Category Archives: drawing

Colour update

I think I’m getting the hang of playing with colour.

I started by digging out the coloured pens that W- gave me a long time ago. They still worked, yay! I started mixing green (and sometimes red) into my index cards. Sometimes I remembered to draw with them from the beginning, and other times I drew over black ink.

2015-01-28 11_38_42-Flickr_ Your Photostream

While going through my drawer, I came across a ten-pack of Sharpie accent highlighters and started using them too. I highlighted the cards before scanning them, which gave me an opportunity to review the card and think about what was important. I liked the highlighters more than the pens because the colours were more vivid. It was fun putting together blog posts that had index cards with different colours on them.

2015-01-26 12_03_12-Flickr_ Your Photostream

Now I’ve been experimenting with digital colour. I like this even more than the highlighters, as I get to pick any colour I want and I can erase or layer things as needed. To colour these, I added a layer on top of my image and set the layer’s mode to Multiply. The last image in this set was done with a Sharpie marker, since there were a bunch of coloured markers at the lab.

2015-01-28 11_33_49-Flickr_ Your Photostream

It’s surprisingly relaxing to colour things on my computer. I think about what colours different concepts feel like, pick a colour from the Copic colour swatches built into Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, and paint it onto the scanned index card. While I’m doing that, follow-up questions sometimes occur to me.

I’ve also been thinking about how I can draw more of these index cards on my computer. I’m going through quite a lot of index cards and I’m just about due for a pen refill, so maybe there’s a way I can draw more on my computer while reducing the mental friction. Hmm.

2015-01-30 Imagining digital index cards -- index card #drawing

There are trade-offs, of course. It’s not as easy to see other cards or organize them into piles, and my computer isn’t as handy or as portable as a deck of index cards. But still, it’s fun.

2015-01-31 Digital index card trade-offs -- index card #drawing

2015-01-31 Digital index card trade-offs – index card #drawing

Some other ideas:

2015-01-17 Playing with the index card format -- index card #drawing

2015-01-17 Playing with the index card format – index card #drawing

Drawing on my computer gives me more flexibility, since I can move things around or use whatever colours I want. The main thing I need to do, I think, is to calibrate the aspect ratio and the grid size so that the digital sketches feel like my paper ones, since an index card seems to be a good size for thoughts. I think that drawing digitally also nudges me towards more colourful sketches. Here’s an example “index card” that I drew on my computer:

2015-01-30 Sunlight in a cafe -- index card #cafe #light

Hmm. Actually, digital index cards are working out wonderfully. I’ve been tweaking my workflow and I’m quite happy with the reduced friction.

2015-02-04 Digital index cards are working well -- index card #drawing #digital

2015-02-04 Digital index cards are working well – index card #drawing #digital

I’m still not as comfortable with vibrant colours as I used to be, but I’ll get there. And yeah, it feels a little indulgent to spend the extra couple of minutes colouring each card (not that the thoughts on those cards are particularly insightful or worthy of attention), but it’s fun and it helps me learn.

Whee!

Learning from artists: making studies of ideas

When people are starting out with sketchnoting, it’s helpful to remember that sketchnoting’s about “ideas, not art” (as Mike Rohde says in The Sketchnote Handbook). It’s easy to get intimidated by the visually-impressive sketchnotes people post, so the reminder is useful.

I’ve been using sketchnotes to explore my own thoughts instead of recording other people’s content. I like flipping things around, so that got me thinking: What can I learn from the way artists work, and how can I apply that to learning and drawing?

Here are a few ideas:

2015-01-05 What can I learn from artists about learning -- index card
2015.01.05 What can I learn from artists about learning – index card

  • Collect: Artists collect inspiration. They fill sketchbooks, make moodboards, clip reference photos, and so on.
  • Emulate: Artists develop their skills by emulating masters.
  • Observe: Artists draw what’s there, not what they think is there. They also analyze the techniques other artists use and the effect of these techniques on the piece.
  • Imagine: Artists aren’t limited to what they see. They can draw what isn’t there. They can draw the essence of a thing.
  • Transform: Great art transforms the way people see.
  • Experiment: Artists try different techniques and styles to figure out what works for them.
  • Craft: Artists refine their work and improve their tools.
  • Sketch: Artists do quick studies to try several views or focus on different aspects before making the commitment of paint on canvas.

I was particularly curious about this idea of making studies or sketching things in order to experiment with different views or to focus on small parts before composing the whole, so I dug into that further.

2015-01-05 Why studies for drawing or writing thoughts -- index card
2015.01.05 Why studies for drawing or writing thoughts – index card

The limits I want to address are:

  • When I start with a large sheet, I sometimes peter out halfway through because I’ve dug to the bottom of that idea (at least for now, with the tools and time I have).
  • If I work with large sheets, it’s not as easy to keep all the relevant ones in view at the same time. I need to summarize more frequently.
  • I often zig-zag between topics, leaving sheets unfinished. Half-sheets are awkward to post.

