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Minimizing upward or downward skew in your sketchnotes

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

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!

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Drawing thoughts on index cards

Posted: - Modified: | blogging, drawing

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 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 articulate 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?

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Exploring sketchnote colour styles

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, sketches, visual

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!

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Sketchnote Army Interview: Sacha Chua

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, visual

Mauro Toselli sent me a few questions for the Sketchnote Army blog, which has been running a series on featured sketchnoters. Naturally, I decided to sketch my answers. ;)

2014-12-04 Sketchnote Army Interview - Sacha Chua

2014-12-04 Sketchnote Army Interview – Sacha Chua

If you're curious, you can check out some of these relevant blog posts:

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Index cards

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

I've been drawing more on index cards than in sketchbooks lately. I keep a stack of index cards on my bedside table, and I have a few more in my belt bag. Index cards are great because they really can contain only one thought, so they're not at all intimidating to start. I know I'll finish the card. Index cards are also sturdier than the small notepad I carry around, and since I'm not tearing off pages, I don't have to worry about fiddly little paper bits. Compared to index cards, a 8.5×11″ sheet feels like such a generous expanse. Although the extra space of a sketchbook lets me get deeper into a topic, it also sometimes results in half-drawn pages when I'm distracted by another thought or something that I need to do.

2014-09-10 Index cards

2014-09-10 Index cards

So maybe that suggests a new workflow for developing ideas. I can start by brainstorming topics on an index card. Then I can pick some ideas to flesh out into index cards of their own, and from there, to sketchbook pages. Blog posts can explain one sketch or collect several sketches, and they can link to previous posts as well.

2014-09-10 Possible workflow for developing ideas

2014-09-10 Possible workflow for developing ideas

This should help me think in bigger chunks

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How to draw a visual summary of a book

| drawing

People often ask me how I do my book notes. I'm not really sure how to explain it, since it seems straightforward: read a book, take notes? Maybe these tips can help, though.

2014-05-16 How to draw a visual summary of a book #drawing

2014-05-16 How to draw a visual summary of a book #drawing

Reading the table of contents helps me figure out the structure of a book. Then I just go through it section by section, writing down things that other people might find useful or that I'd like to remember. It helps that I speed-read and that I've read a lot of books – I can skip large chunks if I prefer another book's explanation of that topic.

I like drawing my book notes digitally because I can use colours that match the book and because I can erase or move things around on the computer, but drawing on paper is okay too.

I like thinking about how I can improve my workflow. The next step for me is probably to get better at picking books that I care enough about to draw (or conversely, to draw books anyway, because practice is good). I could also use it to practise colour and imagery, since my notes tend to be mostly text. =)

Here are some more notes on how I read books:

I might be able to explain more if people have specific questions. =)

I'd love to see more visual book notes. They're a great way to condense a book's key points for your personal review and for sharing with others. Here are some other people who have shared their visual book notes:


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Notes from Visual Thinkers Toronto: Sketchnoting with others

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, meetup, sketchnotes

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!

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