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Notes from Visual Thinkers Toronto: Sketchnoting with others

In March’s meetup for Visual Thinkers Toronto, we listened to TED talks, practised sketchnoting/graphic recording, and compared our notes. Here’s how I drew the talks:

2014-03-25 TED - Bran Ferren - To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

From Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering

2014-03-25 TED - Jamie Oliver - Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

From Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food

I liked how one of the participants added extra pizzazz to the visual metaphors from the talks, exaggerating the words to make them even more memorable. For example, with Jamie Oliver’s talk, he turned the part about labels into a quick sketch of a Can of Death. Other people drew with more colours

It was interesting to see different levels of abstraction for the same topic. Someone made a poster that focused on the key message of the talk. Most people captured 5-10 points or so. I drew with the most detail in our group, I think. I like it; that lets me retrieve more of the talk from memory. I liked how other people switched between different colours of markers. Someday I’ll get the hang of doing that. In the meantime, highlighting seems to be fine.

Try sketchnoting those talks or other presentations you find online. I’d love to compare notes!

Replay: Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting

Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting. I managed to listen, talk, and sketch while doing this. Boggle! Although talking interferes a little with writing words, so my notes become more graphical. Hmm, maybe that’s a way for me to experiment with more graphical notes… =)


You can download the MP3 from

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

See the event page for more details

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How I animate sketches with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Camtasia Studio

Spoken words can be much more effective when accompanied with animation, so my clients have been asking me to put together short animations for them. Here’s my workflow in case you’re interested in doing this too.

Step 1: Draw the images and get them approved.

Make your canvas roughly the same size as your final image so that you can save frames if needed. The bottom layer should be your background colour (ex: white). You can use a grid to line things up, then hide the grid when you’re ready to export. Use one layer per scene in your animation.

Step 1: Draw the image - get it approved if necessary

Draw the image – get it approved if necessary

Step 2: Prepare for animation.

Hide everything but the first scene and your background layer. Add a white layer at 90% opacity above your sketch. This allows you to trace over your sketch while making it easy to remove the pre-sketch in Camtasia Studio. Using a translucent white layer allows you to fade your other scenes without adjusting the opacity for each of them.

Step 2: Prepare for animation

Prepare for animation

Step 3: Lay out your screen.

Zoom in as close to 100% as possible. Use TAB to hide the Autodesk Sketchbook interface and position your sketch so that the important parts are not obscured by the little lagoon controller on the left side. You can turn the title bar off, too. Set Camtasia Recorder to record your screen without that little controller – you can either record only part of your screen, or add a white callout afterwards.

Lay out your screen

Lay out your screen

If you need to create HD video, a high-resolution monitor will give you the space you need. My Cintiq 12WX has a resolution of 1280×800, and my laptop has a resolution of 1366×768. When I need to record at 1920×1080, I use my Cintiq as a graphics tablet for an external monitor instead.

It’s probably a good idea to turn audio off so that you don’t have to split it out and remove it later.

Cintiq buttons

Cintiq buttons

This is also a good time to set up convenient keyboard shortcuts or buttons. The Cintiq 12WX has some programmable buttons, so here’s how I set mine up:

  • Left button: Ctrl-z – handy for quickly undoing things instead of flipping over to the eraser.
  • Middle right button: TAB – hides and shows the interface.
  • Bottom button: Ctrl-Shift-F8 – the keyboard shortcut I set up my Camtasia Studio with, so I can pause and resume recording.

This makes it easier for me to pause (bottom), show the interface (middle right), change colours or brushes, hide the interface (middle right), and resume (bottom). That reduces the editing I need to do afterwards.

Step 4: Record!

Because the pre-sketch shows you where things should go and you’ve already fiddled with the layout to make sure things fit, it’s easy to draw quickly and confidently. Use TAB to hide or show the interface. When you’re starting out, you may find it easier to record in one go and then edit out the segments when you’re switching brushes or colours. As you become more comfortable with switching back and forth between full-screen drawing and using the Autodesk Sketchbook Pro interface, try the workflow that involves pausing the screen, showing the interface, hiding the interface, and then resuming the recording.

Step 5: Edit and synchronize in Camtasia Studio.

Save and edit the video. Set it to the recording dimensions of your final output, and set the background colour to white.

Use Visual Effects > Remove a Color to remove the pre-sketch. Now it looks like you’re drawing on a blank canvas. See my previous notes for a demo.

Now synchronize the video with the audio. You may want to add markers to your audio so that you can easily tell where the significant points are. Use the timeline to find out the duration between markers. Split your video at the appropriate points by selecting the video and typing s. Use clip speed (right-click on the segment) to adjust the speed until the video duration matches what you need.

Note that at high clip speeds, Camtasia drops a lot of frames. If this bothers you, you can render the sketch at 400% speed using Camtasia or Movie Maker, produce that as an AVI or MP4, re-import that media, and continue compressing it at a maximum of 400% speed each time until you get the speed you want.

If you need to cover up a mistake, a simple white rectangular callout can hide that effectively. If you need to make something longer, extend the frame. Because you can’t extend frames into video that’s already there, you may want to drag the segment onto a different track, and then split or cut the excess.

Produce the synchronized video in your required output format (ex: MP4, MOV…) and you’re done!