2015-01-05 Quick idea studies -- index card
2015.01.05 Quick idea studies – index card

Using index cards for “studies” of an idea might be a useful technique. Each card is a small chunk, quick to capture, complete in itself, and yet linkable with others. The cards are easier to rearrange. If each card represents one idea or summary, I can keep more ideas in view.

There are trade-offs, naturally. Sometimes the desire to fill a large sheet makes me to sit with a question longer, letting me discover more. Large sheets gives me the ability to draw and describe relationships between ideas. If I have many small chunks, I need to invest more time in summarizing and filing in order to make the most of them.

2015-01-05 Managing my idea pipeline -- index card
2015.01.05 Managing my idea pipeline – index card

Artists might make studies in preparation for a specific work, or they might make studies just because. If I have a specific question in mind, it’s easy to sketch my way around the topic and then organize those thoughts into a whole. I’m not as good at managing fragments over an extended period of time, although I’m getting better at linking to and building on previous blog posts.

What can I learn from the way artists keep working on something? Artists might work on a piece for weeks or more, keeping it visible on an easel, taking a step back from time to time, looking at it in different light. They might have several such pieces on the go. I still prefer publishing early instead of waiting until something is a masterpiece. Feedback is great, and even small chunks can be surprisingly useful.

If I improve the way I manage my studies, though, I might get better at refining ideas. I think it’s like the way an artists might clip photos or sketch things that have caught their eyes, and then return to that inspiration years later when they think of something that needs it.

Speaking of archives: I’ve written about index cards before as a way to develop thoughts (2014; much like this post), plan my life (2007), and prevent boredom by writing (2005!). I haven’t quite mastered this yet, but I’m getting somewhere. What can I add to this based on this reflection on artists?

I don’t do enough zoomed-in focus or variations on a theme yet, I think. Studies aren’t just about capturing the gist of a thing so that you can reproduce it later in your studio. They let you minutely observe a specific aspect, and they let you experiment with different ways to portray something.

What would that look like, if I could do it really well? For observation, I might have index cards that focus on sub-topics, like the way I’ve built up this post from the sub-questions in the illustrations. For variety, I might experiment with visual vocabulary and metaphors, improving my creative expression.

There’s also something to be said about sheer practice in exploring thoughts, like the way artists might sketch for sketching’s sake. James Altucher recommends coming up with ten ideas a day (also related: his post from 2012). I’ve been experimenting with setting myself a minimum of five index cards a day. I write the dates for all of them before I start on the first one so that the desire to fill in the blanks pushes me to complete all of them. This usually leads to even more cards as the first set of ideas sparks more questions.

Actually, the challenge isn’t generating ideas. Artists never run out of things to sketch – they can look around and find more! I have an archive of ideas I haven’t exhausted and a cornucopia that generates more every day.

2015-01-05 Thinking about my archive -- index card
2015.01.05 Thinking about my archive – index card

This leads me back to skills that I think might be good to borrow from the art world and adapt to what I want:

  • Observing what’s in front of me – really seeing it, capturing it better, evoking its essence
  • Looking at something from different angles, and developing opinions about the alternatives I can pick – like the way artists learn about composition and light
  • Retrieving subsets of my archive – like the way artists might pull out the relevant studies or reference photos when they’re working on a piece
  • Comprehending the whole – the way people can step back and talk about impressionism, Picasso’s Blue Period, and other things that require zooming out

What would masters of this be like, and how can I emulate them? I think of Leonardo da Vinci’s studies, asking and observing. I think of writers who name and describe things, and in so doing, they help me see better – the way the light behind an object separates it from the background. I may never draw or write a thousandth as well as they do, but I can grow through emulating the way they slow down and pay attention, the way they turn things over and over instead of rushing on.

Sketchnote Hangout: Playing with colour

The recent Sketchnote Hangout organized by Makayla Lewis was a good kick in the colour palette.

2015-01-17 Thoughts from Sketchnote Hangout - colour -- index card #color #drawing

 

Before the hangout, I’d settled into a pattern of black-text-with-a-little-accent (although blue ink isn’t much of an accent colour). This, despite an almost embarrassing number of recent attempts to break out of the colouring rut:

Exploring sketchnote colour styles (December 2014)

2014-12-01 Colouring inspiration guide - drawing

2014-12-01 Colouring inspiration guide – drawing

 

Building a habit of drawing with colours (January 2014)

2014-01-02-What-would-it-take-to-make-colour-part-of-my-workflow.png

 

Sketchnote Lesson: Adding color (September 2013)

2014-01-03 Exploring colours

This time! Really! It helps that I’ve added a red pen and a green pen to the ones I carry around in my vest, and that I make myself use them when I use index cards. Digitally, I’m forcing myself to expand my colour vocabulary. Since Adobe Color CC (formerly Kuler) lets you pick a pleasing colour scheme (you can also trust in the gods of randomness or popularity), I’m less likely to have the angry-fruit-salad effect, and I can push myself by using arbitrary colours until I develop a sense of what feels better. Next time I sketch on my computer, if my colour scheme isn’t already set based on a book, I might grab a screenshot and use the eyedropper to pick out colours from that.

