, and videos like Common Craft and RSAnimate’s work.

I have a hard time sitting still and listening to lectures. I used to fall asleep in class. Writing and sharing helped me stay engaged. It also helped me continue the conversation and meet interesting people.

Combining sharing with drawing was natural, and it kept me focused on listening instead of distracted.

So, why? It makes me happy, others too.

How do I sketch my notes?

Mostly on a Tablet PC (Lenovo X61T) using Microsoft OneNote 2010 (good handwriting recognition) or the free Inkscape. I export using The Gimp (free) and upload it to my website ( That’s all there is to it.

Once in a blue moon, I’ll draw on paper and scan it in (Samsung SCX-4828FN), but it’s easier to fix my drawings on the computer: change size, add colour, move things around.

How can you get started?

Forget what you’ve been telling yourself: “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw.” Just take notes and have fun along the way.

Draw on paper. Take a picture, or scan your work.

Get a basic drawing tablet, digital pen, or tablet PC.

Learn from other people. (Search for visual notetaking, visual thinking, graphic recording, etc.)

Experiment and enjoy.

  • Doug

    Are you familiar with Dan Roam’s books and website?
    He’s been promoting this very kind of thing for a while, you might want to get in touch.
    (I don’t know him, just a big fan of the books and philosophy which it seems you are resonating with.)

  • Yup, Back of the Napkin is one of my favourite books for this subject. =) Thanks for sharing!

  • Sacha,
    I loved this blog post/sketch – it was inspiring and educational.

    You may want to look for Nancy Marguilies books on MindScapes

    I was not aware of the web site – inspiring!

    I also recommend you get Scott McLeod’s books on Understanding Comics.


  • This is great. It made me re-visit my need to obtain a device to deliver messages in a different way. I am a whiteboarder myself and have been trying to figure out what device I need since I started following how you communicate this way.

    Short of a full tablet laptop, any suggestions on a particular pen tablet device? I saw the recommendation to complement the device with OneNote. What are the other popular options?


  • Surely there must be applications similar to OneNote that run on an iPad?

    Of course nothing beats an A5 or A4 sized visual diary, and coloured Stabilo pens!
    These pens are awesome:

    I just remembered another web site and author – Jamie Nast

  • Charles: We came across Understanding Comics in the library, and I immediately ordered a copy from Amazon after reading it. I’ve also read Making Comics. Scott McCloud is the awesome. =) I hadn’t heard of MindScapes, though. Thanks for the recommendations!

    I actually like my tablet more than a paper diary and highlighters. I love that my handwriting’s recognized and indexed, so I can search my notes. I can scan paper notes, but they’re not as searchable. It’s easy for me to publish my sketches to the Web, too.

    Mike: A good starting tablet is the Wacom Bamboo tablet. (I have the Pen and Touch). I like my tablet PC much, much more, though. I got my second-hand Lenovo X61 for ~CAD 750. Check your local Craigslist to see if you can scoop one up!

  • Chris Thompson

    Another great option for doing this is a smart pen, like the Livescribe Echo. It does everything that OneNote lets you do (saving what you write, searching notes, optionally recording audio, being able to point the pen to any word you wrote and hear audio of what was being discussed at that point, etc…. plus some unique nifty features, like being able to share an animation of you sketching out a concept, which they call a pencast)… but you also get to write on paper rather than a screen!

    For someone who’s using something like Org mode and thus doesn’t need the rest of OneNote’s functionality, these are really fun little devices. And they’re relatively inexpensive.

  • I’ve thought about using digital pens like Livescribe. I really like the infinite paper, multiple colours, and easy rearrangement of fully digital notes, though, and I love being able to see what I’m drawing or editing. I can use my usual screen-recording tools to create a sketchcast. =) But yes, I’m glad it’s an option!

  • Sacha, I loved reading this post. It was super helpful. I loved it and have printed it so I can mark on it and keep it in front of me on my desk. I have been reading Dan Roam’s latest book Blah Blah Blah and I’m motivated to turn my message into pictures. I help business owners get the accounting and financial side of their business under control. Not the most fun topic for most people!!!! :-) I think the sketches could be a great way to connect with business owners because so many are struggling to understand and manage their cash flow.

    Thank you for sharing some great examples of how I can be more effective in helping my audience! You rock!!