Sketchnote Lesson: Adding color

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

Color is a great way to add visual interest and guide people’s eyes to what you want them to focus on. Here’s Kevin Dulle’s sketchnote lesson on adding emphasis with shadows and color:

using-color

Reposted with permission – check out his blog for more tips!

If you’re starting out with sketchnotes, you don’t have to use color right away. Go ahead and draw with whatever you feel comfortable with, whether that’s a black technical pen, a 4-color ballpen, or a digital stylus.

You can always add color afterwards. On paper, you can use crayons, colored pencils, highlighters, markers, and so on. Make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area (maybe on a separate piece of paper) because your coloring method may interact badly with your drawing.

You can also add color on the computer. I prefer this way because then I can easily change my mind about what colors to use. Erasing is easier. Learn how to use the software tools that are out there. Here is a quick video I put together on how to use the free GIMP tool to add color by either replacing the ink that’s there (as if you changed pens) or adding color on top (as if you used a highlighter).

Okay, so that takes care of the mechanics. What about the styles?

Develop your personal style by looking for inspiration and experimenting with ideas. In addition to checking out people’s sketchnotes, look elsewhere for interesting color combinations: nature, art, product designs, and so on. Try different techniques and colors.

Here’s a sampler of different coloring styles I’ve played with in my sketchnotes:

image Highlighter
I like this because it’s super-easy to add quickly if you’re drawing digitally – just add a new layer below your text.
Visual Book Review: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast
image Color as accent for images
You can add this while drawing by switching between pens (on paper) or between colors (if digital), or you can use the Color layer trick in the video to add it afterwards.
How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking
image Colors with meanings
Here I used red to indicate the path of my mistakes and blue to indicate what I could improve.
An embarrassing failure is the result of a series of unfortunate decisions, and that’s a good thing.
image Emphasis
Red is a great color for drawing attention. Coloring your headlines helps set them apart.
Visual Book Review: Running Lean – Ash Maurya
image Extra information
You can also use gray or lighter colours to include extra information that people don’t need to focus on.
Visual Book Review: The Start-Up of You – Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha
image Depth
You can use a lighter colour for shading or depth.
Visual Book Review: The Sketchnote Handbook
image Branding
Pick up colors from company logos or event materials to make your sketchnotes look more like part of the event.
Sketchnotes: #INNOTalkTO Innovatively Speaking
image Lots of colors
This is fun to do when you have more time. In this case, I colored in my sketchnote while waiting in line for an “autograph.”
Sketchnotes: How to Live an Amazing Life – C.C.Chapman

Sketchnote Army has a wide variety of sketchnoting styles. Flip through it, see what you like, and try playing around with those ideas. Have fun!

Like this? Check out the other sketchnote lessons and learn more. Feel free to suggest topics, ask questions, or share your own tips!

Building a habit of drawing with colours

If I don’t think about colour, I tend to not use it. I draw with whatever’s handy: blue pens, black pens, anything I’m carrying around. So one day I talked myself into being okay with this. (Click on images for larger versions.)

2013-11-21 I've decided to stop caring about pen colour

Figure 1: I’ve decided to stop caring about pen colour

I think this is just me compromising with myself, though. I think there’s more that I can do, more that I can learn.

On the computer, different colours are just a click away, so I use them. Here’s something I coloured in while waiting for the speaker to get through a very long line of people who wanted to talk to him. It’s nowhere near as colourful as the graphic recordings on OgilvyNotes.com or @agentfin’s sketchnotes, but I like it.

20130611 How to Live an Amazing Life - C.C. Chapman - Third Tuesday Toronto

Figure 2: How to Live an Amazing Life (C.C. Chapman, Third Tuesday Toronto)

Actually, colour is a lot of fun. It goes a long way towards making the sketches more approachable, less intimidating, easier to visually distinguish. That’s handy when I’m looking at my Flickr photostream or through my print-outs. Besides, the coloured sketches feel more polished. They make me feel better. (Then I worry that they become intimidating… So maybe the mix is all right – coloured sketches and plain ones, all jumbled up.)

How can I colour more? How can I make it part of my workflow? How can I practise and get good enough at it that it becomes a habit?

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

Figure 3: What would it take to make colour part of my workflow?

After drawing that, I started experimenting with switching pen colours. Red and black are classic combinations. This one was fun to do, and it didn’t take that much more thought compared to a plain black one. No post-processing, too.

2014-01-02 Google Helpouts - Imagining an ideal session

Figure 4: Google Helpouts: Imagining an ideal session

Drawing on the computer still produces more confident lines and colours, though. Maybe it’s the pen width, and the ease of switching between background highlights and pen colours?

2013-11-29 Helpers Helpout 02 - Communicating with Clients Before and After Helpouts

Figure 5: Helpers Helpout #2: Communicating with customers before and after Helpouts

So… Hmm. How can I make drawing with colour more habitual?

  • When I draw on paper, I will keep red and black pens handy. I think that will prompt me to use red for highlights, and red is more vivid than blue. If I’m working at a table, it’s easy to slow down and switch. I can use that as thinking time.
  • When I draw on paper, I’ll try staying with the density of figure 4 versus figure 1 – write fewer words and leave more space. I might also try out 0.5mm or 0.6mm pens (currently on 0.4mm) to see if that gives me a different feel.
  • When I process scanned sketches, I will colour at least one of them each day before moving them into my Flickr sync folder. That usually gets me to colour the rest.
  • At least once a week (probably every Thursday), I’ll draw on my computer instead of on paper. I’ve been minimizing the number of events and presentations I do and focusing instead on my own content, so I’ve been drawing on paper more than on my computer. Setting aside some time to work on my computer will encourage me to keep tweaking the workflow, and I like the feel of my computer-drawn images more.

Did you teach yourself to use colour? How was that process for you?

Update 2014-01-03: Here’s a related post about different colouring styles I’ve used