When I am stuck on a sketchnote, it’s usually for one reason.
I’m trying to be an illustrator, not a sketcher.
It goes back to the original point of this practice, producing and organizing ideas, not illustrating. I’ve been able to cultivate the skill of converting complex ideas into visual sketches, making them easier to understand. To distil an hour long talk or interview down to two pages of sketches.
I have to remind myself the point is to got the idea across (and quickly), not to spend half an hour drawing the most accurate representation of an object. As an example, can you guess what the sketch below is?
Yes, it’s a bicycle. An average, fast sketch done in 15 seconds on my iPhone with my finger stylus. But people see it and understand it’s a bicycle, and would even more so if the context around the idea supported it.
Idea = Understood
I learned this lesson while I was doing a sketch for Paul Angone’s course on finding your “Secret Sauce”. The idea was for a chef in his kitchen, surrounded by ingredients for the sauce. Each ingredient was a part of Paul’s big idea, and here’s the finished sketch.
Nice, right? I was pleased, but it took a long time to complete and I made many mistakes. After completion, I realized it was because I wasn’t sketching, I was illustrating. It’s fun to be thought of as any illustrator, but ultimately it’s not what I do or will spend time developing.
I put ideas on paper, fast.
Around the same time, I created an illustration for Jeff Goins. He was relaunching Tribe Writers and wanted some of his content refreshed with sketches. I made the same “mistake”, but the results were much better and faster.
Jeff’s project was for a single blog post, so it was easier to simplify. I also talked with his content manager before I started to really understand what he was looking for. Then I intentionally kept the scope simple and straightforward.
Here’s the end result.
I would still call it an illustration, but by keeping it simple I was abe to concentrate on bringing out a few features. This was just from the shoulders up on 5 different characters. Paul’s was an entire kitchen.
When people are intimidated by creating sketchnotes for the first time, it’s usually because they believe they have to be an illustrator, not a sketcher. That it’s about the art, not the idea. But it’s the other way around.
Ideas, not Art
The best use of sketchnotes is to create something in the moment to help other people grasp big ideas. To cut through the fluff and put what’s essential on paper. By using simple visual sketches as cues, you also give people an anchor for the ideas, instead of another block of text.
When I begin a sketchnote, I always try to remember this lesson. I’m not illustrating, I’m creating a visual reminder of what’s important and should be remembered. If I’m spending too much time on a little detail, I’m missing the big ideas that are coming next. Plus I’m likely missing the speech completely.
That’s not to say I don’t edit or go back on my sketches. I do. After the speech/interview/workshop/whatever is over, I’ll go back and flesh out some details and/or add color. If I scan it, then I may erase a couple mistakes before posting. But I can’t get bogged down in the moment because I’m trying to be an illustrator.