Here at SDMoM we love creativity, unconventionality, and fresh ways of doing things. We also love when some aspect of the human experience can be explored and described in one of those ways. That’s why we love the sketchnotes shared with us by Jason Alderman. Jason regularly visits the museum and attends our events, always with his sketchbook in hand. He documents what he sees and hears with sketches, then shares the finished pages with us via social media or email, inciting an in-office flurry of forwarding and sharing.

I asked Jason, who works as a software designer, a few questions and asked him to share some info about himself and his sketchnotes.

For starters, what are “sketchnotes?”

Sketchnotes are visual notes taken at live events that fluidly combine lettering and images to make memorable documentation of something you’ve seen.

Why would you make sketchnotes instead of good old-fashioned written notes?

There are a few reasons:

  • to map what I’m listening to and put it in context
  • to help me remember things that I’ve seen or talks that I’ve heard
  • to make notes that I’m more likely to re-read (because they’re interesting! they tell stories!)
  • to help me know where to find certain things within my notes 
  • to create a story that I can share with others 
  • besides that, it’s just plain fun!
And as a bonus, the skills and speed you get from practicing sketchnoting will help you with all sorts of other sketching, too. Sketchnoting is tricky, because you have to take notes, draw, and actively listen to what’s being said, AND try to figure out how you plan to draw it on the page.
How do you lay out the page so it’s not a mess?

First of all, start with the title. Are you going to put it in the center of the page or at the top? At the bottom? Where? Since you know what it is, take time before the talk starts to write out the title and the speaker in fancy lettering. Try to have a rough idea of the direction you’re going to flow (left-to-right, vertical columns, radially, the “talking heads” approach, “the winding river” approach).

Jason draws in pen, which many artists find intimidating. He explains:

A pen, not a pencil, because they’re faster—you’re less inclined to go back to fix mistakes— and they don’t become a smudged gray mess in your sketchbook after your sketchbook gets jostled around in your bag. I look for two things in my pens: pens that have a good, fast flow, and pens that don’t bleed. For a sketchbook, I’d suggest a medium weight, medium-to-low-tooth paper in a spiral bound book.

How do you come up with pages and pages of drawn notes?

Sketching is a creative outlet, and I’m a bit of a nerd for museums, so I try to bring along a sketchbook on the weekends when I make it out to Balboa Park.

How did it occur to you to sketch instead of write? 

I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for the past eight years or so, and doodling and drawing for as long as I can remember. The practice of taking sketchnotes is something that I picked up from The Creative License (a fantastic and tongue-in-cheek book by Danny Gregory on teaching yourself how to draw), and from people like Mike Rohde and Dave Gray who started the phenomenon of “sketchnoting” talks at the SxSW conference in Austin.

You can find Jason’s work on Flickr and follow him on Twitter. And be sure to check out his blog for sketchnoting inspiration, as well as a presentation he gave on the subject last October at a Sketchcamp conference.

See sketchnoting resources recommended by Jason.