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Entries in Sketchnotes (78)


Coffee Achiever Interview at

cp-sketchtoon-calendar-2009.jpgI'm very honored to be interviewed and featured as Coffee Achiever for December 2008 issue of the iNeedCoffee newsletter.

I replied to questions from Alex Scofield, who crafted his article from my replies. It's fascinating to see how Alex's article compares with my interview replies. If you're curious, I've included my interview replies below.

Here's an excerpt from Alex's article:

"The coffee artwork in Rohde’s calendar is an outgrowth of his Sketchnotes. They’re a twist and a major upgrade on the margin doodles of a note-taking student – Sketchnotes capture an event utilizing visual elements and fonts that are as crucial as the text in the overall presentation."

You can read the entire interview and the other great articles at

Original Questions & Answers

Here are Alex's questions and my detailed replies, the basis of the final article.

Q: Can you say a little bit about where you grew up, where you went to school, and how you developed as an artist?

I grew up in Chicago, an area called Rogers Park, right on the border with Evanston, Illinois near Northwestern University. I went to school in that area through my Freshman year in high school, when our family moved to the Milwaukee area, where I still live today.

My elementary and high school years were very formative as an artist, because I drew all the time. That early experience of constantly drawing has been key to drawing and illustrating now that I'm older.

Q: How were SketchNotes born, or how did they evolve toward their present form?

They were born back in 2007 in a form clearly defined as "sketchnotes". I was attending a UX Intensive event put on by Adaptive Path in Chicago when I created the first set:

I decided to try intentionally including drawings and fonts in my notes to see if it was possible and how well I would be able to capture the event. It worked out so well, I've continued to take sketchnotes at other events:

Lately, I've been invited by organizers of several events like SEED 3, and An Event Apart to be the official 'sketchnoter' at those events, which has worked out quite well:

I'm scheduled to attend Word of Mouth Crash Course on December 10th, and SXSW Interactive in March 2009 as the official sketchnoter. I'm very excited about these and other future sketchnoting opportunities.

Q: Was there anything in particular that inspired the calendar’s coffee theme?

Our friend Kathy loves coffee and happens to have a coffee themed kitchen. We had a terrible time finding coffee calendars for her at Christmas, so we decided to create our own coffee calendar at Café Press.

A few years ago my wife and I created a coffee calendar with photography, which our friend loved. Then, as I had been sketching more in the past few years, I had the idea to do a calendar with an illustrated coffee theme.

So, I took my Moleskine pocket sketchbook to local cafes and began the illustration, which were scanned and colorized in the Mac and posted at Café Press as the calendar you can buy today:

It's been very popular as a gift, I think because there are so few good coffee calendars out there. Turns out I'm the top organic hit in Google search results for 'coffee calendar' along with my friend Ricardo Levins Morales' wonderful illustrated coffee calendar:

Q: Can you describe the “colorization” process used for the Sketchtoon calendars?

The art is all done in black and white in a pocket Moleskine sketchbook, scanned in and colorized in Photoshop.

I've found a few special brushes in Photoshop to created the mottled look for the dark brown, and the color for the coffee drinks was painted so it overprints the black artwork.

Q: The first time you colorized your art this way, was it a happy accident, or the expected result?

I've actually done similar colorizations in my career as a graphic designer, in particular some illustration work for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee years ago, with black and white art colorized in Photoshop.

I like this approach because I can easily change direction or colors by simply re-doing a layer of the Photoshop file.

Q: Do you ever do your coffee Sketchtoons while you’re drinking the beverage described?

Heh, great question! I've had most of these drinks, and a few while sketching the art at the local café.

Q: Do you remember when you first drank coffee?

When I was about 5 I spilled hot coffee on myself at my grandmother's house, but it hasn't deterred me! I recall starting to drink coffee regularly in college, when I worked as graphic editor for the Milwaukee Area Technical College Times. They had a coffee club I could afford, and during the cold winters, hot coffee was perfect.

