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My top tips for impressive sketch notes

This week, I moved my playful interest in sketch notes into a professional context, and I "officially" became and artist in residence at a conference. To tell you the truth, I was very nervous, but as I got into it I was picking up little tricks and lessons the whole time. My first sketch-sheet is miles apart in technique from my last at the same event, so it's a very quick learning curve! I thought I would share some of my top tips here to help anyone else looking to start sketch noting, for fun or for work!

But first:

What are sketch notes?

Sketch notes are a way of visually depicting any kind of notes (meetings, speakers, lesson notes...) Usually they are hand-drawn, with a mixture of caricatures, icons and typography, as well as quotes, facts and figures. They can be any size, for yourself or for display, and often very interesting to look at as well as to read!

My top tips for impressive sketch notes

Try to get access to your content early

This is more specific to sketch-noting for someone else, but I found having access to session descriptions and early versions of PPTs really helped prepare me. I got a feel for the themes and keywords the speaker would be using and could think of some illustrative devices in advance.

Choose your paper size wisely.

When I was sketch noting for myself, I was using an A5 sketchpad. Suddenly, for the conference, I was operating on an A2 behemoth of a pad I could barely balance on my knees, as the end sketches would be displayed in a small "sketch note gallery"! Think about what size you're comfortable at, and if you're scaling up/down for an event, get a few to-scale practice runs in first. There's nothing worse than blank space you can't fill.

Decide your direction of flow

I started out using a central point of focus (the title of the talk, the main speaker...) and radiating out in a "mind map" style, but very soon, I realised that I was running out of space as I ventured towards the edge of my page. Next talk, I switched to a more linear style and suddenly I didn't find myself restricted.

Preparation is possible

I was live-sketching talks as they happened, but that didn't mean I couldn't prepare in smalls ways to alleviate the reactive pressure of getting everything down in time! In the days running up to the conference, I researched some sketch note examples from other artists, and practiced sketching recurring icons and symbols so that I could employ them quickly if needed. Things like speech bubbles, frames, social media logos and filler symbols are all really useful. I also pre-sketched a few empty template devices before each session to note around - think large clouds, empty frames and talk titles, location and contact names.

Be aware of your surroundings

The words of the speaker and important, yes, but your notes are visual. What is the context of the session? Is there rain pounding on the windows? Is the audience laughing? Is the speaker wearing a particularly interesting item of clothing? Little details like this can add unique elements to your notes and make them personal.

And finally...

Have fun!

I constantly worried that the notes I was producing weren't good enough, didn't have the key points prominent enough, or wouldn't be interesting to others. I'll admit, I always think I could have done better - it's my fatal flaw! - but I was getting such GREAT feedback from the delegates and staff at the conference. They loved seeing notes from sessions they couldn't get to and the speakers loved that their message could be shared in a new way. As soon as I let go a bit and just enjoyed drawing, then the notes really started to flow.

I hope some of you will find this useful. Are any of you sketch-noters? What are your top tips?

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