Category Archives: drawing

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Integrating visual outlining into my writing process

I’ve been working on a habit of drawing daily. It turns out to be a useful tool for exploring thoughts. I start with a question or an idea, and draw or write in the process of thinking about it. Since my blog posts usually deal with one thought at a time too, the drawings become good starting points for blog posts: I draw, and then I flesh it out with words. (Like this post!)

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Before I started drawing my thoughts, I worked with a huge text-based outline of things I wanted to write. The outline was really handy for sketching out an idea or jotting down my thoughts before I got distracted by research or other things. It was also great for tweaking the logical flow of a blog post or how it fit into a possible blog post series before I actually sat down to write paragraphs.

Both drawings and text outlines have their advantages. How can I better integrate drawing into the process of writing or blogging?

When: Drawing works well for me as a low-energy activity late at night, when I’ve already put my computer away or I don’t want to be tempted into staying up late staring at a screen. My hands get tired if I draw for a long time, though. Writing works well for me during the day, because I can write faster and I can reorganize things quickly. That suggests that I should draw as a way of preparing my thoughts in the evening, sleep on it, and then flesh ideas out by writing during the day.

Level of detail: Text-based outlines are good for my overall outline because I can work with lots of unrelated topics. Drawing is good for high-level maps of a single topic (like this one for learning) because I can keep the drawing in front of me as I explore. Drawing is also good at the level of a single thought or question, but I can’t draw to the same level of detail that I can capture in a text outline. If I’m planning a large topic, then, I might:

  • use text for the overall outline,
  • draw a map of topics to explore,
  • copy the map into my outline and drill down until I get to the level of individual questions or ideas,
  • draw the idea as a way to explore it,
  • then outline further details, especially if I’m planning a series of posts

I’m also curious about using more flexible mindmappers like Freeplane to do some of my mapping on the computer. I prefer Org Mode text outlines over straightforward mindmaps like Freemind because they have essentially the same structure but I’m more comfortable with text manipulation in Org, but Freeplane’s floating nodes might be interesting to play with.

I wonder who else out there uses sketchnotes, mindmaps, or drawings as part of their writing process. Do you use them, or have you come across other writers who do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Daily drawing update: So far, fantastic!

I’ve been pushing a lot of sketches through my evolving workflow. This is fantastic. In the past 20 days, I’ve done 100+ of these thinking-on-paper drawings, about 70+ of which are public. It’s fun to turn the sketches into blog posts afterwards. I find them more motivating to flesh out than headlines or outlines, so you’ll probably see a lot more sketches in this blog. (See, I’m learning more about illustrating my blog after all!)

This is my workflow now:

  1. I draw a thought on paper using black, blue, red, and green pens.
  2. I scan the sheets using ScanSnap and my phone, which can rotate and publish images to Flickr more conveniently than my computer can. (It’s funny how that works.)
  3. Photosync automatically downloads the images from Flickr to folders monitored by Evernote, so they’re imported into my !Inbox notebook.
  4. If I want to colour the image, I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and re-save the JPGs to the Evernote attachment folder as well as the Photosync folder, which updates the Flickr image.
  5. Before I move the Evernote item to my public notebook, I tag it, copy the note link, and add the entry to my Freeplane mindmap so that I have a hyperlinked overview (sneak preview of my map: Mapping what I’m learning).

My new sketching and thinking workflow, and mindmap comparisons

One of the nice things about a limited canvas (whether paper or digital) is that there’s a natural end to your drawing. You run out of thoughts or you run out of space. Either way, that’s a good time to stop and think about what you need to do next. In a text outline or a mindmap, I can just keep going and going and going.

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I’ve been thinking about how I can do things even better. As it turns out, assigning Autodesk Sketchbook Pro as the default application for handling JPGs lets me easily edit images stored in Evernote. Freemind lets me add markers to map nodes, so that’s a halfway-decent flagging system (no electronic equivalent of Post-It flags on the image itself, though). I’m looking forward to turning this kind of focus on something that isn’t related to learning or drawing. It’ll be interesting to see if visual thinking does well for deep dives in other areas too, although I suspect it will.

How can I think on paper more effectively

Ooh, wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy way to resize, upload, and synchronize images so that I can save new versions and have previous blog posts updated? Someday…

Anyway, here we are! I should do a video about all the different pieces – the workflow’s pretty sweet, actually. As awesome as my digital sketchnoting workflow? I don’t know. They’re great for different reasons, and I’m glad I’m adding more tools to my toolbox. =)

Sketchnote Lesson: Metaphors

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

A fun way to build your visual vocabulary is to explore metaphors and clichés. While you should minimize the use of clichés in writing, they frequently show up in speech, and drawing them can make your sketchnotes more visually interesting.

