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The Sketchnote Handbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, designed to teach regular people how to create sketchnotes.
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Mike Rohde (Color - Square)

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Entries in Sketchnote Handbook (36)


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 9 - Home Stretch

TWO DEADLINES ARE LOOMING: I'm working hard to keep moving out updates to the book and video, and our third child could be born at any time.

Some days I feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done with the book and preparing for the baby, and other days I feel energized. However I may feel, I just keep plugging away, making progress every day.

Book Illustration & Design

This past week was a good one, as I've been able to ink illustrations, scan them in and build chapters 1 Groovin', inkin' and drinkin'through 4. I'm just about halfway through the book, as chapters 5-7 have a larger page count, but feature worksheets and samples of sketchnoter work by a variety of people.

I was fortunate to locate some bristol card stock at the art store that replicates the surface of the Moleskine sketchbooks I love. Having great paper and great pens makes all the difference.

The final, inked art has been scanned at 600 dpi, which works well for quality and detail. I've been keeping the contrast on the art high, so the final pages will have a clear, crisp look and feel.

Instagram has worked perfectly for sharing my work as I've progressed. You can also see those images in my Sketchnote Handbook photo set on Flickr.

Chapter 1 completed - time to jam on chapter 2 inking. Chapter 2 is now built and off for proofing. Inking chapter 3 tonight! Chapter 3 in progress... Chapter 3 B&W - in the can. Monday it's inking and building out chapter 4. Closing in on chapter 4 being built. Feeling good!

I'm preparing to spend the rest of the week and weekend inking, scanning and building out the last 3 chapters (5, 6, 7) so that next week I can make any typo fixes and add orange highlights.

Book Production

The final artwork is being built in Photoshop, because of the flexibility it offers as I'm turning sketches into final art. I can blend inked image scans with typography and tweak positioning in the app I'm most comfortable using.

Chapter 1, first spread - inked and built (round 1). Still need a spell-check & orange highlights applied.

We're using PDF versions of the illustrations to trade commentary, which works well. I can open the PDF of sketches or final art on the MacBook's screen, and make changes in Photoshop on my main LCD screen.

Once the final illustrations are proofed and prepared for 2 color orange and black, I'll import the high-res files into InDesign for page layout. I'll build the book from front to back, add page numbers and so on.

Cover art for the book and video packaging will be created separately, as those need to get to the printer a little earlier than the remainder of the book artwork.

I have much to do, but I'm feeling good about how the project is shaping up.

Sketchnote Fonts

Looking back, one of the best decisions I've made in the book project has been working with Delve Withrington to create fonts of my handwriting and headlines. The combination of a handwriting font for body text and a hand-drawn, squared-style headline font has saved numerous hours of drawing and writing.

Sketchnote Square - this is going to make book production ten times more manageable.

Ultimately, Delve and I will be offering a Sketchnote Family set of fonts for purchase, once the book and video are done. We're thinking end of 2012 or so, but we'll see. One thing at a time.

Featured Sketchnoters

I'm very pleased with the variety of work I'm seeing as the featured sketchnoters deliver their sketchnotes to me. There are only 3 of the 14 left to go before I have all of the art — I can't wait for readers to see these beautiful pieces.

The Video

The video is going well too. Brian Artka is busy editing the last of the 20 videos this week. When he's done, the huge video files go on a hard drive and will be shipped to Peachpit for production.

I need to produce art for the packaging as well as the on-screen menu for the DVD. Should be fun learning about this stuff.


Once again, thank you to everyone who has encouraged me. Writing, illustrating and designing a book is hard, hard work. Even harder when there's a video companion. Triple points for having a baby at the same time.

However, I can already see how the book and video will help people give sketchnoting a try and may really change some lives.

Can't ask for more than that.


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 8 - Cranking

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WHEN YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE of a huge project, it can be hard to see clear to the end of it. That's when you have to keep making daily progress, chipping away at the mountain, bit by bit.

It's been almost a month since my last update, and things have gone pretty well. I'm sketching out the manuscript, shooting video and things seem on track.


On my trip to Pennsylvania, I was able to make pretty good progress converting my final manuscript into pencil sketches, in preparation for inking and final production. I had a very optimistic goal of sketching the entire 7 chapters: but it just didn't happen.

Initially, I was bummed to have only completed 3 of 7 chapters, but as I look back, I see how much was actually accomplished, especially with one of the kids getting sick and the limited time I had to sketch.

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Pencil sketches from chapter 4.

Currently, I've sketched all the way through chapter 4 and am excited about wrapping up chapters 5, 6 and 7. It's hard work — but the good news is that these sketches will make inking and layout of the pages easier, because I'll know almost exactly how each page will look.

Next up: I'll be inking up a spread and creating final art for the Peachpit production team's review. It will be fun seeing how the sketches translate to ink and the page. I can't wait!

