I made a Sketchnote today and you can too

Note: I orginially published this on Feb 17, 2021.

This is a post about my thoughts on Sketchnotes, and an example of how I made this one today.

I learned a lot about Sketchnoting from Chris Wilson and Mike Rhodes’ books. As well as many other people and places online.

I am a beginning Sketchnoter so I’d like to keep practicing to get better with layout and typography in particular. My hope is that with practice my analog versions are better in those respects so I don’t have to rely as much on the digital tools, in time.

What is a Sketchnote?

There is debate about when something is a sketchnote and when it is an illustration. For this post, and my opinion in general is it does not freaking matter.

My definition is that a Sketchnote is a visual representation of ideas. Captured and finished live in the moment, or planned out an illustrated over time. Or a combination of both. The person seeing the sketchnote probably doesn’t care how it was made. And for me, the creator, it’s a way to take notes that will resonate at a deeper level for me, and be retained in my memory longer.

My example in this article is that combination. I found a video I wanted to watch. Then:

  1. I Sketchnoted it live with pen and paper
  2. I took a picture of it with my phone to digitize it
  3. I brought it into the Procreate app on my iPad to take it further

Call it whatever you will, but that’s what I did.

More on the sketchnoting process

Front matter

Some layout decisions, and typically the header” of the sketchnote can be made before hand. Reading the abstract of a talk you’re going to attend, or the description of the video you’re about to watch for the first time should give you clues as to what layout to use.

Here are some examples, the titles are made up.

You can picture the layout, the title, speaker, and some other details in your mind before experiencing the event itself.

I’ve observed sketchnoters working on the Header while waiting for a talk to start for example.

Your visual library

Many Sketchnoters develop a style or styles for their work, just as artists do. Along with that it’s wise to have a visual library. Every time you have to draw the concept of any particular idea you can represent it the same way, or in a very similar way. This is useful to reduce the amount of decisions and cognitive load while in the moment of working on the Sketchnote.


Doing the work on the header and layout ahead of time, and having a visual library of concepts that you can quickly draw upon allows you to be fully present while making the Sketchnote.

Mindfulness and Sketchnoting go hand-in-hand. If you want to take these visual notes, one must set themselves up ahead of time to be fully present. Free of distractions and focused. That is refreshing!

Sketchnoting is Design Thinking

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

So, that might be a stretch as applied to Sketchnotes, but hang on a minute.

A key concept of Design Thinking are the Divergence and Convergence thinking cycles.

So reading the talk abstract ahead of time allows you to diverge to think of and create choices for layout, fonts, the header, etc.

Then when Sketchnoting, you capitalize on the items in your visual library as well as the decisions you make in the moment. That converges to create the Sketchnote.

Definition and image from IDEO

The walk through of today’s sketchnote

Here’s the final digital version again:

This is how I started. I read the talk description and set up the header. I didn’t spend too much time detailing it out, just eluded to font size and style in the header.

Then I pushed play on the video and created the Sketchnote. This is the first pass, the picture taken right after the video ended. I knew there were four things, but I didn’t know what they were, or how to draw them before I started.

I knew it was going to be in four parts, just from the title. I added the small drawings from my visual library, while Sketchnoting. Although I had trouble representing step 2 (what do we need to do) and step 3 (How to achieve it / our values) right there in the moment.

So I opened a tab and went to the The Noun Project to get ideas. This is where I wound up after searching the noun project for a couple minutes

I also reflected on the notes I took, and what I remembered from the talk, and came up with the take away. This wasn’t explicitly stated by the speaker, and I omitted the really moving example he gave, simply because I couldn’t draw it in the moment. So after, I thought through what this all meant to me, and wrote the take away in my own words. For me, this is the process of moving from note-taking to note-making. It’s really powerful in my opinion.

Next I started adjusting for some font sizes:

And the last analog bit was to add some color and shadows:

I next took a picture of the Sketchnote and brought it to Procreate app on my iPad to do the digital pass. You’ve seen the end result, but here it is again, in context fo the creative process:

I didn’t take screen shots as I went through the digital creation process. If you’re curious, Procreate has an amazing feature where you can produce a video of all the work you did. Here’s that video for this Sketchnote:

Some notes:

You can do this!

I’m happy to hear your thoughts on Sketchnoting. I encourage you to give it a try. You don’t have to know how to draw to start!


Feel free to email me your thoughts.