Visual Note-Taking 101 (SXSW Recap)

“Make a damn mark–a blank page is always terrifying.” –Visual note-taker Austin Kleon

Visual Note-Taking 101 was the perfect follow-up to Dan Roam’s Why Words Won’t Work session. The session kicked off with free sketch books (pictured left) and tons of enthusiasm from panelists Kleon, Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde and Dave Gray. They each have impressive drawing portfolios, but Brown tried to demystify it for the drawing newbies in the audience.

“It’s actually not that sophisticated. It just looks like it is when you’re finished.”

Each panelist took a turn offering basic tips to get started taking visual notes:

  • Use bullets, frames and dividers to break up the page and organize information. (“Bullets are for guns AND sketch notes,” Kleon quipped.)
  • Tie your bullets to the theme of the talk. Taking notes on healthcare? Use little red crosses for your bullets.
  • Look at comic book pages for ideas on how to frame a page and call out dialogue.
  • Adding a shadow is a simple way to enhance your drawing and “make it look like you know what you’re doing.”
  • Take notes for yourself–don’t worry about what other people think.
  • Use font size, underlining, etc. to emphasize certain text and create information hierarchy within your notes.
  • You can “sketch” text, not just pictures. Make your words visual. Rohde is a master of this.
  • Slow down when you’re drawing. This helps you filter out the crap you don’t need to write down.
  • Practice! When you’re sitting at the bus stop or the airport, just start drawing the alphabet or straight parallel lines. One established artist the panel mentioned practices drawing the alphabet every day.
  • Develop your own key to call attention to portions of your notes. For example always use an asterisk to note that something is an action item.

My sketch from the session. Rohde explained how to draw text and Gray taught us how to draw people.


Kleon: How to Draw Faces
Gray: How to Draw a Stick Figure

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2 Responses to “Visual Note-Taking 101 (SXSW Recap)”

  1. Dave Gray Says:

    Thanks for sharing your visual notes from our visual note-taking session! It’s really great to see them.


  2. tracy Says:

    My pleasure, Dave. Thanks for sharing your insights and tips – I think that is probably the best stick figure I’ve ever drawn!

    And I appreciate you visiting my blog! I’m looking forward to more sketch notes in my future and sharing them here. : )

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