I just need to keep on cranking.


Thursday I was excited about the video. As of 5pm, Brian Artka and I had completed every "talking head" shot and all of the voice overs needed for the video chapters. This felt like a huge accomplishment, considering how insurmountable the video project looked when I began.

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A screen capture from the Sketchnote Handbook Video Edition intro sequence.

We still have to shoot some b-roll (secondary video for cutaway shots) next week: shots of me drawing out concepts and examples, of books and pens and of sketchnote samples from other sketchnoters. With one more big day of shooting ahead, I'm feeling relieved and excited about the video.

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Brian comparing close-up shots from Thursday and the week before.

Having so much of the video done lets me focus on the pencil sketches, inking and final production of the book, while Brian works his magic, editing the raw video into a unified video experience.

Featured Sketchnoters

Things are going well with my featured sketchnoters — rough sketches have been delivered and the crew is starting to work on the 2 page spread they have each been given to share their stories. I can't wait to see what each person does and how they express themselves with their space in the book.

Web & Podcast Interviews

JetPens launched an interview series on their blog with an interview with me talking about who I am, my work and the book. I was honored to kick off that feature and had lots of fun sharing my story with David at Jet Pens.

If you enjoy podcasts, I recommend the Pen Addict Podcast 17: Sketchnoting With Mike Rohde — an interview with me about sketchnotes and the book.

Useful Tools

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As I've managed this emerging project, I've identified some of the tools and services that have been working well for me an my team. Rather than let those details get lost, I want to capture them here.

iPad - I'm finding one of the most valuable tools I've used is my iPad. I've used it for writing the manuscript, reading the manuscript and sketching it out, showing sketchnotes and websites online for the video and as a teleprompter for video shoots to name just a few key tasks. The long battery life, portability and large screen have been instrumental in this project.

Instagram — As I've been shooting video and sketching the book, Instagram has been a great way to share progress with everyone who has been watching it unfold. Amy, my video producer at Peachpit has enjoyed seeing the work Brian and I have been doing as we're doing it.

Basecamp - Having Basecamp has been useful for managing the team working on the video, custom sketchnote font and my featured sketchnoters. It's great for reference, file sharing and storage and easy email replies.

Thanks Again

I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement from everyone following this project. Being able to share the process with you all has been the most fun of all. Thanks!


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 7 - Juggling

The Sketchnote Handbook Cover: Mockup

IN MY LAST UPDATE I mentioned keeping everything moving on the Sketchnote Handbook — this is the story of the project. Keeping everything moving and juggling it and my normal life too.

The good news is, I've been able to keep things moving. There is still quite a bit to do on the book and video, so the juggling will continue.


I've been working hard to get the manuscript finalized, am I'm happy to report I've written all 7 chapters as of this week. There are a few details to finalize, but I expect adjustments to be made even as I illustrate the book.

This coming week is key. I'm working on creating pencil sketches for the entire book — all 7 chapters — to see how many pages the manuscript converts to when fully illustrated and filled samples of sketchnotes to illustrate the ideas.

I'm on a family vacation in Western PA (an hour North of Pittsburgh) which works out well for sketching. I'll have afternoons and evenings free, while the kids have activities, to turn a text-only into a fully sketched book, ready for inking.

It's going to be hard work, but I'm excited to make my written ideas visual.


The second part of the project, video, is really a separate project in itself. The video has progressed as well. Last week Brian Artka and I shot a third of the raw video so he can create 6 videos, including an intro and several on-site shots.

Here are a few images of from Brian's work:

The Sketchnote Handbook: Close-up Shot
Close-up shot at my desk, in Final Cut Pro.

Shooting the TSH intro  Guerrilla Filming
Desk set through the camera, my iPad tele-prompter

Video shoot in progress  Video shoot completed.
On-location: Rania Madanat's shot of us at work, sketchnote of the talk.

See the updated Sketchnote Handbook Flickr set for more photos.

It's been a great experience seeing my team of friends and colleagues working together to make the video happen. From Gabe's scripting and Brian's video, to Jon Mueller's presentation, Translator's beautiful space and everyone who turned out to help make the video happen: thank you all.

We've finalized the soundtrack from Steve Mork. It sounds great, and I can't wait to see it added to the video. We're talking about offering the track, remixed by Steve, for free, so you can add it to your playlists. Stay tuned.

Since I've been creating a video of my book, I have a great appreciation for the hard work put into every film and video production. There are so many takes, so much footage, and yet only a fraction of it survives to be used.

Press & Events

I've been fortunate to have press for the book the last few weeks:

The simple power of the doodle

First is an article by Ian Sanders in The Financial Times: The simple power of the doodle. In the piece, Ian shares how to a variety of business people and visual thinking experts use the power of doodling and sketchnoting in their business. (See the article without FT registration: search for the title on Google News).

