4 Tips for Faster Sketchnoting

A photo of Ashton holding a piece of paper that reads 'Build your visual vocabulary'. Next to her is a big speech bubble that reads '4 tips for sketchnoting faster'

One of the biggest concerns I hear from beginner sketchnoters is that they won’t be able to keep up with whatever they’re taking notes on. And I totally get it. Sometimes when you’re sitting in a lecture or listening to a presentation it can feel like the information is flying by and you’ll never catch up.

 The good news is that the more you practice, the less this happens. And today I’m going to give you 4 tips that can help you keep on top of things when you’re feeling rushed.

1. Build your Visual Vocabulary

When you’re starting to learn any language, it can take time to think of the right word for something. But as you build your vocabulary, more and more words spring to mind immediately.  With practice, you eventually learn all the words you need to express complex concepts quickly.

 It’s the same with sketchnoting. You can practice enough that you’ll hear a word or idea and immediately know what you can draw. That’s why regular practice is so important—you’re building a vocabulary of images or icons that you can use without having to think about it.

 This is especially helpful if there are terms or ideas that come up all the time when you’re sketchnoting. A good example for me is the tech industry. I’ve graphic recorded enough tech and internet security conferences that I’ve built a specific visual vocabulary for the terms that they use. And that makes it easy for me—a term comes up and right away I know what to draw to express it.

 Building visual vocabulary is a practice just like any other and you have to do the work to reap the rewards. It’s like playing scales on an instrument or sitting down to meditate every day. If you don’t do it, you won’t improve. But it’s so worth it when you’re working and the pictures come easily. It’s my number one tip for a reason!

2. Use Less Color

It’s normal to want your sketchnotes to be as vibrant and wonderful as possible, but the fact is that color takes time and (usually) doesn’t add to the actual meaning you’re capturing. Using fewer colors can help you stay quick and get the material down.

 When I’m graphic recording in person, I use markers and giant pieces of paper. I hold my markers in what I call the Wolverine Claw: I stick them in between the fingers of my non-drawing hand while I work. Because their caps are off, it means I can grab them and use them quickly and not worry about putting things down and picking them up again. But it also means I have a limited color palette. I have 4 spaces between my fingers, so that means I can only use 3 colors plus black.

 It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you look at my graphic recording images, you’ll see that you can really do a lot with 3 colors. Don’t feel like you have to use every color of the rainbow or color everything true to life. If you’re drawing an apple but you don’t have red or green in your palette, you can color it purple or yellow or whatever you are using—or you can simply outline it in one of those colors and leave the rest of it white. It’ll still read as an apple.

3. Start and Come Back

I literally call this the Start and Come Back Method—which I admit is both extremely literal and a mouthful, but here we are. It’s exactly what it sounds like. If you’re in a rush, you can start drawing a thing or writing a word and then move on before it’s done.

 Give yourself permission to go back and finish it later. It’s really fine. As long as you have a clear idea of what you need to fill in and you actually do it, you’re golden.

 I do this all the time. I’ll begin a sentence or an image, but then I’ll hear the presenter saying something else that I need to capture, so I’ll move on and make a mental note of what I need to go back and do afterwards. And then, of course, I’ll do it.

 It’s also great for times when you’re not sure how to spell a word or a name—start it and then move on. You can check it and then come back later.

4. Less is More

Yes, I know we talked about this basic idea when it came to color, but it’s pretty much the core tenet of sketchnoting. You’re not trying to record every tiny thing here. The goal of sketchnoting is to capture the key concepts and ideas. You’re summarizing and synthesizing information as you go.

 It takes a mental leap to get to this point because we’re all so used to regular note-taking when you’re trying to get every.single.thing down on paper without parsing out what’s important or how it fits together. If you do that in sketchnoting, you’ll always be behind and you’ll miss out on the real benefits.

 Think of sketchnoting as graphic interpretation. Make your drawings impactful, capture the high-level concepts and the flow of information, and trust yourself to be able to fill in the details that went with them.

And there you have it! These 4 tips can help you go from stressed and scrambling to building skills and keeping on top of things.

Make sure you’re gentle with yourself, especially when you’re starting out. Learning sketchnoting is just like learning any new language—it takes some time to get comfortable. It also means that you’ll get better with practice. Keep it simple, keep learning, and keep having fun with the process!

If you enjoyed this post and are looking for more practical tips on how to sketchnote, consider signing up to be a beta reader for my upcoming book! It’s an introduction to sketchnoting and it’s going to be packed with tips like this. If you’re interested, drop me a line and let me know that you’d like to be on the list!

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