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Entries in Observations (73)

Thursday
Feb262004

Foggy Morning

This morning I'm a visitor on another planet, one that's identical to my own, except for the fog. Fog breaks the light and forces it in directions it hadn't intended going. The fog brushes my face as I walk, subtly cool and wet. Fog is there, touching me, but try as I might, I cannot grasp it. Always just beyond reach.

Ice floes line the edges of the street, frozen so quickly last night that it almost looks like clear, unfrozen water. I have to step on it to make sure it's really ice. Snow turns to dirty crystals on the grass, the fluffiness and whiteness lost weeks ago. Soon those crystals will melt, nourishing the green grass.

Now I cross the street on my alternate planet. A Travis tune plays in my ears, sealing out the deadness of the foggy morning. Being sealed away from the world while walking in to the beat of a good tune, often gives me the sense I'm walking inside a film. A rhythm driven, 360 degree film experience for one.

I pass frosted scrubby bushes and mulch outside the café. The frost is so perfectly formed, I can almost imagine an army of alien nanobots spraying frost on everything, hurrying to finish before daylight breaks. They must be using incredibly tiny airbrushes.

Then I arrive at the café door. Yellow light cuts the fog at the doorway as I enter. I'm at a small space port on my planet, airlock sealed from the fog. Now I can see my foreign world through a large glass barrier. The buildings I rely on are lost in the fog. I'm pretty sure they're still there, but until I walk back home I can't be sure.

Maybe this is how it felt to believe in a flat earth... as far as I know, the world ends at the edge of the fog.

Tuesday
Jan272004

Observations on Analog Journaling & Sketching

The past weekend and last few days have got me thinking about my recently acquired pen-based habits, such as starting a diary and sketching. MoleskineI've gone on here about both of these, focusing a little attention on my desire to process daily input by keeping a personal journal and then later, my affinity for Moleskine notebooks to sketch in.

I mention this now, because some weblog comments and emails I've received over the past few weeks have got me to thinking. Just what has caused me to keep a regular journal and sketch book after years of not doing either? Further, why have I chosen analog approaches over digital ones for this verbal and visual expression?

Well, there are many reasons. I think as a creative person, creativity you have inside has this way of finding its way out, one way or another. You think that you're not creative? Nope, you really are. So, maybe you're not an artist who sketches or even a writer... some way or another I believe we are all creative, each in our own ways and we find ways to express that.

Over the past few years I've expressed creativity through my Palm Tipsheet newsletter, which I sold early in 2003. I moved to blogging and have found it a very enjoyable and expressive avenue for my thinking and creativity. The Tipsheet was great, but so rigid. It had to be related to Palms and PDAs or it was off topic. There was so much editing and research. It was stressful. On the other hand, blogging opened a door for me compared to technical writing, because I was "allowed" to explore many other areas of interest: design, film, books, technology, writing travel stories and expressing memories and even Palm OS and PDA stuff.

About two weeks after I'd switched from the Tipsheet to blogging, my work colleague Matt said something like "Mike, you're writing way more in a week of blogging than you ever did in a monthly Tipsheet!" I had to laugh, then I mentioned something like what I said above: that blogging is freeing in its variety, which allows me to write magnitudes more than I had been while feeling no stress to post. Somehow the posts here just seem to come out, nearly every day. Don't ask me how. :-)

So, I do feel that blogging has played an important role in this decision, because it has me writing more often than ever and in a freeing way. Blogging also affirmed that "yes Mike, you can maintain a daily record of your thoughts." This was big, because I had always felt unable to maintain a written diary. I'd tried it before, but it would always fade away after a short time. Seeing that I could maintain a regular weblog (for almost a year now) encouraged my decision to try an analog diary -- and while it's still only about a month, I now look forward to penning my thoughts each night as a luxury and a joy.

Sketching came about the same way though with some different "bumps" to get me where I am now. Some of it was seeing Witold Riedel's wonderful sketches, some was the natural flow of moving from words to images and some of it has been my contemplation about why I've felt a little creatively dry the past few years. All of those things sparked my memory of joyful sketching in college, which I wanted back. And it was really so easy -- just start sketching! Of course I had to shake the rust off (and its still flaking away), but again, the more I sketch, the more I want to sketch. It's something of a feedback loop I imagine.

Alright, so why did a very tech oriented guy like me turn to analog means for writing and sketching? Keeping a digital journal certainly has some real benefits. My typing is reasonably fast, and I'm proficient at Graffiti writing on the Palm. Further, anything I would write could be searchable and portable, especially if I used an excellent tool like DayNotez.

There are a few reasons why I decided to go analog. First, growing up with pens, pencils and paper, I really enjoy the feeling of ink on paper. The other day I wrote a little note with my old Shaeffer fountain pen and marveled at how nice it felt. There is something about the tactile feel of paper drag and ink flow that's just pleasurable.

