How to Learn the Fundamentals of Sketching and Sketchnoting

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.

How to Develop Creative Habits: Three Powerful Daily Practices

Three Powerful Daily Creative Practices

Welcome to my new blog: Learning Creative Habits With Gauravonomics.

I’m a recovering creative developing a daily writing and sketching practice, using three powerful daily creative practices.

The first practice is to rebuild my creative muscle by meditating, journaling and sketching every morning. The second practice is to replenish my creative spirit by creating space and time for my passions every day. The third practice is to reclaim my creative identity by creating and sharing my work every day.

These three powerful daily practices have had a transformative impact on my life, and if you are also a recovering creative, they can also transform your life.

1. Meditate, Journal and Sketch Every Morning to Rebuild Your Creative Muscle

Every morning, I wake up at 5am and follow the same morning ritual. First, I meditate to focus my mind. Then, I journal to empty my mind. Finally, I sketch to make sense of what’s on my mind.

I practice a combination of Pranayama and Vipassana meditation, first paying attention to my breath, then paying attention to the sensations in my body.

I journal and sketch in my Moleskine smart notebook with the Neo2 smart pen. Writing with pen and paper teaches me to trust my hands, and combine words and figures, and the M+ Notes app backs up my daily journal entries and sketches.

My writing desk has become my favorite place in the house. The rug under it has become the favorite perch for my Persian cat Leela.

Within a short time, this simple morning ritual has had a transformative impact on my life.

I am feeling both more connected with my dreams and more rooted in my reality.

Every morning now leads to resolutions small and large and a replenished will to realize these resolutions.

2. Create Space and Time For All Your Passions Every Day to Replenish Your Creative Spirit

I am learning to embrace all my passions, create space and time for them in my house and my life, and build connections between them.

I am reading graphic novels and teaching myself how to sketch using charcoal and color pencils. I am listening to jazz and western classical concerts and learning how to play the piano. I am learning to use my body as a canvas for creative expression, even if that’s sometimes simply an excuse for buying even more sneakers. I now want to start running long distance again, practice writing and speaking Mandarin regularly, and learn how to grow an indoor garden.

I recently redecorated my house to create space for all these passions. My little one bedroom apartment now fits a treadmill, a piano, a writing desk and an art supplies cabinet. Now, it’s not only a house for #LeelaCat and me, but also a creative studio filled with books, music, plants and art.

I have always read a hundred books every year; now I am reading a book every other day. I’m reading books related to my passions that either inspire me to become better or show me how to improve. I start my day at 5am with writing, and finish my day at 11pm with reading, and fit all these passions in the hours in between.

Within a few short months, I have gone from being a minimalist to being a maximalist and my creative spirit feels more alive than ever before.

3. Create and Share Your Work Every Day to Reclaim Your Creative Identity

I am blogging again, after years, as a public commitment to create and share my work every day.

I have always felt that I am meant to write books, many books, fiction and non-fiction. I have written a non-fiction book before on the future of engagement. Since then, I have tried to write the next book a few times. I have bought domain names for these books. I have even designed the book cover for one book. But, I haven’t finished any of these books. My mind is a graveyard of unborn books.

This time, I am telling myself that it is better to write 52 essays in a year, one essay a week, and see if they add up to a non-fiction book. I am telling myself that it’s better to write 52 stories in a year, one story a week, and see if they add up to a novel.

I am telling myself that the only way to reclaim my creative identity is to create and share something small everyday, even if it’s only a photo, sketch, or story about #LeelaCat. I am telling myself that if my inner artist child wants #LeelaCat as his muse, I should indulge his need for fun and whimsy.

My inner artist child is happy these days. For the first time in years, I am writing regularly. Some days, I write as many as 5000 words, between my morning journal pages, my stories and my essays. After years. I am also sketching regularly, and I feel that the writing and the sketching, just like the essays and the stories, are helping each other.

Creative Recovery is a Lifelong Journey

There’s good news and bad news about creative recovery.

The bad news is that creative recovery is not linear. I have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months. Every few weeks, every few months, every few years, I feel like I have returned to where I started from.

The good news is that creative recovery is not circular either, it’s spiral. With every cycle I go through, I learn more about myself and my inner artist child, and I become better at protecting and nurturing him.

Creative recovery is a lifelong journey, and I am hoping to develop and deepen these three daily creative practices for life.

I am rebuilding my creative muscle by meditating, journaling, and sketching every morning. I am replenishing my creative spirit by creating space and time for all my passions. I am reclaiming my creative identity by creating and sharing my work every day.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey, and share your own successes and struggles. You can sign up below to receive my updates via email, and follow my updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.