FT Doodling Article
Article in the Tuesday, July 17, 2012 issue of the Financial Times.

The Designer Behind the Sketchnotes

An interview with the Chick-fil-A Leadercast blog, The Designer Behind the Sketchnotes, was published on July 8th, asking questions about me, sketchnotes and leadership. It was also a good opportunity to talk about the book.

IFVP 2012

I was invited to speak at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) this coming Wednesday. As it turned out, I was an hour north of Pittsburgh the very week of the event, so I jumped on the opportunity to share.

The event will include a brief keynote on sketchnotes and a 90 minute workshop afterwards to get attendees doing sketchnotes. Most IFVP members focus on larger-scale graphic recording or facilitation — so it will be fun to challenge them to work small and try sketchnoting out.

There's a temptation to decline opportunities to share the message of the book and its ideas, to only focus on writing or sketching or video work. But I've realized over the years how critical it is to take opportunities like these when they come, to help plant seeds for the future. I think they will pay off.

Thank You

I wanted to end this update with thanks to everyone who has been so encouraging as I work through this project. It feels great to have support as I'm fighting my way to completion — thanks!


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 6 - Manuscripts & Videos

Sketchning Shot

IN THE HEAT of this summer, I'm hard at work keeping my Sketchnote Handbook project moving. It's quite hard work, in fact, with so many moving parts. But, slowly, the manuscript is being written and the video seems to be accelerating even more quickly. Here's the latest update:


The biggest challenge of any book is the manuscript. In my case, finishing the manuscript is only halfway to completion, but it is critical because it directs what I will illustrate and drives the video I'm creating at the same time.

I feel good about where I am on the manuscript. My goal is to write all the way through the entire book, in first draft form, by Monday the 9th and I'm on track to achieve it. However, even feeling good about this momentum is balanced by the nagging feeling that I'm always running behind.

Often I feel I should be farther along, or that the draft wasn't quite tight enough. Or worse yet, the feeling I'm forgetting some hugely important piece of wisdom in the text. While not pleasant, feeling behind is not such a bad motivator to keep on working hard at getting the words right.

Fortunately, I have a great editor, who sharpens my words while keeping them true to my voice. She challenges me on assumptions and catches me using cliches. Her hard work makes me look good.

Of course, it's not easy to open a revised Word document, filled with edits and comments. But, as I've had to defend my ideas and have seen how the prose always gets better, I've embraced this process. It's definitely making the work better and that's the key.

I've also shifted to writing all the way through my manuscript for the book — at least the first draft and there are a couple of reasons why:

1. The video we're shooting in the next few weeks depends on the most current writing I can offer to make it work. I have my friend Gabe scripting the video and he needs my latest input.

2. I've come to see that a unified, compelling and sensible set of illustrations for this book requires I have the manuscript created as a whole — even if it's not final. Initially, I thought a chapter at a time would work best, but now I see that having an entire manuscript, ready to illustrate or shoot is more valuable.

I have a bit of writing to do, but I'm excited to see the manuscript unfold.

The Video

The Sketchnote Handbook also features a video companion, which I'm responsible for writing, appearing in and helping to produce. This part of the overall project is on track for shooting next week.

Honestly, I'm a little freaked out producing a book and a video at the same time, but have chosen to keep on moving and am trying to not let it worry me too much. The reason I can consider doing this video are the people who are helping make the video happen.

On the video project, several good friends have come to my aid. I'm lucky to have Brian Artka, the one who shot my promo video, filming and editing the entire project. He's so experienced that I can lean on him knowing video will keep on track and look great.

A few weeks ago, I added Gabe Wollenburg to "Seal Team Sketchnote" as a script writer for the video. Because Gabe has known me for years, I can trust him to channel me into a video — something he's done quite a bit of for others in his career. Once again, I'm lucky to have a great friend on my team.

The timing of Gabe coming along couldn't have been better. I was stumped about writing a video script and just as I faced this, Gabe appeared. He loved the project and was available for me to hire as my script writer. He took my rough table of contents for the video, generated a wonderful outline and has crafted scripts which capture the concepts I want to share, perfectly.

On Monday, Brian and I will begin shooting the introductory videos for the project, and on Thursday we're setting up a live event at Translator in Milwaukee's Third Ward, where I'll be filmed speaking to viewers and sketchnoting my friend Jon Mueller as he presents to a local crowd.

On Tuesday morning, Brian and I shot tests in a new space in Brian's building. The space is open, airy and bright with natural light from a bank of north-facing windows. This is the perfect space for the desk and drawing table sets we have planned for the video. Here are a few stills:

Desk shot sm
Shoulder shot sm

I can't wait to see how this video turns out.

