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Three Keys To Better Sketchnotes

Vikings vs. Packers Sketchnote

The Green Bay Packers lost star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and I was frustrated at the team's terrible play this season. I decided to experiment with the format of my game sketchnotes, becoming looser and having more fun (since it was a good bet my team would lose). This little experiment changed my entire perspective on sports sketchnotes for the better.

Ten years ago, I coined the term sketchnoting and began shaping what this word means to me, and to the world.

I helped create a sketchnote community, wrote two bestselling books, and teach sketchnote workshops around the world to help people learn and practice sketchnoting.

I’ve noticed three keys to creating better sketchnotes.

1. Keep an open, positive mindset

More than drawing ability, an open, positive mindset is the foundational key to sketchnoting. It's an openness to learning new things. It's the power to see things differently, to choose what you capture, and how to draw it out on the page.

If you begin with the idea that you're closed to new ideas, you’ve already blocked in your abilities.

I'm a Green Bay Packers fan, and this season my team was terrible without our star quarterback or a good defense. Facing a lost season, I let go of the rigid sketchnotes I used to take for a humorous, looser style for my sketchnotes of games.

I had fun sketchnoting games again. Now I see my sketchnoting practice differently because my mindset was open to change.

Change your mindset to a positive, open one, and your sketchnoting will improve.

2. Believe you already have what it takes

Wherever your drawing quality is at, it’s good enough to start. It may not be as good as you want it to be, and my goodness it can always improve. but it’s enough.

I say “Ideas, Not Art” because it reframes a student's perspective from “I can't draw because I must create gallery-ready artwork” to “I can draw to communicate ideas.”

We have everything we need to communicate visually. Some are further ahead than others, but I have seen the roughest, most rudimentary sketches communicate ideas more effectively than beautiful artwork from talented artists.

We tell ourselves stories about what we can and can't do. One of those stories is how we can or can't draw, and that’s something we can control  by changing our perspective.

Change your perspective from needing to draw like DaVinci to that of a child trying to communicate, and you’re suddenly good enough to begin.

3. See each sketchnote as an experiment

Every time you sketchnote, you’re running an experiment. It's an opportunity to learn and play with new approaches. You win when you push yourself a little, and learn something new.

If you're too focused sketchnoting as a performance—to be seen and judged by other people—it can freeze your flow. You can lose spontaneity and start worrying about failing and messing up.

If everything is an experiment, failure is a learning opportunity.

My own growth-improving jumps have come when I have pushed myself (or have been pushed) to experiment with ideas that might fail. Mistakes are often where I learn the most. Our job is to have grace for ourselves and learn what we can from them.

Live football game sketchnotes were an experiment when I started them in 2015. I wondered if I could capture my experience of a game visually. This year the experiment was loosening up my take on the games to having fun with the process.

That's why I tell people that sketchnotes are first for themselves and then for others. Once we sense that this work will be judged, we tend to clam up and worry about mistakes: mis-spellings, running out of space, or drawing badly.

Maybe we don't have to share everything with the world. For a little while, try getting loose and keeping a few experiments for yourself.

Change your approach toward improv comedy and away from creating a perfectly scripted comedy film.

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