Here’s a sampler of metaphors based on an exercise I did in the Rockstar Scribe class. Some of them didn’t resonate as much with me, so I replaced them with similar metaphors. For example, I don’t really use “against the tide” that much, so I drew a stick figure rolling a boulder up hill. If you play around with these ideas, I’m sure you can come up with even more!

Assorted metaphors

The Internet has lots of collections of cliches and figures of speech. ClicheSite has a searchable index. Metaphors.com focuses just on metaphors. There are plenty of ideas to practise with – Enjoy!

Series Navigation« Sketchnote lessons: Stick figuresSketchnote Lessons: How do you want to grow as a sketchnoter? »

Visual thinking: build your visual library

I’ve written about my process for breaking down inspiring sketchnotes and building a visual dictionary/thesaurus. Tom suggested that I put together an Evernote shared notebook where I can share examples with you. Since I can’t share my main visual library because it uses snippets of other people’s sketchnotes, I’ve been slowly building up a visual library based on my own sketches. As you’ll see, I have a very simple vocabulary! Here’s my process for building my vocabulary:

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And here’s the actual library as an Evernote shared notebook. So far, it includes elements from my sketchnotes from 2013. I’m looking forward to adding more sketches from previous years and my daily sketches, and redrawing some of the more common terms I’ve seen in other people’s sketches.

This is what it looks like in Evernote:

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Enjoy! I’d love to see your visual library/dictionary/thesaurus. Evernote looks like an excellent tool for creating and sharing these, and I hope you’ll put one together for yourself too. Feel free to browse through and use mine!

https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/vocab

Learning more about illustrating my blog posts

I’ve been adding little sketches to most of my blog posts partly for drawing practice and partly because it’s fun sprinkling images throughout my blog (and Windows Live Writer makes this so easy, too!). Here’s a sampler:

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So that’s drawing thumbnails, which is nifty.

And then there’s drawing summaries, either before or after I write the post. For example, these talking points for my chat with Timothy Kenny:

One thing I haven’t really played around with much is using visuals to say things that I’m not saying in the text – to add a touch of humour or illustrate with everyday situations. For example, see this post by Mich W. on learning to write, and her Science x Comics series which turns interviews about research into something much easier to understand.

Here’s one of Mich’s drawings about writing:

PickAPen

(Check out michw.com for more!)

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I want to learn the language of comics. To break it down further into something more manageable: I want to learn the art of the one-panel joke or observation. Dust off the Far Side, page through the editorial cartoons, browse through Cartoon Stock for inspiration. I love the everyday situations of Panda and Polar Bear. There are plenty of single-panel comics, like The Flying McCoys, Herman, Non Sequitur, Reality Check… And then of course, there’s learning by doing, as embarrassing as the beginnings will be. (Maybe a decade or two?)

W- and I pun and alliterate endlessly, so there must be something there. It’s a long-term thing, but I think it would be fun to learn visual humour. Goodness knows there’s enough material in life!

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Drawing practice: Daily drawing

Instead of sharing a sketchnoting tip, I thought I’d write about a new habit that I’m working on forming: drawing my thoughts every day. It turns out that this is a great way to think about stuff and practice drawing at the same time.

I find it difficult to draw a visual journal because I don’t think the everyday details of my life are all that interesting. On the other hand, I really like the way drawing helps me think through stuff. Instead of drawing what I had for lunch, then, I pick an idea or question I want to explore, and then I start writing. Sometimes I’ll add little sketchnote-y doodles. Sometimes the page is full of text. I always end up learning a little more or having a clearer understanding, so it all works out.

The sketchnotes are more fun to create and easier to share than writing text notes or making simple mindmaps. They’re also easier to review. I scan my sketchnotes every day and import them into Evernote and Flickr, and I’ve flipped through my digital copies a few times already.

I fill way more pages when I use drawing as a tool for thinking instead of just as a tool for recording other people’s thoughts. I’ve been averaging 6 notes a day at about 20 minutes a note, and I consider it time well spent. As I get the hang of doing this, maybe my notes will be more creative and more elaborate. We’ll see!

Don’t limit sketchnoting to drawing other people’s thoughts or save it only for brainstorming on special occasions. Use it every day as a tool for helping you think! =)

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Here are some things I’ve been thinking about:

I’ve also been drawing my daily plans (08-Oct-13, 07-Oct-13, 06-Oct-13) and weekly reviews.

Do you sketch your thoughts? Try making it a daily habit!