Featured Sketchnoters

I'm excited to announce that 15 amazing sketchnoters are partnering with me to be part of the Sketchnote Handbook, and instead of giving away the surprise, I'll keep it a secret — for now.

I will also feature their work where I deconstruct sketchnotes. This section of the book is designed to help readers see sketchnoting patterns they can use in their own work. I'm honored to have such a great cast of sketchnoters helping make this book and video project a community effort.

The Soundtrack

I'm also excited to have another long-time friend, Steve Mork, helping with the soundtrack of the video. He has years of experience creating electronic music with his Somegirl project. I can't wait to see what he creates for the video.

The Clock is Ticking…

2 months from deadline and I'm really feeling the stress, with so many elements of the book in process: manuscripts, research, videos, illustrations and page layouts all yet to come. having a full-time day job, a wife, family and a 3rd child coming in September makes balance it all… interesting, but I'm feeling good.

If you're a praying person, I'd love your prayers. Pray that I'll keep everything moving, that I'll create something useful & valuable and that I will stay healthy under the stress to complete this project.

Spending the time writing my thoughts down has been helpful and therapeutic. Hopefully these words from an author trying to keep it all going will give you insight into what writing a book is like. It's really, really hard work.

Thanks for sharing my journey.

P.S. You can now pre-order The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Handbook Video Edition on - how cool and freaky is that?


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 5 - Promo Video and Final Cover Design

IT STARTED as a video test. At Brian Artka'a 5th Ward Milwaukee office on a cold April Friday, we spent a day setting up and shooting video of me talking and sketchnoting. The goal was to test the lighting and the space we wanted to use for the Sketchnote Handbook video, for the Peachpit team.

When I saw the final edit from Brian yesterday, I realized he had created much more than a test video — he'd captured a glimpse into the passion I have for design and sketchnoting in an amazing short film:

Mike Rohde: The Sketchnoter from size43, LLC on Vimeo.

I got emotional watching the video for the first time. I'm amazed at how well Brian captures and tells stories with camera angles, focus, lighting, pacing and music. I'm honored to be one of his subjects and am excited to have him shooting the book video with me.

While this video is artistic and focused on me and sketchnoting in a broad sense, the video companion to The Sketchnote Handbook will be much more straightforward, as the goal of the video will be teaching the techniques of sketchnoting. I can't wait to see how the video segments turn out.

The Cover Design Process

Oddly enough, even though I'm still writing the book itself, Peachpit needed the cover to be designed and finalized earlier, so they can begin promoting the book and the video with booksellers.

Over the years, I've found designing anything for myself challenging — I'm often never satisfied with the work I do on my own projects. The cover design was no different and was a challenge to work through.

Sketching went well, helping narrow the choice down to a simple, bold cover design suggesting the cover of a notebook covered in stickers:

SH Cover Concept 5

As I began creating mockups, the cover wasn't working and I couldn't put my finger on why. It felt stiff, and not my style — even though I'd made it.

SH Cover Book Vid v3

Fortunately, I have created a loose book advisory board of friends who provide good, objective feedback as I'm journeying through this book project.

One advisor is Stefan Bucher, designer and creator of The Daily Monster and author of the book 344 Questions. Stefan, being wonderfully blunt, told me to amp it up! Go bold! Make the cover feel like strong sketchnotes I'm known for.

With 3 days left before final art was due, starting over wasn't appealing. But, what I had created clearly wasn't going to cut it. I'm glad I took Stefan's challenge to heart and began anew. Starting over forced me to simplify and clarify the design, resulting in a cover I really love:

The Sketchnote Handbook Cover: Final

Here's a color laser mockup, taped to a copy of Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing With Web Standards, so I could get a feel for how it might look:

The Sketchnote Handbook Cover: Mockup

I'm very pleased with the end result and now see how important starting over was in the overall process. I must remain flexible as I move forward and face challenges while writing this book.

Pen Addict Podcast: Sketchnoting

Last week I was honored to appear on The Pen Addict Podcast with Myke Hurley and Brad Dowdy Penaddict borderof the 70Decibels Network.

I had a great time sharing how sketchnoting came to be, the REWORK, The $100 Startup and Little Book of Talent illustration work resulting from it, the creation of Sketchnote Army and The Sketchnote Handbook.

Go have a listen to the MP3 and if you're a pen addict like me, subscribe to the podcast.

Back to Writing

While it was fun to design my cover, see the Sketchnoter video go live and appear on The Pen Addict podcast, I'm constantly reminded of how much work has yet to be done on the book's writing and illustration.

Now it's time to dive in deep — finalize and ink chapter 1 and begin synthesizing research into a narrative for chapter 2: Why Sketchnote. There is much to do in planning the video: outlining, scripting and shooting video.

Tough work lies ahead, but I'm excited to get on with it.

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