May 10, 2012

Bulk view

Sketchnote workflow

I like sketching notes of books and presentations. It forces me to squeeze the information onto one page, and the notes are easy to share and review.

I prefer to draw on a computer because I can use colour, erase what I’ve written, and move items around. I draw on a Lenovo X220 tablet because I like having a full computer as my tablet. My favourite drawing application for this is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, which has the best pen-based controls I’ve come across so far. When I don’t have my laptop, I draw on paper and scan it in. I’ve been thinking about getting a tablet, but I’m holding off on it until I pass certain thresholds that I’ve set.

After I draw my notes and clean them up a little, I save them to a directory on my hard disk. I save a lower-resolution version to another directory, where it automatically gets imported into Evernote and synchronized with Dropbox. Evernote lets me search my handwriting, and it’s good for looking up individual items. With Dropbox, I can use Foldersync Lite to synchronize my sketchnotes folder to my phone’s SD card, where I can use Gallery to browse my sketches. The sketches are readable on my phone’s screen, and I can zoom in for details.

Windows Live Writer makes it easy to include the image in a blog post. It automatically scales the image to my preferred dimensions, and I can set it to link to a higher-resolution version of the image. After I publish it, I announce it on Twitter as well.

When I come across elements I like in other people’s sketchnotes, I take a small screenshot and I add them to a Microsoft Onenote notebook for sketchnote inspiration. I collect colour combinations, visual metaphors, title treatments, lettering examples, and so on. It’s easy to flip through the notebook and search for specific keywords.

I’m working on getting even better at sketchnotes. For me, this means:

  • using more colours whether I’m drawing on my computer or on paper: I can try banning black from my visual vocabulary for a while
  • drawing more quick icons to illustrate my notes, even if they’re literal
  • drawing more visual metaphors so that I can get beyond the first idea
  • experimenting with more layouts
  • collecting sketchnote elements from other artists and keeping them in a notebook for inspiration

It’s easy to get started with sketchnotes. The key things for me were:

  • Give yourself permission to draw badly. Stick figures? Wonky shapes? Sure!
  • Leave yourself plenty of whitespace so that you can come back and draw. Write on different parts of the page, not just one side.
  • Write less by focusing on the important concepts. Draw more during the “filler” time, or add drawings after you’ve written your notes.
  • Have fun!