Want to know how to make awesome nudenotes (or sketchnotes), but don’t know where to start?
Step this way, my friend, and join the nudenotes revolution.
This is nudenotes 101.
In this blog article, I will guide you through the basics, so you can start making your own nudenotes. I’ll include the foundational techniques and tricks I've learned over the past ten years in creating my own unique style of sketchnotes, which I call nudenotes.
If you're new to nudenotes, and aren't sure what they are, read this quick manifesto.
If you want to find out about the value of nudenotes, check out the blog I wrote for Logo Creative: Sketchnotes: Why nudenotes are so awesome.
Here are the notes I made whilst I developing that article - as you can see there is still room for a little more.
Before we dive into the article, I want to clarify what this blog isn’t going to cover.
There are plenty of blogs about what pens and paper to use when making notes.
In my opinion, it doesn't matter what pen and paper you use to make your nudenotes.
What matters is that you’re developing your skills, learning process and creative mindset through making notes. I believe that your mindset has a massive effect on what you produce, particularly when it comes to nudenotes.
My aim with this article is to help you to change your mindset, so you don’t get as much 'creative paralysis' or writer's block during your nudenoting process.
In keeping with the whole point of nudenotes, I’m going to write this article in bite-size chunks - tasty, concise mouthfuls of nudenote-making wisdom.
Let's tuck in...
Perfection is boring
Nudenotes aren’t art, they’re a process. A cycle of learning and creating. Your notes should have an energy to them, one that resonates with you.
At the end of the day, they are your nudenotes.
They should be just as unique as your own personality.
It's not about your ability to draw, grammar or spelling: this isn’t school! No-one is judging or grading your work.
Be brave, embrace your mistakes, and savour the journey of progress.
Enjoy the process of learning whilst making notes, and the more polished style sketchnotes that inspired you to give it a go will eventually come,
just give it time.
Practice, practice, practice
No-one simply wakes up and can create awesome sketchnotes. It just doesn’t happen.
It’s the synergy of several skills and getting the balance right which takes time.
The only way to improve is to practice and push your skills each time.
It can be helpful to work this into your daily routine. For example, if you’re in a meeting, try adding in some simple drawings into your notes, or use them when you’re planning a holiday, studying for an exam, working on a project for a client, or even thinking through a tricky DIY problem.
Limitations will set you free
Staring into a blank page in your notebook can be daunting, with all the creative options in front of you: the colour, type, or thickness of the pen; landscape or portrait; start in the middle or at the edge; write in capitals or lower case; what style of writing...
Where do you start?
The best way to start is by limiting your options. If you’re worrying about all of these things, you aren’t focusing on the actual point of your notes - the process of learning and creating. So your notes are a meaningless output.
For my notes, I only use three pens: a black biro and two felt pens - black and a grey. This limit forces me to be creative with how I use these pens to best communicate the content. Most of the time, I write in capitals. I find them easier to read, but do whatever is easier for you to read.
I recommend sticking to two letter-form styles to start with: titles and body copy. As you get more confident with your skills and abilities, you can start to use more letter form styles. I still only use a handful of letter-forms in my nudenotes.
Too much choice can result in creative paralysis.
Choose styles of writing, and types of pens and paper that are easy for you to access and recreate, that feel comfortable, and that don't take up the mental space where the learning aspect of nudenotes should be.
If you're unsure, start off with your own normal handwriting as the body copy, and it'll evolve from there.
Don't worry about legibility - as long as you can read it, it's done its job.
Remember: your focus should be on learning and retaining the content.
Originality is a waste of time
If you're new to nudenotes, don’t waste your time trying to re-imagine someone else’s notes, infographic or content. Adopt the mindset of the old artist apprentices who copy their artistic masters’ work until they were just as good as they were, or better.
As humans, this is how we learn - by copying.
In the beginning, your focus should be the content, not ‘how do I make this seem original’.
Being different comes after you master your process and skills - just look at Picasso's early work.
That being said, you can tweak, improve and adapt to your own tastes, to suit your learning style and personality, but it's a waste of effort to ignore the time and skill of people who came before you in the pursuit of 'being original'.
Give credit where it's due
Having said all of the above on originality, it's important to know your sources and reference them when and where you can.
In my booknotes series, in which I make nudenotes on various books I read, I always tag the author or book - and I have yet to receive a cease and desist letter.
In fact, it’s been the opposite. It has lead to YouTube interviews, kind comments and reposts.
Plus, when you look deeper into your sources and their inspirations, you learn even more, and, as we always say, knowledge is power.
