Sketchnoting: A Modern-day Superpower?

By Carson King
Updated: March 24, 2021

The verb “to sketch” comes from the Italian verb schizzare, which means “to splash.” Ironically, “splashing” is exactly what sketchnoting implies—tossing together random drawings on a sheet of paper. In a way, it’s the world’s most powerful note-taking system . . . here’s why.

Sketchnoting” is the art of using pictures, shapes, words, and diagrams as a form of taking notes. Unlike normal notetaking, the user practices a few “silent skills.” These are skills you didn’t mean to practice, but skills you improve anyway as a result of sketchnoting. For example, you’ll be improving your:

  • Artistic ability
  • Imagination 
  • Organizational skills
  • Hand-eye coordination

These are skills that you normally wouldn’t practice while taking notes. These “passive” benefits of sketchnoting, while impressive, are just the beginning. Sketchnoting is an incredibly visual task, which, ironically, also happens to support the following statistics:

  • 65% of people are visual learners
  • The visual cortex takes up 5-15% of the body’s energy
  • Drawing notes can increase our memory by 100%
  • Pictures are (quite literally) worth 1,000 words

Anybody can write notes, but only legends can draw them. Despite its enormous benefits, this technique isn’t reserved for the artistic elite. Sketchnoting is hardly a doodle: it’s a splash of color, a few awkward shapes, and a few simple words. With a little practice, anybody can add this life-long skill to their resume. Well . . . except blind people. Not sure if drawing is really their thing. Sorry about that.

sketchnoting sketches colors

The blocks, the tools, the blueprint

For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” 
–Benjamin Franklin

Drawing your notes is a creative love affair between you and the paper. In short: there are no rules, no “laws” of physics to obey. Sketchnoting, like all art, has principles and techniques. At most they’re guidelines—remember that you’re creating notes, not a faithful recreation of Starry Night. Here are three simple principles to keep in mind:

sketchnoting materials

The materials

Pen and paper are the backbone of any sketchnoting. That being said, the materials available are endless, such as:

  • Flashcards
  • Paper
  • Toilet Paper
  • Notebooks
  • Drawing Apps
  • Tattoos?
  • Pens, markers, crayons

Again—don’t empty your wallet for this. You’re not competing against the Mona Lisa or writing a follow-up to Beethoven’s First Symphony. Sketchnoting—rather—is a well-organized collection of low-quality sketches. Keep it simple, keep it raw. Don’t overthink it.

sketchnoting shapes

The shapes

The shapes are what your sketchnotes actually are. Arrows, boxes, graphs, and pictures—you get the idea. Shapes are the blueprints of sketchnoting . . . and the more you practice, the better you’ll get. When drawing, remember to:

  • Trade perfection for visualization. Focus on recognizability rather than exactness
  • Keep it simple. When drawing a house, for example, draw a box with a triangle as its roof—not an inch-by-inch scale replica of the White House
  • Keep things organized with titles, boxes, arrows, categories, and labels

sketchnoting colors

The color

Please, please don’t just use a single black pen. Sketchnoting is supposed to be a festival of color, with 2 colors at minimum. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it should be colorful. The science is clear: unique colors make your notes more memorable

  • Color “pops out”
  • Makes the notes easier to  review and memorize
  • Besides . . . it LOOKS BETTER

sketchnoting get started

Get started

There’s an entire culture that evolved around sketchnoting. While not very common and definitely not taught in school, its light has guided students across the world. Anyway, here are some resources to introduce you to this scholarly family:

So . . . what are you waiting for? A lottery ticket? Get drawing!

Carson King law school blogger for Crushendo

About the author

Carson King is a content writer, author, and globetrotter. He’s volunteered internationally through various organizations and written for numerous corporations. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

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