Hope this workflow helps you get into doing more animated sketches with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Camtasia Studio on a laptop or desktop computer. Do you use other tools or other workflows? Please share!

New free/pay what you want resource: Sketchnotes 2013; also, Emacs Dired rocks


Get your copy of the Sketchnotes 2013 collection

Since people found my collection of sketchnotes from 2012 handy, I’ve put together a categorized collection of sketchnotes from 2013 as well. Enjoy! =)

Behind the scenes

This was how I made the 2012 collection:

  1. Create a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. Fill it with high-res images. Resize and position all the images. Use AutoHotkey to save myself time and avoid going crazy.
  2. Create a spreadsheet with titles and page numbers. Add captions with liberal use of AutoHotkey.
  3. Create a manual table of contents and link to all the images. Mostly use AutoHotkey, except for the part where if you create a link to a slide number that consists of repeated numbers (ex: 55 or 66), you have to select it a different way, because typing “55″ gets you #51 (and “555″ gets you #52, etc).
  4. Save as PDF.

There was a lot of manual fiddling around involved in making that collection, so I’m experimenting with a different approach that may be useful. For Sketchnotes 2013, I wanted to see if there were ways I could simplify the packaging process while enabling people to do other things with the files.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I used Emacs dired-mode’s C-x C-q (dired-toggle-read-only) to go into editable mode, which allowed me to easily edit all the filenames to include #keywords. I used C-x C-q to save the changes.
  2. Then I used Emacs dired’s % m to select multiple files by regular expressions and R to move the files into a specified directory.
  3. Tada! Neatly organized files. I packaged it up as a ZIP and put it on Gumroad.
  4. Since Dropbox also allows you to share folders, I created a public link to the folder that had my organized sketches. That way, people can download a single directory if they want to, instead of downloading all 250+ MB.

It still might be interesting to make a PDF, especially if I can make one that can be published through something like CreateSpace. More packaging… =)

Free/pay-what-you-want resources for sketchnoting with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

I’ve written about how I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Windows-based Lenovo X220 tablet PC (which is a Proper Computer and everything, so I can run all sorts of other stuff in addition to drawing on my screen). To make things even easier, I’ve put together the light dot grid that I use for drawing consistently even when I’m zoomed in, a PSD that has the grid, and the brushes that I use to draw different widths easily.

You can download the ZIP of the resources from They’re best used with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (desktop version), but you can probably adapt them for use in other apps.

To import the brushes into your palette:

1. Open the brush palette if it is not yet visible.

Brush palette

Brush palette

2. Open the brush library by clicking on the icon of the three bars.

Show brush library

Show brush library

3. Use the radial menu to import the brushes. You can create a new brush set if you want, and then import the brushes into that.

Import brush set

Import brush set

4. Drag and drop the brushes into your brush palette (the long vertical one) in the order you want.

Brush set

Brush set

I use the first three pens for small, medium, and large widths. The largest pen is useful for colouring. I keep it there so that I can change the size easily without messing up the other three pens. I usually use the highlighter on a separate layer so that I can change my mind about highlighters afterwards, but if you need to highlight as you go, you can use the second highlighter (based on the Copic brushes) to highlight on the same layer.

Again, you can download these free/pay-what-you-want resources from . Enjoy!

Thanks to Tom Diaz for nudging me to publish these!

Drawing in action

People often ask me how much time I take to draw notes of someone else’s presentation. I tell them it usually takes me maybe a few minutes more than it takes the person to talk, since I just have to save and post it afterwards.

It may be easier to understand if you see it in action. Over at, a few people and I run this weekly live show with tips and tricks for Google Helpout providers. (Small community at the moment!) Last Friday, I hosted a session on copywriting for your listing, with Ramon Williamson as the guest. I was a little worried about whether I could juggle managing the Hangout on Air, interviewing the guest, and drawing the notes all at the same time, since one of my co-hosts backed out and the other was missing in action. Plus I’d just come back from a month-long vacation and hadn’t fully caught up on the topics from the previous shows. Anyway, it worked out reasonably well:

Here’s the image:

2014-01-10 Helpers Help Out 05 - Make Your Listing Better

Helpers Help Out 05 – Make Your Listing Better

Show notes

People also often ask me if they can hire me to do this sort of thing for podcasts and videocasts. The answer is no, although I’ll be happy to refer you to other people you can hire. Me, I really like being able to add my own questions and learn about the things I’m curious about too. =) So I might consider co-hosting if it’s a topic I’m really curious about, but I’m not going to simply illustrate. I’d rather spend the time drawing my own stuff.

The guest on that show and someone else I had lunch with that same day both said they liked the fact that I draw simple stick figures. I don’t draw as well or as elaborately as other sketchnote artists do (see Sketchnote Army for lots of examples), and apparently this makes the sketches less intimidating, more “Hey, I can do this too.” Awesome! Well, now you know how it’s done. Rock on.

More behind-the-scenes notes:

Post-production notes - HHO5 Make Your Listing Better

Post-production notes – HHO5 Make Your Listing Better

UPDATE 2014-01-31: In case you’re curious, I used Google Hangouts On Air for the web conference, with the Q&A module, Hangout Toolbox, and Cameraman (for controlling the view). For drawing, I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on Windows 8.1 with a Cintiq 12WX display/tablet acting as a second screen. See how I set up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for sketchnoting.