Someday I might get back to that sheer primary-colour exuberance of my Nintendo DS sketches. Someday.

In the meantime, you may want to check out other people’s colour experiments:

Minimizing upward or downward skew in your sketchnotes

When drawing without rules or grid lines, you might find your writing skew a little upwards or downwards. I tend to skew upwards, like the way I do in the image below:

2014-11-12 What are the things I want to learn more quickly, and what would that look like?

2014-11-12 What are the things I want to learn more quickly, and what would that look like?

Minimizing skew gives you a more polished sketchnote, and you don’t end up with awkward space at the upper right or bottom right corner. It’s usually better to correct for this while drawing, since rotating images can result in fuzziness or the need to move things around to fit.

Here are some general tips for minimizing skew.

In general, it helps if you write narrower columns of text, since skew becomes more noticeable the longer your lines get. If you write in narrow columns or with short phrases, you can correct for skew by making part of the next line a little larger.

If you want, you can also mix angles so that the variety is an intentional part of your design.

If you draw on small sheets of paper or in notebooks, you can:

  • Rotate the paper so that it’s perpendicular to your usual writing angle. With experience, you’ll get a sense of how much you normally skew and how much you need to rotate what you’re drawing on in order to compensate for that.
  • Look at the edges of the paper as a guide. If you write your first line while looking at the top edge of your paper, you might find it easier to keep that perpendicular to the edge. Then you can use that as the guide for the next line, and so on.
  • Look at everything as a whole. Every so often, take a step back and look at your drawing in progress. This will help you spot skew, imbalance, and other things you can tweak while you’re drawing.
  • Draw with a guide sheet underneath your paper. If your paper is thin enough, you might be able to see lines or grids printed on a sheet slipped underneath what you’re drawing on. If so, you can use it as an invisible guide.
  • Consider using paper with very light grids or lines on it. You can leave the grid or lines as is, or you might be able to remove the grid or lines after scanning.

If you draw on large-scale rolls of paper, you can:

  • Stand up straight and use your body as a guide. With practice, you can get the hang of drawing perpendicularly to your body. Good posture helps. Of course, when you tape up your paper, make sure that it’s parallel to the floor.
  • Look at the top or bottom edge of the paper as a guide. Looking at a straight line while writing can help you write in a straight line too.
  • Step back and look at everything. This is a good time to check for balance, skew, and other things you can fix while drawing.

If you draw on a tablet or on a computer, writing in straight lines is much easier. If your drawing program supports layers, you can use one layer to show a light grid while you draw on another layer. This also helps you keep your sizes consistent even if you’re working zoomed in. Lock your grid layer so that you don’t accidentally draw on it. I use a dot grid when sketching. You can download the template I use, if you want.

Hope that helps you minimize skew in your sketches!

Drawing thoughts on index cards

I’ve got quite a backlog of posts I want to publish, but I’ll squeeze this one in first. I want to think about how I can make the most of this new old (2011!) index card habit, and whether I should reconsider that voluntary bottleneck of publishing one post a day.

For the past two weeks, I’ve drawn at least five index cards each day. (You can find them on Flickr.) Each card explores a single thought. I like the way this lets me briefly capture what I’m curious about. I’ve included many of them in blog posts, grouping several thoughts into a larger chunk that’s easier to link to.

Still, at the present rate, my monthly review for January will link to well over 150 sketches. Perhaps I’ll change the monthly review section to list only the sketches that haven’t made it into blog posts yet. I’ve been keeping a digital equivalent of the roughly-sorted piles of index cards on my desk. It helps me see growing clusters of ideas and choose ones I want to develop with additional sketches or summarize into blog posts.

2015-01-14 Projecting my writing trajectory -- index card #writing

2015-01-14 Projecting my writing trajectory – index card #writing

Also, at the present rate of writing 1-3 blog posts a day (except for Thursdays, when I focus on consulting, and the weekends, when I focus on household life), I will keep accumulating scheduled posts. At some point, this will become unwieldy. It doesn’t make sense to schedule posts a year in advance. Even a backlog of three months seems too disconnected.