Q: What is the café/coffee scene like around Brown Deer and Milwaukee? Any favorite places?

Of course we have the chains here, Starbucks and Caribou, but in Menomonee Falls where I live, we have an excellent local coffee shop called John Harbor's Main Street Coffee house. They feature great, locally roasted coffee, food, free WiFi, and live music:

Another Milwaukee area roaster and coffee chain called Alterra Coffee, with cafes all over the city in interesting and often historical buildings:

And there are all sorts of small, independent cafes and coffee shops around the city, too numerous to list.

Q: How big a part of your life is coffee these days?

Coffee is very important. I brew coffee in the morning for my wife and I to
start the day. At Northwoods Software where I work, I often pull shots of
espresso or make cappuccinos on the office DeLonghi Magnifica — which I have
to say is great to have around.

I also have a Krups espresso maker at home which takes pods as well as ground coffee, a French press and a handy moka pot.

Every now and then I like getting away to my local café for coffee to read,
or do a little sketching or design work in a relaxed environment.

Q: What is your favorite kind of coffee, or your favorite coffee-based beverage?

I like darker roast coffees and given a choice, I'll take a cappuccino or a well-pulled shot of espresso. For me coffee is all about taste.

Q: From the ‘Diner Coffee’ entry, I get the feeling that you appreciate high-end coffee, yet are okay with drinking diner coffee, too, depending on the situation. Am I right?

Yes, exactly! I like exploring a wide variety of coffee and surprisingly, some diner coffees aren't so bad. I think in the US there's been a positive effect of Starbucks and other coffee establishments improving the quality of coffee overall, which benefits we coffee fans in the end.

But I will say that when I encounter truly bad coffee I won't drink it. Life is just too short to torture my taste buds. :-)

Alex, thanks for the opportunity to interview with iNeedCoffee!

Check out the full interview at


Michelle George's Global Leadership Summit Sketchnotes

A few weeks ago I received an email from Michelle George, who had questions about the pens and Moleskine notebooks I use to capture sketchnotes. I shared my thoughts and about a week later Michelle emailed to share her sketchnotes:

Global Leadership Summit 2008 : 00-01

It was very cool to see Michelle use sketchnotes at her event. I was curious to hear her feedback after trying out the sketchnote approach at the Global Leadership Summit she attended, so sent Michelle a few interview questions:

Michelle, I’m curious to hear how the sketchnote approach worked for you. Was it easy to do? Were there specific challenges you found while capturing your sketchnotes?

I found it difficult to start with because sketchnoting is a totally different style of note-taking to what I use most of the time. I occasionally work as a scribe in government recruiting processes, and that involves taking LOTS of very detailed notes during the interviews.

To get the speed and accuracy I need for that I type on my little laptop (Fujitsu Lifebook 1620P), and end up with three or four pages full of single-spaced notes after a 30 minute session.

The sketchnote approach forced me to slow down and process the information on the fly and what I ended up with was a much more distilled representation of the information.

The sketchnotes that I filled my little Moleskine with are about what was impacting me as the speaker delivered his or her message, as opposed to being a slab of recorded information that was disconnected from how I felt about it.

Once I got going it was pretty easy. I have doodled in journals for years, and have played around with graphic design a bit, and letting those things flow as I processed really was a meditative process. I loved it!

Challenges? Hmmm... yeah that my sketching ability sucks when I’m under pressure! Normally my drawings take several hours…to whip out a sketch in less than a minute takes some serious skill! Practice!

How do you feel about your sketchnotes after the fact? Are they easy to read? Did they capture the detail you had hoped for?

Usually I take notes at a conference, the notebook gets tucked away and I rarely go back over them unless I’m looking for material for an article, but with sketchnotes, they are like little pieces of art… I have to confess that I love looking at them.

I am really pleased with the way they turned out as a first attempt. I don’t think they are particularly aesthetically pleasing, or anywhere near as wonderful as yours, but I have enjoyed the process itself as well as going back over the notes.

