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Adventures in Sketchnoting and a book in 5 days

For the last 18 months I've been on a sketchnoting adventure. 

I've collected drawers full of pens, burned through a pile of sketchbooks, taken on heaps of advice, and spilt all kinds of ink. It's been messy but fun. 

Sketchnoting is the practice of taking visual notes, and for the last 18 months I've been recording conference talks, lectures and events by drawing more pictures and writing fewer words.

I make notes live, in one take. I use pen on paper rather than digital tools, finding that making physical marks is more committing and immediate. I love the way ink feels alive as it flows from the pen and soaks into the page.

Here's my Sketchnote Tumblr site

Why Sketchnote?

I've really enjoyed sketch noting for three main reasons: 

Firstly, it has greatly improved my concentration and attentiveness at conferences. I find I take more in and remember more of what I hear. The constant process of listening, understanding, visualising and drawing what's being said makes me an active participant rather than a passive member of the audience.  

Secondly it always provides a series of challenges. The live aspect means never knowing quite what's going to happen, or what I'll need to draw. There's no pause or rewind so I have to stay sharp. It's about the process as much as the result. I always make mistakes, which then need to be covered up creatively, and there's always room for improvement and more practice. 

Thirdly, sketchnotes lend themselves perfectly for sharing and passing on what you've just heard. I often tweet my sketchnotes after the event, and pass them around at work to colleagues who may be interested. 

Sharing, feedback, and saying “yes”

My sketchnoting gained momentum through sharing, with one thing leading quickly on to another.  I tried to say 'yes' to as many new opportunities as possible. Those that offer a new challenge, a chance to push myself in new directions, or to work with like minded people have proved the most rewarding. I've met and worked with some hugely talented people, I've made good friends, and I've had some wonderful experiences

No more squares

A lot of the events I attend are tech based, which means mostly drawing squares and rectangles: smart phones are rectangles, tablets are rectangles, monitors are rectangles, laptops are rectangles, and when they're open they become two rectangles. 

To push myself a little further, I attended some short talks at Dorset Wildlife Trust's AGM. The focus was on Dorset's varied wildlife and habitats: birds, bees, moths, fish, chalk streams, water meadows, grasslands, and quarries with zip wires. There wasn't a rectangle in sight. 

We ended up working together on a series of twitter friendly info-graphic style sketches and a booklet that was dropped through the doors of thousands of Dorset homes.


Book in 5 days

Another highlight was the chance to be involved with a project to write a book in 5 days. 

I first met Ben & Andrew when sketchnoting their presentation at Production Social. Afterwards they told me of their plans to write a book: a compendium of the way they work, the games they play and the tools they use to solve problems. Their plan was to write it in just 5 days and they needed someone who could keep up with the pace and illustrate games, interviews and anecdotes as they happened. 

It became apparent early on that with Ben & Andrew's combined insight and intelligence, their focus and calmness, not only was the goal achievable, but the process would be educational and great fun. I jumped at the chance to be involved and accepted the challenge.

What followed was 5 days of playfulness, hard graft and working together as a team. We played games that challenge assumptions and prioritise values. We discussed tools that champion creativity and provocation. We interviewed hugely talented people to hear about their creative strategies and philosophies. 

This short video shows our progress

The book is back from the printers now and I have a copy here in my hand. It's a final product that I'm very proud of. I'm going to read it from cover to cover. Again.

If you're in the business of solving problems you should read this book. You can grab a copy on Amazon. The pictures aren't bad, but the words are even better.


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