Seven Lessons on Sketching and Seven Ideas For Sketchnoting From Mike Rohde’s Books ‘Sketchnote Handbook’ and ‘Sketchnote Workbook’

I am developing a daily sketching practice and reading a number of books on sketching, doodling and visual thinking. Mike Rohde's 'Sketchnote Handbook' and 'Sketchnote Workbook' have been two of my favorites so far.

In the first book 'Sketchnote Handbook', Mike outlines the foundations skills of sketchnoting, or taking notes via sketches, with a focus on live sketchnoting during conference talks. In the second book 'Sketchnote Workbook', Mike applies the same foundational skills to a number of other areas, for work and pleasure.

Here is my own six-page sketchnote book summary of 'Sketchnote Handbook' and 'Sketchnote Workbook':

I enjoyed doing the sketchnote book summary, but I wanted to go beyond and share seven lessons on sketching and seven ideas for sketchnoting from 'Sketchnote Handbook' and 'Sketchnote Workbook'.

Here are seven lessons on becoming better at sketching:

  1. Focus on ideas: Choosing the right ideas, creating connections between them and finding patterns in them are more important than how well you sketch. Use sketching as an aid to create, organize and share ideas with an aim to engage both the left and the right sides of the brain.
  2. Create a structure: Choose the right structure for your sketchnote, depending upon the relationship between your ideas. A linear flow runs left to right and top to bottom and is best for free-flowing list-based ideas. A radial flow organizes ideas into spokes around a central hub. A grid flow slots ideas into a pre-decided grid-based structure.
  3. Learn sketching foundations: Learn the foundational elements of sketching like typography, icons, bullets, dividers, containers, arrows, and speech bubbles. You can combine these elements into more complex figures like diagrams, flow charts and mind maps.
  4. Learn typography variations: Learn how to create variations in the typography by practicing letters in single line, double line, triple line, block, script, serif, sans serif, and 3D, in both uppercase and lowercase. You can use typography to add emphasis, convey a mood, or differentiate between parts of a sketchnote.
  5. Create an icon library: Learn to create icons for everyday objects, ideas and activities, including objects and activities in your home and office, and objects and ideas related to your field. You can use icons to succinctly convey complex ideas without using a large number of words.
  6. Use visual metaphors: Create a library of visual metaphors by "drawing the metaphor literally". For instance, to depict the "jumping the gun" metaphor, draw a man literally jumping over a gun. You can use visual metaphors to add surprise and humor to your sketchnotes.
  7. Experiment with media: Sketch with a pencil first or directly with a pen, sketch only in black or use multiple colors, paste a photo on your sketchbook and sketch around it, sketch on a notebook or a tablet, or sketch on a notebook and edit on a tablet – the variations are endless. Experiment with multiple styles, mediums and workflows until you find your preferred ones.

Here are seven ideas for how to use sketchnotes:

  1. Create a visual task list: Create a task list using action icons (tasks, events, appointments) and add significance to the tasks using status icons (uncertain, important, urgent). Add important details to your task list by adding diagrams to create a visual Bullet Journal. Creating a visual task list will motivate you to use it more regularly.
  2. Plan with index cards or post-it notes: Brainstorm ideas by drawing them on index cards or post-it notes. Organize them into clusters of related ideas, then prioritize them based on importance and difficulty. Finally, plot them on a flow chart and draw interdependencies. Use this to plan work projects, workshops and book outlines. Drawing out your ideas will help you engage both your visual and verbal brains in planning.
  3. Summarize ideas from books, talks or meetings: Focus on the big ideas, cluster them (perhaps, into groups of three), draw connections between them and find patterns across them. Focus on the ideas that resonate with you personally. Summarizing key ideas visually will help you focus on the most important ideas and the connections between them.
  4. Recap films, TV shows or novels: Draw a cast of characters, capture the key twist and turns in the plot, and note down your most important takeaways. Drawing a story summary will help you see the story arc in new ways.
  5. Capture food or travel experiences: Take photos or notes to capture details for reference, emphasize the highlights of the experience and add personal context and observations. Drawing your experiences will help you personalize them and savor them longer.
  6. Create a visualization board: Draw an image of yourself five years from now in the center and your ideal situation in terms of work, money, health and family (or similar themes) around it. Put it up above your desk and use it for your morning visualization exercise. Drawing your ideal life will help you imagine it more viscerally and motivate you to work towards it.
  7. Learn a language with flash cards: Draw an object or idea on both sides of a flash card and add the English word on one side and, let's say, the Mandarin word for it on the opposite side. Drawing out the words from a new language will help you remember them more easily.

If you are inspired to start sketchnoting, or to use sketchnotes for these use cases, check out Mike's website 'Sketchnote Army', which showcases the best sketchnotes submitted by community members.

If you are also developing a daily sketching practice, do share your experiences in the comments below, or give me a shoutout at @gauravonomics on Twitter or Instagram.

Artist’s Way Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Week one of the Artist's Way program is about recovering your sense of safety so that you might explore your creativity with less fear.

As young artists, we do not receive support and encouragement; instead we are given cautionary advice, and pushed towards sensible careers that offer security and status.