At the end of the day, you are promoting their work in a new and interesting way to potentially new audiences, adding value showing a genuine interest and that you are getting the most out of their book. It’s mutually beneficial.
Do your research
You’re going to spend a lot of time reading, and likely re-reading, lots of things about your nudenote topic. Find something that interests you: a hobby, passion or area you want to learn more about.
This is how I started my sketchnote cookbook - I wanted to become a better cook and have more variety of recipes in my cooking arsenal.
So when that whenever I need a little inspiration for what to cook during the week, or need to know how to cook the perfect steak, I have it all in a handy little notebook, in an easy-to-read format.
If you look hard enough, you can do nudenotes on absolutely anything!
I've already done nudenotes on Game of Thrones, The Thick of It, plans for our garden shed, our trip to Palma, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, to name a few.
But yours don't have to be as geeky as mine, if that's not your scene!
For those of you new to sketchnoting and nudenotes, I suggest you set up a Pinterest board with your inspiration for topics and layouts of nudenotes - check out my Pinterest board here.
It’s great for gathering together and organising your various sources of inspiration.
So if you do your research, the nudenotes you create will be handy tools for both you and anyone who sees them!
Keep an eye out for infographics!
Infographics are absolute golden nuggets of inspiration, because they're already designed to be a working combination of information and visuals - all of the information has been crafted into an effective piece of communication design.
They can be a great source of inspiration when you start out making your nudenotes, and you can use them as a sort of ‘template’.
Someone has already spent a lot of time working out the best way to communicate the information in a clear and concise way.
This allows you to focus on the content, how to inject your own personality into your notes and learn more in the process.
Work to a grid
For graphic designers, this will be an obvious one.
A grid works as a framework for you to map information on.
For nudenote newbies, it's best to start out using a grid - you could use a gridded notebook or graph paper. Before you start a nudenote, think about the information you’re going to work on, and whether it can be broken down into chunks.
For example, if you are making notes on a list of seven items, plus a title, that's eight pieces of information.
Grab a pencil and a ruler draw out a simple grid which has eight spaces. The grid can have as many arrangements as you need, depending on your page size and the layout you feel best suits your content.
Once you have finished all your notes in pen over the grid (and once the ink has dried), you can use a clean eraser, holding the page down firmly and erase out all the pencil grid lines.
Voilà! Perfectly laid-out nudenotes!
Marketing guru Seth Godin once said, "If you set your bar at amazing, it's pretty difficult to start.".
This definitely applies to nudenotes. When you start out with nudenotes, it can be easy to fall into a negative spiral by comparing your work to that of other peoples. Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle or end.
As I said earlier, people don't just wake up one day with the ability to make amazing sketchnotes. Many have taken years to develop their skills, and they may even be professional graphic facilitators (people who get paid to make sketchnotes).
As for me, I studied Art and Design at college, have a BSc in Product Design, and have been a professional designer since 2011 - and I've been doing nudenotes all that time.
Even after that, I won't say that my work is absolutely perfect, but, as I said before, that's not the point.
Focus on developing your skills, your process, and your unique style.
Your nudenotes are as unique as your fingerprints.
This is where it gets a little more advanced. Storytelling can be a powerful tool in both retaining information and then communicating that information to others. There are several ways to introduce storytelling, from numbering your points to using arrows and illustrations to direct the viewer's eye across the page.
As mentioned in the grid section, grab the pencil and a ruler, lightly sketch out a plan on your pages, test your ideas.
Don't hesitate. Just dive right in.
What is the worst that can happen? There will always be another page you can start again with that knowledge and how to avoid those issues next time.
Your mistakes are also part of your personal story, so embrace them as your journey and your progress.
Icons and illustrations
Struggling to think of a visual way to note a particular phrase?
This happens to me all the time, but I have a solution.
Pinpoint the keyword(s), then get on Google and type them in, adding the word ‘icon’ or ‘illustrations’. Ta da!
With this 'magic trick' (that's so simple it hurts), you'll have access to thousands of images of potential ways you can visually communicate your idea.
Using your findings as a reference, it should give you a boost of creativity, so you can overcome your sticking point.
Over time, you'll build up your own ‘visual vocabulary’, and you'll be able to automatically associate words with these symbols, which will also increase your speed of creating nudenotes and help you retain the content more.
That's everything for nudenotes 101 - stay tuned for more hints and tips on how to make your best nudenotes!
Hopefully this article has inspired you to pick up a pen and join the nudenotes revolution.
I'll wrap this up with this awesome quote from Seth Godin:
“Just start. Start now. Fail often. Make nudenotes.”
(Okay, I did change the quote slightly at the end.)