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A year of drawing my own content

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

If 2012 was the year of sketchnoting lots of other people’s presentations, this year was the year of drawing my own thoughts — and I loved it. There was a brief lull mid-year when I was focused on consulting, but now that I’ve made drawing my thoughts a step in my thinking/learning process (like the way writing and blogging are), I draw and post a lot more regularly.

2013-11-30 12_11_02-Flickr Search_ 2013

I really liked focusing on my own content instead of drawing other people’s ideas. For questions that helped me think out loud, I followed my interests and learned a lot more. For things that I drew to help others, I found myself building up a great archive of one-page guides that I could quickly share with even more people.

2013-11-20 More thoughts on drawing for others

2013-12-01 Drawing for others and drawing for myself - note-taking versus note-making

Want to see what I thought and drew about? Check out my collection of sketches. =)

In 2014, I’m planning to continue drawing my own content and refer requests for sketchnoting to other people… I’ve got the opportunity to do so and people find it useful, so why not? =) If you like what I’m doing, help me out by sharing your questions with me through blog comments, e-mail (, or live conversations!

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Doodle Thursday: lesson 3 and 4

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

Here are some more doodles I drew while listening to the video tutorials at

2013-11-29 BrainDoodles lesson 3 and lesson 4

I like the reminder to play around with drawing faces and accessories – gotta do that more often! =)

See last week’s post for the previous lessons, and watch the tutorials yourself at . Want other video tutorials? Check out!


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Doodle Thursday: Going through BrainDoodles’ lessons

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

Jason John Wells told me about in a comment on my Google Helpouts update (it’s funny how these interests cross), so I checked it out. It’s a site with basic sketchnoting tutorials geared towards high school students, but apparently it gets the five-year-old kid seal of approval too. And this thirty-year-old! =)

Here’s what I drew while listening to the first two lessons:

2013-11-29 BrainDoodles lesson 1 and 2

Intimidated by the idea of drawing? Thomas Michaud breaks it down into building blocks and shows some easy-to-follow examples. I love the sketchy feel of the website, and will probably work on incorporating even more hand-drawn elements into mine.

Check out!

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Update: Developing thoughts further

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, writing

I’ve been drawing my thoughts for years, on and off. I found some sketchbooks with old mindmaps and explorations. Still, writing was the main way I thought through things, and I made good progress in learning how to outline so that I could think about progressively larger topics. In September, I re-started the habit of drawing through my thoughts – and posting them, thanks to a sheet-fed scanner that made sharing easy.

I tend to draw one thought per page and write about one thought per blog post. I also tend to draw way more than I publish each day. I wondered if I could combine the drawings and the words to “chunk” what I was thinking about into larger topics, so that a blog post could logically group together several sketches. With a mindmap to help me keep track of the sketches (acting basically like an outline, but with icons, easy folding, and quick navigation), I could keep an eye on topics that had accumulated several sketches. Once I’d fleshed out the topic a little, I could write it up as a blog post, include the images, and replace those notes with a link. Working well!

How to think in bigger chunks

I had tried collecting text snippets in the past, but I tended to lose them in my archive. Because the drawings were compact, easy to review, and easy to track in my map, I found it more fun to go over them compared to the text. Unlike the partial thoughts I’d saved in my text archives before, most of the drawings were enough on their own: an answer to a question, a reflection on an idea. It was easy to remember enough context to turn them into a blog post.

So that’s the bottom-up approach: think about several ideas, and then put them together. I was curious if this new approach would also help me with the top-down approach, which is to take an idea and then go into the details.

Developing thoughts further

2013-09-25 Developing thoughts further

I was reading a student-oriented book about writing that reminded me of the idea of developing thoughts. The author wrote that short essays usually meant that the thoughts weren’t developed enough – that the student could go into more detail or explore the implications of the topic. I made a list of some ways that I could develop a thought further. I had thought about this in a text-centric way, but now that I’ve been drawing a lot more, I can see how exploring the details in drawings has been helping me develop thoughts.

Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

2013-10-21 Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

Drawing one thought per page requires a lot of paper, and I have a steadily growing stack of sketchbook sheets piling up on my shelf. Although I’ve scanned the sketches using my ScanSnap, I keep the paper around for extra flipping-through fun. I briefly considered trying to fit more thoughts onto a page, but I think the one-thought-per-page system works well for me. It also makes the images easier to include in blog posts like this.


I feel like I can think about topics that are 3-4 times as large as I could before, especially if I spread them out over time. I’m looking forward to getting even better at organizing these, sharing them, and planning the next steps. I like the way drawings help me quickly pick up the thread of my thoughts again, and how the map helps me plan where to go next. So far so good!

If you’ve been struggling with developing thoughts over a period of time, try drawing them. You might find that it’s easier to mentally chunk topics that way. Check out my

, and go through these other resources for sketchnote beginners. Good luck!

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How to cheat when animating sketches

| drawing, geek, process, tips

I’ve been working on some animations for my consulting engagement. My new “green-screen” workflow involves Camtasia Studio’s Replace a Color feature, a large secondary motor, and the Cintiq 12 WX (although any USB tablet will probably do fine). It works really well! I re-rendered my 4-minute video because I wanted to use the WAV export as the audio instead of the MP3 export – better audio quality.