As a result, many of us become shadow artists, and surround ourselves with declared artists, who are different from us not necessarily because they are more talented, but primarily because they are more audacious.

We admire artists, seek them out as romantic partners, and live a second-hand artist's life through them, but we deny the artists within ourselves.

We create shadow careers that involve supporting or managing artists — blocked filmmakers become film critics, blocked painters design software products, blocked writers run media or advertising businesses — but we continue to judge ourselves harshly for not becoming creators ourselves.

As a result, our lives often become a disconnected experience, with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise.

I wanted to become a writer when I was young, but my parents wouldn't hear of it, so I got an IIM MBA degree instead, and created a career in marketing, then advertising, then media, moving closer to artists with each step, even becoming a talking head/ public intellectual for a while, but never quite allowing the artist within myself to emerge.

The question then is: how might we shadow artists take ourselves more seriously, recover from our creative blocks, and nurture the creative child within?

Perhaps, the key is to cultivate a beginner's mind and look at creation not as a grand act but as a daily practice, like yoga, or meditation, or training for a marathon.

Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time a very good one.

Writing with a beginner's mind might take away the burden of perfection, the expectation that everything we create will be profound, or professionally produced, or (in the age of a million social media micro-influencers) perform.

If the desire for success is not the driver for writing, the fear of success might also recede into the background.

If writing (or healing/ learning via writing) is it's own reward, our writer's block — if it doesn't disappear entirely — might at least become more like porous sand, and less like hard stone.

But, a beginner's mind is not enough; we shadow artists also need to deal with our internalized, limiting, negative beliefs.

All of us have a long list of reasons why we can't be successful, prolific, brilliant, creative artists.

Stripped to their essence, our multiple negative beliefs reveal a central negative belief: that we must trade one good, beloved dream for another. In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag that strikes you as unpayable. Hence, you remain blocked.

To become unblocked, we need to acknowledge these either/ or beliefs, identify the cultural or personal sources of these beliefs, let them go, one by one, and replace them with positive affirmations.

Today morning, I wrote my first three morning pages, a 2000-word, 21-item list of all my fears and worries that keep me awake late into the night, and send shivers down my spine in the early hours of the morning.

My primary limiting belief is that writing (or meditating, or running, or painting, or playing the piano) is essentially an escape from these real problems into an imaginary world; that the only way to reclaim my self-worth is to first fix these problems, before I indulge the artist within.

But I never seem to have the physical/ mental/ spiritual energy to work on this long list of to-dos, so, instead, I end up binge-watching season 1-6 of Game of Thrones or playing Clash of Clans.

Here, then, is my first affirmation:

Work, money, body, love: everything is a little broken, but everything is exactly as it ought to be.

Let's begin again.

I’m Re-learning How to Create a Daily Writing Habit by Doing Julia Cameron’s Twelve-Week Artist’s Way Program

Starting today, I’m re-learning how to create a daily writing habit by doing Julia Cameron‘s twelve-week Artist’s Way program.

The program is based on the belief that “creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable spiritual process.” It promises to link creativity to spirituality by “undertaking spiritual exercises to achieve alignment with the creative energies of the universe.”

The program seeks to guide you through the process of recovering your creative self from a variety of blocks. Over twelve weeks, through a series of creative exercises, it aims to help you recover, in sequence, your sense of: safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection, autonomy and faith.

In essence, the program promises to be a combination of a writing workshop, detox and therapy. I don’t really expect to trigger cosmic synchronicity — “we change and the universe furthers and expands that change” — but I am intrigued enough to try.

At the core of the Artist’s Way program are two practices: a daily practice called morning pages and a weekly practice called artist dates.

Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning, and not shared with anyone else.

In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it.

Morning pages help you “get to the other side” of your fears, moods, and blocks, and connect with the creative source within you. They are designed to serve as both brain drain and creative meditation, teach you that mood doesn’t matter, silence your inner censor’s criticism, move beyond your logic brain to access your artist brain, and find your own quiet centre, connect with the source of wisdom within.

Artist dates are weekly two-hour blocks of time, committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. They are solo excursions or play dates with your creative child to explore something that interests you, inspires you, ignites your imagination.

(In picking an artist date) think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.

Artist dates are designed to fill your inner well of images and inspiration, replenish the creative reserves with mystery, magic, whimsey and delight, so that you might later draw upon them.

Doing your morning pages, you are sending—notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving—opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.

The morning pages acquaint us with what we think and what we think we need. This is step one, analogous to prayer. In the course of the release engendered by our artist date, step two, we begin to hear solutions.

Each week in the program seeks to recover a specific aspect of your creativity, through a series of tasks and affirmations to remove the relevant negative beliefs or blocks and develop positive practices.

The fourth element in the program consists of weekly check-ins to track if you are regularly doing your morning pages, artist dates, and the weekly tasks, how they are making you feel, what negative beliefs they are uncovering, and what positive affirmations you need to create to recover from these negative beliefs. I am using my Bullet Journal to do my weekly check-ins.

Let’s begin.