I also like the idea that what I write is permanent. Sure, I can scratch over something but it will always be at least a blob or scratched out word. Digital letters can be edited and perfected... magically erased. Undo. Command-Z please. There is something about not being able to edit, tweak and perfect in my personal journal that I like. It forces me to just stop worrying about editing so that I just write. It's stream of consciousness, whatever is on my mind writing there -- I like this idea.

The idea of getting away from keyboards and touch screens is part of this for me... having a little break from technology is refreshing and makes going back to tech more fun when I come back. In this way, being analog is attractive after a day in the digital world and the analog time then refreshes me for another day being digital. Maybe it's a symbiotic thing.

As for sketching, well, there's still not much out there that can recreate the feeling of an analog sketch. Styluses and tablets for the Mac seem nice, but still a bit artificial. And the Palm... well, it has its charm and unique pixelated qualities, but again something is just lacking in stylus sketching on a touch screen.

In the end, I'm quite pleased with how my analog journaling and sketching is going. It's provided a new outlet that seems to be regenerating my creativity at weblogging and at my web and graphic design day job.

As for books and media, I'm very much sold on Moleskines (as anyone stopping here in the last few weeks can tell). Today, with part of the money from the sale of my Sony Clie N610C I bought a Moleskine gridded book for ideas. I did this because and "Idea" book offers a place to store concepts. Things that are not journaling but are also not quite sketches. Journaling was stream of consciousness, sketching was observation and expression, so I felt the final gap was a place to store written and drawn ideas and concepts.

So, we'll see how this comes along. Maybe in a few months I'll provide an update and share how my multi-journaling is effecting me personally and professionally.

Hopefully this dialogue of mine about journaling and sketching (and letting yourself be creative) will encourage others to try it for themselves. I think that's the beauty of the Internet... that we all provide little "bumps" for each other and can have effects on those we may not know or even every speak to. Pretty cool.

Tuesday
Jan132004

A Day Downtown

I love going downtown. It's my mother's doing, and it was started as a kid living in Chicago. Now there's something special about going downtown for me. Going downtown evokes fond memories of trains, traffic and the joy of traveling.

On downtown days, mom would dress my brother and I appropriately for the season and would allow each of us to select one small, portable toy as luggage. I still recall a cool miniature car I had, which came complete with a belt holster. Oddly enough, I can't recall that car in much detail now, as though the name and clear image have been smudged a bit by time.

Once mom had us outfitted, we headed eastbound, down Howard avenue in our VW bus, toward the EL station. EL is short for Elevated. We'd park the bus and walk to the ticket booth to pay our fares for entry. The ticket booth seemed like the very edge of downtown -- as if the heart of the city reached north on the EL line, to claim this station it as its own. Up we went to the platform, awaiting our southbound train heading downtown.

The EL is famous in Chicago, and yet is probably taken for granted, just like the subway in New York City probably is. However, when you're away from the EL and come back to experience it, you notice. I've always loved the sound of the EL: the clattering of metal wheels on track, fizzing of electrical sparks from the third rail, the whoosh of air you hear and feel as the train passes, the hydraulic whine of car doors opening as the EL invites you in.

Now we're moving south, downtown-bound as we wind our way between apartments, behind warehouses, looking down into leafy neighborhoods at other kids who don't even hear us or see us passing by. They have no idea that two kids are watching them play catch from the high perch of the tracks. EL cars hum nicely as we accelerate between stops, beating rhythmically on the well-worn tracks.

Suddenly we descend, the bright light of day blotted out by the darkness of the underground tunnel ahead. Momentarily, the entire car is dark and all that can be heard are the wheels keeping time on the track, amplified to a roar by the tunnel walls. Fluorescent lights in the car flicker to life, my eyes slowly adjust to the lower level of light. I can now see green lights ahead in the tunnel, then the lights of an oncoming EL train ahead. The other train passes, followed by a rushing wind, and I can see the blurry ghost images of riders heading North.

We pass station after station. The eerie glow of white station tiling appears suddenly out of the darkness. We stop for some stations, while other stations pass quickly, blurring the passengers awaiting trains on the platform. Soon we arrive at our station and we exit, climbing cement-lined staircases into the bright sunlight of downtown.

The sounds are much different here, many more car horns, thousands of shoes hitting pavement, and a background hum of wind echoing off tall buildings. These sounds blend into a hum that's soothing. I'm downtown and loving every minute of it.

Mom has plans, and of course, we boys don't have much choice in the matter. But that's just fine, since we're having a great time just being downtown, carrying our small artifacts from home. The time we spend downtown is a blur. Shopping in this store or that, maybe lunch at McDonalds. Sometimes we'd get lucky and stop in the toy section for a few moments to hope and dream about a birthday or Christmas gift.

When I look back, I can't recall what mom ever bought on these trips. Our family didn't have alot of money, so it could have been that mom just enjoyed being downtown, shopping, walking, absorbing the hum, riding the EL train, just like her boys did.

Hmmm. Funny that I never considered that until now.

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