I can spend less time writing, but I’ve firmly wired it into the way I learn, so that’s hard. Alternatively, I could spend more time writing, developing thoughts over more time and packing denser experiences into a post. This approach might work.

2015-01-14 Projecting my trajectory -- index card #writing #sharing #pipeline

2015-01-14 Projecting my trajectory – index card #writing #sharing #pipeline

I can also get ideas out in other ways. My blog is the main archive I trust, but I can give myself permission to share one-off sketches on Twitter. For example, this sketch about keeping your drink safe from cats: it’s not quite a blog post and I don’t think I’ll develop the thought further, but it might be okay to share it on its own.

So, if I write blog posts for the thoughts that are already developed and tweets for the one-offs that won’t be developed further, that leaves the ideas that are waiting to be developed. They wait because I’m still figuring things out, or because they aren’t quite connected to other thoughts, or because my attention has moved on to other things. In Toyota Production System terms, they are muda – waste because of waiting or possible over-production.

I want to do better. What are some ways I can improve at this?

2015-01-16 Reflecting on reflecting with index cards -- index card #thinking #drawing

2015-01-16 Reflecting on reflecting with index cards – index card #thinking #drawing

 

2015-01-13 How can I do morning index cards more effectively -- index card #drawing

2015.01.13 How can I do morning index cards more effectively – index card #drawing

One way to reduce waste is to reduce quantity. Is five a good number for index cards, or should I reduce it to three? I think five works well for me. It forces me to dig deeper into a topic or to capture some of the other thoughts I have floating around.

Another way to reduce the waste in this process is to be more focused. If I think about and articulating 2-3 key questions for the week, that might guide most of my index cards. But then interesting ideas come up during the week, and I draw lots of cards for those as well. I turn many of my index cards into blog posts on the same day, so within each day, there’s focus. If I try to use any “extra” index cards to build on a previously-drawn thought, that helps me connect.

A third way is to reduce my attachment and let things go. Perhaps I might decide that after I make a monthly index of unblogged cards, I’ll clear that index and archive the physical cards. That way, each month starts fresh, but I still have the ability to go back and look for those roughly-categorized cards in case I have an idea that’s strongly connected to that. I don’t have to worry about visualizing this archive, tracking my statistics, using all the dangling threads, or getting to 100% use.

So that can help me deal with index cards, but what about blog posts? The benefits of limiting my blog to one post a day are:

  • I occasionally add to or revise a scheduled post, especially with feedback from sharing drafts
  • I can schedule different kinds of posts for a week, turning my sprint-type learning into a variety that helps readers
  • People don’t get as overwhelmed (although daily posts are already more frequent than most other blogs do, and I’m pleasantly boggled that this is the most frequent option chosen by people subscribing to the mailing list)

The downsides are:

  • If I write something useful, whoever searches for it while it’s in hidden draft mode won’t come across it, but I guess that’s almost the same as if I hadn’t written it at all
  • It delays the feedback cycle
  • Sometimes posts get out of date

One option is to go back to publishing two posts during the weekend: a weekly review, and maybe another thinking-out-loud/reflection post, since that’s the one that has the most surplus.

Another option is to post two times a day. I’m a little less keen on that, although it might be doable if I can keep my main archive but split off specific, lower-traffic, topic-focused views that people can subscribe to.

A third option is to write longer posts. I find my constraints on chunk size to be helpful, so maybe not.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll publish two posts during weekends, and then revisit this when I find myself scheduling three months out… =) Suggestions?

Exploring sketchnote colour styles

I’m working on expanding my sketchnote colour vocabulary. I want to go beyond tweaking colour schemes and the occasional coloured sketch (both from Jan 2014). Since comparing different examples is a great way to develop opinions (July 2014), I figured I’d review the Evernote clippings I’d tagged with technique:colour in order to roughly classify them by type of technique.

2014-12-01 Colouring inspiration guide - drawing

2014-12-01 Colouring inspiration guide – drawing

Here’s the list of links to the sketches themselves:

I thought about the different styles, and I picked five to practise with: decorations, accent text, toned text, background, and flood. I took this black-and-white sketchnote draft I made of The Inner Game of Work (W. Timothy Gallwey, 2000; Amazon affiliate link).

2014-12-01 The Inner Game of Work - base

and I coloured it in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro with liberal use of layers. Here are the results:

Of the styles I tried, I think I like the toned text one the most. It feels the most put-together while still being different from my usual highlighting style. I should play around with this a bit more to see whether blue/red makes a difference here, though.

2014-12-01 The Inner Game of Work - W. Timothy Gallwey

2014-12-01 The Inner Game of Work – W. Timothy Gallwey

This is also a handy way to practise nonjudgmental awareness, as suggested by the book. =) If I pay attention to how other people do things and how I do things, I can’t help but learn more along the way.

I hope other people find this useful!