Sketchnoting. How to start?


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I was afraid to take out my markers. I was imagining that people will be starting at me, or maybe they will not staring, but I will be thinking that they are staring and would not be able to take my etui with markers. Nevertheless, I took them out and in twenty minutes I made a photo of the ready-made sketchnote of a speech and sent it to the speaker. It was my first real attempt to do real-time scribing at a conference.

Very recently a former colleague of mine introduced me to the main elements of visual scribing or sketchnoting and I tried to do make a visual summary (this is what meant by scribing or sketchnoting) of a couple of TED speeches. And less than in a week I was already trying to do real-time sketchnoting at a conference.


There are several basic elements and principles of visual scribing that we need in order to start.

Structure of visual summaries

  • The title is to be written by a black marker more thick than the main text marker. It makes your page very presentable and makes the title pop-up. Immediately it shows that your page is something more than just notes on the speech. Then add a frame around the title.
  • One speech – one page. If you limit yourself it makes you more creative and inventive, it makes you think about the structure of the page each second. If you know how long the speech will last approximately (10 minutes, half an hour or an hour), you can already break your page in section in your head and fill it in proportionally to the time.
  • The balance of the page. You can have a grid in your head like in noughts and crosses game and follow that virtual grid as you go. The easiest speeches to map on your page is the ones where the speaker announces the number of main points: 12 lessons from my life, 3 main rules of the Dutch culture).
Scribing Blog Listen to your broccoli

The visual summary of the TED speech by Anne Lamott, the author of the book Bird by Bird.

Main Elements

  • Block letters. The text should be written in block letters.
  • Little human figures. From one side these little figures are just decorations, but they attract attention and they fit any topic. The speaker is a human always, so you can always place him on your page and add a dialogue cloud. The page will look more diverse if the figures are of different shapes: oval, square, triangle or of diamond shape.

Pay attention to the hands. Different positions of the hands also ensure you have some variety on the page. The most amusing fact for me is how the little figures are brought to life by filling in their heads with beige color. I would never think that this would make any difference, but now I am so enjoying by bringing in this finishing touch.

  • Frames, clouds and dialogue boxes. These elements help to highlight and structure the content. I am at the moment using them without any particular strategy. Short quotes look good in dialogue boxes, bullet points look nice if places in a frame. That’s about it.
  • Visual library. Your visual library! The main visual symbols that you start to use is your library. For example a symbol of a computer, book, phone, light bulb. Sketchnoting is done on the fly and it is hard to invent symbols on the fly. It is more likely that I will gradually extend my visual library by looking at examples of others.
  • Birds. If you started a line on the page that you do not like or need anymore, make a scribble out of it and then make a bird by adding beak, tail, and legs. The birds do not spoil the page at all and do not draw attention, so you can always fix everything by making a bird out of it.

Decoration of the page

After the summary is ready, you need just a couple of steps to finalize your page:

  • Make the faces of little human figures beige and make their clothes of different colors.
  • Add shadows using grey color. Everything should have a shadow: frames, figures, clouds.
  • The following steps I try to do at the very beginning, but if there is no time, then in the end: frame around the title, date and name of the speaker, my signature (sketchnote by Hanna Mironchyk).
  • Add emphasize by using color.

…That speaker liked my very simple and not that pretty sketchnote and she even offered to meet and thank personally. Could it happen if I would not take out my markers? I doubt it.

A visual summary of the speech “Three stories about the Netherlands that fascinate me”. April 2019. Toastmasters District Conference.


Scribing. How to start? Blog Listen to your broccoli
Scribing. How to start? Blog Listen to your broccoli

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