The Sketchnote Handbook [Book Review]

Back in December or so, Mike Rohde asked me on Twitter if I’d like to review his book on sketchnoting, since he saw that it was something I was starting to explore. I readily agreed. I shortly realized, however, that if I wanted to do The Sketchnote Handbook any semblance ofjustice, I needed to practice some. So I’ set out to learn some more about sketchnoting, and incorporate that kind of thinking and note-taking into my life. Hence why this review is some six months overdue.

Thankfully, there are lots of examples. It turns out, Rohde’s book is the first to talk about drawing for taking notes, but he’s not the first person to do it. Nor is the sort of simple drawing he advocates totally unknown: for people who love exploring creativity and productivity, The Back of the Napkin is a well-known resource.

The whole book, in fact, is an example of sketchnoting — because the whole book reads like a sketchnote. With inky letters, hand-drawn pictures, and main points emphasized with bigger font and arrows, Rohde has simultaneously created a work of art, and a highly functional map of the topography of sketch noting (seriously – go check it out. You can get a free chapter on Mike Rohde’s site).

The experience reading the Handbook made me eager to try some things out. Despite not being much of a drawer, I had a lot of fun with these experiments. So, below are a few examples from my own sketchnote journal.

 

A few tries at some of the exercises in the book

A few tries at some of the exercises in the book

A sketchnote self-portrait

A sketchnote self-portrait

hand-drawn letters

hand-drawn letters

hand-drawn letters

hand-drawn letters

hand-drawn letters

hand-drawn letters

And finally, a sketchnote that included as a part of a grant application–

Sketchnote to explain a project I was pitching to a grant committee

Sketchnote to explain a project I was pitching to a grant committee

Now, you might be thinking. “But, Caleb, you’re a storyteller, a theatre artist. What does this have to do with drawing?” As it turns out, that question has led to some of my biggest takeaways from the book (aside from the fun drawing challenge), which are also the reasons I am glad to finally post this review:

  • First, I’m ultimately concerned with teaching and learning, and nurturing young people. When I introduced elements of sketch noting into my class — even simply giving permission for students to doodle in the wide margins of notes — a handful of students suddenly engaged. Some, admittedly, the sketchnoting didn’t mean much. But for those that process information more visually, it was worth it.
  • Second, as a storyteller, my head is full of pictures. I began using sketchnoting as a way to map out my stories, and I found that certain details emerged in my language choices as a result. In other words, visualizing my stories this way through storyboarding and sketchnoting had made me a better teller.

Finally, now that I’ve had about six months of sketch noting practice, I am issuing myself a challenge. Next month is the National Storytelling Network annual conference in Mesa, AZ. I’ll be there. I’ll certainly have a notepad and pen (I always do), so I am going to try some live sketch noting of the workshops, presentations, and concerts. I’ll post my sketch notes at the end of July as a part of my post-conference debrief.

But wait, there’s more! Mike Rohde is currently working on a companion volume, The Sketchnote Workbook. I’ve not seen it, but if you’ve like this review, pre-order a copy here. I’ll be reaching out to Mike soon regarding a review of the workbook.

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