I have found it remarkably easy to remember the context and even some of the mannerisms of the speaker, which is a real surprise to me given the notes are not a verbatim account of what happened at the conference. I would have liked to draw a little more to reinforce the words, but I think that will come with time as I practice.

Michelle, what do you do professionally?

I work for myself as a technical writer. I work with government ICT sections and small businesses to produce user documentation, process and procedural documentation, and help desk material.

I also do some scribing and editing work, and the occasional graphic design job. I am passionate about clear communication, and I am fascinated with the connection between the written word and good design.

My business website Robertson Studios is being given a facelift at the moment, though you can see my personal blog and my online drawing board, to see more of my work online.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your sketchnotes and thoughts on using them!

Mike, thanks for the opportunity to share this stuff! I love the way the Net connects people all over the world!

You're welcome Michelle! Thanks for taking the time to talk and share your work. I hope it encourages others to try out the sketchnote technique at their next meeting or event.

(Ed. - Michelle lives in Canberra, Australia with her husband and two sons.)


Skecthnotes on The Thirsty Developer Podcast 39

I'm happy to announce that my interview on sketchnotes with Larry Clarkin and Dave Bost for the Thirsty Developer Podcast is online!

In this episode of the Thirty Developer Podcast, Larry, Dave and I talk about how sketchnotes came to be, my approach to creating them, the tools and techniques I use and how sketchnotes might be useful for information documentation on development projects.

Here's the show link and the full MP3 for your listening pleasure.


An Event Apart Chicago 2008 Sketchnotes

I'm back from An Event Apart Chicago 2008 and have just posted 82 pages of my sketchnotes captured at the event. I've created a FlickrSlidr show below:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

aealogo.gifI thoroughly enjoyed all of the talks on Monday and Tuesday. I picked up on a couple recurring themes: a challenge to add more craftsmanship to our work in an era of modular CMS tools and a challenge to push our designs further and break new ground in web design.

Sketchnotes Report

Sketchnoting event went very well. My hand was a bit tired at the end of the 2 day event but not nearly as tired as I feared it might be. My mind was more fatigued from processing all of the excellent talks I was able to hear.

In the end I captured 82 pages of sketchnotes, using up a brand new Moleskine pocket sketchbook in the process. I had to use another sketchbook to capture the final Q&A session on Tuesday afternoon.

At the event, I had a chance to speak briefly with Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer about sketchnoting. They were both happy to have me there and very curious to see what I would capture. I hope you guys like the results. :-)


An Event Apart Chicago 2008: Official Sketchnoter

Hooray! On Monday, October 13th & Tuesday October 14th I'll be the official Sketchnoter at An Event Apart Chicago 2008! aealogo.gif

What is An Event Apart?

Imagine 2 full days of learning from the greatest minds and hottest talents in web design and development, then add a healthy dose of meeting other like-minded, passionate web designers and developers — that's An Event Apart.

Speakers? How about: Andy Clarke, Curt Cloninger, Jason Fried, Robert Hoekman Jr., Cameron Moll, Sarah Nelson, Derek Powazek, Jeffrey Veen, Rob Weychert, Jason Santa Maria, Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman. Heavy duty.

This event is so good, it's already sold out!

I'm excited about sketchnoting the event. We'll see how my brain and hand hold up with so many great speakers and topics packed into 2 very intense days.

I'll be posting my sketchnotes after the event. If you're curious about sketchnotes, have a look at my Sketchnote Collection on Flickr.

Thank you Mr. Zeldman for the invitation to join the event and provide sketchnote-by-sketchnote coverage. I'm honored!

Say Hello!

I'm staying in Chicago Monday night to meet attendees and speakers, so if you're attending An Event Apart, drop me a line with AEA in the title, or follow @rohdesign on Twitter. I'd love to meet for a coffee and show you my Moleskines!