My old workflow (Artrage Studio Pro script recording and then some text manipulation to get it to save frames) ran about 4 hours per audio minute. This one’s at about two hours per audio minute, and it could take even less of my time if I could delegate the editing and synchronization to someone else. (Not for this one because of the contract, but maybe next time!)

Here are some other ways to cheat when animating sketches. Click on the image for a larger version.

2013-11-08 How to cheat when animating sketches

No samples, sorry, but maybe I’ll plan my own animations after this consulting project is finished.

In the meantime, here’s a quick glimpse of how to use Remove a Color in Camtasia Studio:

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It’s okay to draw simple visual notes

| drawing

Other people’s sketchnotes can be intimidating. People draw so well! They use colours! They have creative layouts!

If you were waiting for permission to start, if you were waiting for permission to draw simple notes, here it is: It’s okay.

I don’t focus on the artistic aspect when I draw my notes. Sure, I’ll deliberately practise techniques and work on expanding my visual vocabulary from time to time, but I want to spend more time learning than worrying about drawing.

2013-11-14 What do I focus on when drawing visual notes

So instead of thinking about composition and creativity, I focus on the kinds of things that make it easy for me to draw what I’m learning and to get back to them afterwards.

  • Ease: I cut out anything that gets in the way of thinking. This is why I tend to add colour after I draw (if at all), I don’t add fancy flourishes, and I usually publish first drafts instead of endlessly refining my drawing or layout.
  • Readability: I want to be able to speed-read my sketchnotes, and I want other people to find them readable as well. So I try to write clearly, horizontally, and in block letters, avoiding script or hard-to-read lettering.
  • Detail: I write more detailed notes than many sketchnoters do. I want my notes to save me from having to reread the book or re-watch the presentation unless I want an exact quote or list. I also want the notes to share all the key points even with people who haven’t seen or heard the source material.  I figure we can always make a summary later on, but it’s hard to go the other way around.
  • Search: I also optimize for long-term search and storage. I keep my handwriting neat and easy for computers to read. I invest time in updating filenames, adding tags, and publishing my notes in various places and backing them up. I want my notes to be available for the long term and for as many people as possible.
  • Action/change: When I take notes for myself, I want to make it easier to do something about what I learn. What will I do or change based on the thought I’m exploring, the book I’m reading, the presentation I’m listening to? That way, I’m not just passively recording information, I’m using it to make stuff happen.

I take a utilitarian approach to sketchnotes. That said, it’s also fun to relax my brain and doodle a little, like this:

2013-11-12 People-drawing practice

If you’re worried about not being able to figure out a sketch the first time around, shading it in hides many attempts to figure things out. ;)

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Posted: - Modified: | drawing

image“You’ve got great handwriting,” people say. “I have really bad handwriting, so I can’t share my notes, but your handwriting looks wonderful.”

My hand-writing would look at home in kindergarten. This is the way I fill out government forms or write anything that must be read reasonably well or else Stuff Could Happen. I ditch the script that my grade school teachers taught me (slanted guidelines under a pad of paper, a callus on the wrong finger) and print print print.

I can’t speed-read my cursive. On bad days, I can’t even slowly read it. So I’ve stopped. I use cursive to sign my name (and it’s not even a fancy signature) and to dash off quick notes, but that’s it. I use print for anything I want to remember. It helps that the computer can read it too.

Maybe people feel bad about their handwriting because people get sloppy when they’re trying to write quickly, or when they’re tired. I know I find it harder to write clearly if I’m in a rush. That’s one of the reasons why I slow down or break it up with drawings. Doodles let me stretch after writing lots of letters.

I also tend to write big letters, because oddly enough it feels less tiring than writing small letters. I write slowly, much more slowly than I can type. It only looks like I’m quick because I manage to capture the key points of a presentation while the speaker’s talking. But it’s not about writing everything down, and besides, that wouldn’t fit anyway on the page anyway. I learned from reading tons of business books that most ideas come surrounded by lots of fluff.

Here’s another idea: maybe people make handwriting too much a part of their identity. Maybe print feels less sophisticated than script, which is why people don’t use it as much. I don’t need my handwriting to be a clue to my personality. I don’t need it to say that I’m smart or stylish, or that I survived the supervision of my grade school teachers.

Maybe people stick with one style instead of experimenting, because they don’t want to look wishy-washy. My handwriting isn’t my handwriting. It’s just a way I write. It changes over time.

It’s funny how much your handwriting isn’t even about you but about the tools you use. Some of my friends have really neat handwriting. They print in these incredibly even, confident, lined-up letters. I fake evenness and confidence with a computer. Or with a technical pen or gel pen, if I have to write on paper. Everything looks better in smooth black ink. Everything looks fancier with a fountain pen. I wondered about how they managed to write so neatly. I asked them about it, and they told me they noticed the same thing with pens. The pen you use affects how you write.

What happens if you forget about being embarrassed about your handwriting, and just write? What happens if you play with the way you write?

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