How to learn sketchnoting even if you can’t draw and what sketchnotes taught me
in this blog post I will show you how to start sketchnoting and how I overcame a lot of false beliefs. I often hear the following reasons why someone believes that he/she can’t begin to sketchnote:
1. “But I can’t draw!”
You might think, “I cannot draw” or “I don’t have talent”, and maybe you are right. However, the good news is: sketchnoting is not about art. It’s not about performing as an artist or comparing yourself to famous artists like Picasso or Monet. It’s not about perfection, it’s about communication.
Sketchnotes help people all over the world to better remember what they heard, regardless of their drawing skills. Instead of focusing on whether my drawings look pretty or otherwise, I try to see which stories I can tell and the insights I can come up with. It is more important to me to provide visual summaries that everyone can understand than to create something that looks picture-perfect. I try not to judge my quickly drawn stick figures or compare myself to professional graphic recorders.
Whenever I used “I can’t draw” as an excuse to just not draw, this was a perfect self-excuse not to practice. Referring to my lack of talent was just about avoiding responsibility for my progress. If you practice, you will get better. This applies to almost everything.
Learning: Be kind to yourself.
2. But I can’t work under pressure!
Although I started sketchnotes just for myself, it somehow happened that I became kind of famous in the community for it, and it soon became part of my job at conferences where people asked me, “Hey Luise, will you sketchnote the session in room A? Because if so, I will be happy to join the session in room B. Both interest me so much, but if you sketch one of them, I am sure I won’t miss a thing as your sketchnotes provide a compelling summary”. This is, of course, nice and I am flattered to hear that, but it also puts some pressure on me – as I get more exposure, people often expect me to deliver -and deliver good quality. I can’t ignore the fact that I don’t do this anymore just for myself – so I try to find the right balance between documenting content and my own thoughts sinceI know that I sketchnote with the intention to publish my work. I am just trusting my own process of listening by drawing. I am very aware of the fact that I can’t deliver a perfect recording of a session, because I will miss some things. I am busy with drawing/writing/correcting /reshaping/coloring, or I am just not fast enough to capture the essence of a slide. During some demos, I am not able to note down all single steps, but I need to filter and condense what’s behind the demo, the overall concept. I’ve discovered that the more I let go, learn to trust my process and stop pushing myself into “you missed this part / you need to draw faster,” the more I can find good images and inspiration. This helps prevents me from writing too much stuff that is not needed to later understand my sketchnote. My most surprising, touching, and significant learning at all: Although I am not a professional artist, although I don’t produce perfect notes – community welcomed me and my skills, and showed appreciation for what I do. So, despite me being insecure and imperfect, the community encouraged me to continue – which made me better – with both drawing and knowing that what I do is right. I imposter so often about my skills, and am pleased to be surrounded by awesome people who help me through this!
Learning: Letting go is a skill that helps me to focus
3. “But I can’t do it like you!”
In our tech community, there aren’t many known sketchnoters, and I seem to be one of the firsts. But if we broaden our view beyond tech community, we can see a lot of visual thinkers, and we can learn from them. Some sketchnoters work more visually, and some do a lot of lettering, some give an overview, some are more detailed. There are visualizers that sketch in real-time as I do and those who prepare their drawings in advance. But instead of feeling intimidated by others one’s skills, I just appreciate the diversity of sketchnotes and focus on what I can learn from that. I would love to see more visual thinkers in our community.
Learning: Let’s celebrate uniqueness
4. “I can’t do two things at once!”
Sketchnoting is fun, and the experience of drawing can help you relax as you are just following a flow. Sketchnoting forces you to stick to this one task without interrupting yourself and without switching to other tasks. This can calm your mind and will improve your learning as multitasking is one of the biggest showstoppers for education. Once you commit to doing the job and don’t distract yourself, you will realize that this is an intense experience – and when you get used to that, chances are high that you want to extend this feeling to other workloads as well.
To me, it’s not listening AND drawing, but listening by drawing. Drawing is just the way I learnt to process information, like for some of you writing blogposts or preparing sessions is just the way you can guide yourself through your thoughts.
Learning: Listen to understand
Let’s dig a bit more into the practical side of sketchnoting:
- Know necessary session information: exact title, conference hashtag, speaker’s twitter handle
- Set up your app: choosing pens, show gridlines
- Pre-draw session information if needed
- A good speaker will give you some intro (sometimes also known as “sign-posting”), with verbal cues like “take these five steps to…” or “three different approaches to…” The better a speaker is prepared in providing a concise and well-structured talk, the more likely it is that I will produce a sketchnote that captures the ideas. So if you see a compelling and easy to understand sketchnote, kudos go in the first place to the fantastic speaker.
- Keep in mind to let go of any approach of perfection and just trust the process. If you can just write down a single idea, you already won! And with practice comes progress.
To get you up and running, you can follow my sway presentation right here: