How To Sketchnote If You Don’t Know How To Draw

If you’ve ever looked at viral bullet journal pages with beautiful aesthetic work, or online videos that tell stories through sketches, you may have been inspired to sketchnote yourself. 

It can be intimidating to start at first, particularly if you’re not that skilled at drawing. 

However, if you’ve convinced yourself that sketchnotes are only for artistic people, you’re wrong! 

Sketchnotes is simply an approach to laying out information on paper.

It does involve visual features, but these are simply an aid to help you process the details and help you review the notes in the future. 

The process is a lot easier than you might think. If you’ve ever taken notes in the past and used an arrow to link two pieces of information together, you’ve already tried sketchnoting!

If you want to discover how to sketchnote yourself, you’re in the right place!

You’ll find out more about sketchnoting and its advantages below, including how to start sketchnoting yourself if you’re not a skilled artist. 

All About Sketchnotes

Sketchnotes is a visual approach to laying out information on pages. This involves basic doodles, arrows, clouds, and boxes to organize your thoughts and concepts. 

You may have seen people sketchnote on a large whiteboard to present to large groups, but most people sketchnote for personal use.

This may ease some of the pressure, as you can experiment without worrying about others viewing your work.

One of the advantages of sketchnotes is that the human brain is designed to process visual scenes well. We can view and process sketchnote pages quicker compared to written text.

Here are some of the advantages of sketchnotes:

Shared Comprehension

Sketchnotes are ideal when you’re working in teams, as visuals help people understand the subject matter. 

Verbal language is one communication style, but spoken words can be taken to mean several different things.

Using visual content to communicate helps more people understand, particularly internationally to anyone who speaks different languages. 


People that take notes on laptops or computers tend to copy and record the things they hear, rather than processing and rewriting the notes in a way they understand. 

Sketchnoting requires the individual to concentrate and break down the significant details. 

Remembering Details

Mixing visuals with words helps people remember information and keep details in their memory. 

People tend to remember visual scenes better than spoken or written words. Studies have also shown that people remember details better through sketching. 

Aesthetically Pleasing

How To Sketchnote If You Don’t Know How To Draw

Sketchnotes are a nicer and unique way of looking at information. Notes written in basic text form aren’t as attractive and can make going over notes a more cumbersome process.

Helps The Brain

As mentioned above, the human brain is designed to handle images better than words. 

The brain does less work to comprehend pictures compared to understanding words. It’s thought that it can handle visual details around 60,000 times quicker than writing!

Encourages Creativity

Looking at sketches can help inspire creativity and new concepts.

Watching someone create visual notes can encourage cooperation, as other colleagues can co-draw to build on ideas. 

Enjoyable Process

Sketchnoting is a lot more fun compared to writing down line-by-line notes! 

A lot of people aren’t skilled artists, but sketchnoting is more about understanding ideas than creating perfect pictures. 

It helps people see subjects from new ideas, encourages people to try new things, and invites creative expression. 

How To Start Sketchnotes

Now that you know some more about sketchnotes, how do you begin sketchnoting?

First Pencil Mark

When you’re about to start sketchnoting, the blank piece of paper you have before you can be a huge obstacle.

The paper can seem very clean and flawless, so some may believe that any pencil mark they make will ruin it. 

There are two ways of getting past this issue. The first is to draw something very simple in the page corner.

This may be a line, a smiley face, a border, or just today’s date. The most significant thing here is to put your pen on paper.

The second is to think about the things you drew as a child. Picture yourself as five years old and think about what you naturally drew.

Was it a car, a house, an animal, or your family? Draw this subject in the same manner you did as a child.

Childhood drawings are usually simple and two-dimensional, which is perfect for sketchnoting.

The process isn’t about creating artwork, but communicating concepts in simple, memorable ways. Two-dimensional drawings are perfect for this. 

Use Basic Elements

Following on from basic children’s drawings, you may notice that sketchnotes mainly contain basic elements.

There are five basic elements you’ll use when sketchnoting, which are:

  • Lines (curvy, crooked, straight)
  • Triangles
  • Dots
  • Circles
  • Squares

Try using these elements to draw a simple image, like a car, clock, balloon, or flower. 

Use Shadows And Color

If you want to make your sketchnotes appear professional, use shadows to make shapes three-dimensional. Simply use a light gray, thick pencil to draw lines in or out of a shape.

Considering your color palette can help here. This will help people figure out what details are more important and comprehend links better. 

Select two or three colors in a thoughtful manner. Use a consistent color code for informative sentences, subtitles, and titles.

Think about your important images and less essential visual pieces. You can also use specific colors to emphasize particular components. 

Right Amount Of Text And Images

Sketchnotes contain both images and texts, but it’s important to find the right balance between these parts. 

Roughly 20% text and 80% images work in most cases, but remember that your text shouldn’t be lengthy. Keywords and bullet points are all you need to emphasize particular points. 

Use lines or arrows to represent orders or links. You can write down important quotes as long as they are relevant, but avoid using too many of these to save space. 

Beginner Sketchnote Basics

How To Sketchnote If You Don’t Know How To Draw

Now that you know how to start sketchnoting, here are some sketchnote things to try as a beginner.

Use A Headline

Adding a headline to your page helps organize any details that are on it. The simplest way of doing this is by writing the letters larger than any other elements.

Headlines look best when they’re at the top or middle of a sketchnote page. 

If you want to make the headline stand out further, draw a colored line beneath it or use a highlighter to emphasize every letter. 

You can choose to sketch the headline in block letters, but if you’re a beginner, it’s better to keep it simple.

The way you write the headline isn’t significant here, but distinguish it so it’s the first thing you’ll see when you glance at the page. 

Use Clouds And Boxes

One of the main things that make sketchnoting unique is how details are organized on a page.

Textbooks and magazines do this regularly, as they take individual, yet related details and place them in colored boxes.

A simple way of doing this is to write a quote, phrase, or sentence, then use a colored marker to draw a cloud or box around it.

This will lead the eye to the details and give it weight on a page.

Use Stick Figures

Stick figures may be simple, but they’re very useful in sketchnoting. Everyone knows that these easy-to-draw figures resemble people. 

You can make stick figures emotional by making them frown or smile. Use clouds, question marks, or exclamation points over the head to make them come to life. 

When you use different lines for legs and arms, the stick figures can run, walk, wave, and even dance. 

Remember that stick figures aren’t meant to be incredible pieces of art, but they help details and information become memorable. 

Add Dividers And Borders

Using dividers and borders can help give a page character. An easy way of doing this is by using a ruler to half a page, then drawing a line to separate it.

You can dress the page up by making the line dashed or in a different color.

If you want some inspiration, search for ‘decorative page dividers’ online. This will show you a range of design ideas, but only use simple examples.

If this seems a daunting task, simply use a colored pencil to draw a line. 

If you prefer, you can use washi tape to do this. This saves you from sketching anything at all and adds color and life to your page.

Don’t stress out over borders and dividers, as they’re simply meant to separate ideas.

They can help you use any blank areas of your page, so these don’t need to be super complex or artistic! 

Use Stickers To Hide Mistakes

Sketchnoting is meant to be fun, but assessing your work will only take the enjoyment out of the process.

Despite this, everyone makes mistakes, so there’ll be times when an error makes you view your notes in contempt.

If you ever sketch an idea that doesn’t translate on paper, simply cover it up!

You can use a blank mailing label to turn that part of the page blank once more, or use a fun sticker that works with the rest of the page. 

Use Your Favorite Medium

If you’re a beginner at sketchnoting, it’s important to start with a medium that you prefer. 

For instance, if you hate using colored pencils to draw, but prefer working digitally, you’re going to have a hard time sticking with the process.

Vice versa, if you like working with paper and pen, digital apps won’t be your friend. 

Think about what mediums you’re more comfortable with and experiment with a few until you find your favorite. 

Keep Practicing

Sketchnoting may not be about producing artistic drawings, but it can be disheartening when you’re unhappy with your first few sketches. 

If this is the case, try to keep going! 

With consistency, your later sketches will look a lot better than the ones you first drew. The only way to improve is to keep practicing. You’ll be surprised at where you end up! 

Intermediate Sketchnote Tips

How To Sketchnote If You Don’t Know How To Draw

If you’ve practiced sketchnoting for a while, here are some intermediate-level things to try.

Create A Library Of Ideas

As you continue sketchnoting, you’ll find that you keep drawing certain icons again and again.

It can be helpful to note down some basic, simple pictures that resemble certain things. You can keep referring to this library whenever you need it. 

Examples include a basic house and chimney to represent home, a briefcase to represent work, or a heart to indicate love.  

Remember that online image searches can give you some visual representation ideas if you’re stuck for inspiration. 

Don’t feel bad about copying images you see online, as these are simply meant to get you started. As you keep practicing, you should soon develop your sketchnote style. 

Avoid Too Much Color

A common mistake people make when sketchnoting is using too many colors to write words.

As mentioned above, using one or two colors to separate information can be useful, but if you’re writing words, it’s best to stick to black ink. 

Humans have been reading books and blog posts for years, so we’ve trained our eyes to view words in black ink.

This is also important when working on white paper, as the contrast of black on white is useful for the brain and eyes.

Aim to use color for borders, drawings, boxes, bubbles, and headings, but black ink for most of your text. 

Use High-Quality Tools

If you’re just starting with sketchnoting, you can begin with whatever tools you have at your disposal.

However, when you have some more experience, it’s best to use high-quality pencils, markers, crayons, and pens. 

The old, nearly empty ballpoint pen in your desk drawer won’t be able to sketch a bold, dark line on your page.

Similarly, using your children’s remaining school markers will lead to poor sketching results. 

It’s best to use tools from high-quality, trusted brands. Popular brands like Uniball or Bic are great for sketching pens. 

If you’re looking for color tools, Prismacolor coloring pencils and Crayola crayons work well. Drugstore crayons and pencils don’t leave a lot of color, leaving you with faded lines on your paper. 

The advantage of using high-quality tools is that you obtain impressive results without any extra effort.

If you think that your sketches are the issue, try switching to different tools and see if this makes a difference.

Embellish Stick Figures

We’ve covered how basic stick figures work well in sketchnotes, but you can embellish them so they have more impact on a page. 

For instance, instead of using a basic circle for a head, try a different shape, like an oval. You can also do this for stick figure bodies, like a rectangle, oval, or even a star. 

You can also give your stick figures some clothes, like basic shirts, pants, and shoes.

Using different shapes lets you add more color to the figures, which can help your notes come to life.  

The Sketchnote Question Beginners Keep Asking 

Beginners and sketchnote newbies always ask this one question: how am I supposed to know what to sketch on a page?

The answer is simply: by guessing! 

Sketchnotes shouldn’t be an accurate transcript. You won’t be able to note down every word, and you shouldn’t want to anyway! 

Sketchnotes are designed to help you concentrate and process ideas. This helps them stay in your memory and encourages new ideas when you look over them in the future.

Taking this into account, aim to note down the primary significant ideas and ignore anything else. 

As you continue making sketchnotes, you’ll notice that some main concepts stick out, or phrases that the speaker keeps repeating. Note these ideas down. 

Regarding where to draw doodles, try leaving some room around each concept. You can then return to the page when you have time to add simple elements. 

We’ve covered how practice is important above, as your sketchnote ability will improve the more you do it. Take the time to make lots of imperfect sketchnote pages. 

Try taking a plain notebook with you on the go. You’ll see that you’ll encounter lots of sketchnoting opportunities during your day.

Examples include daily podcasts, coffee get-togethers, and chance meetings. 

If you’re not prepared to sketchnote in front of others, find short TED talks online and practice sketchnoting their content at home.

Use videos or podcasts that are under six minutes at first, then increase the length as you go on.

As you get more confident, you’ll find that your ability to sketch and retain important information improves. 

The Bottom Line

Sketchnoting is a lot simpler than it looks! You don’t need any artistic talent to sketch and layout information on a page.

You probably already do this differently, through writing or verbally expressing things so you understand them better. 

Making normal notes into sketchnotes simply involves using headlines, basic doodles, and colorful elements, as these make it easier to visually process a page. 

Sketchnoting is enjoyable and great for your brain, so give it a go! You’ll be surprised at what you come up with.