by cell0584 (aka Craig Elliott)


Traditional note taking is the transcribing of information either read or heard by the person recording the information in a written form. Sketching is the use of illustrated symbols and representational images serving as both a visualisation and interpretation of the information received.

Both note-taking and sketching can be a subjective or selective interpretation of the information received by the recorder, and can segue from specifically recording the information received, however sketching involves the use of representational illustrations, symbols or diagrams to visualise the information in a way that can be immediately understood. – with the ability to transcend language, levels of education and incorporate metaphor, iconography and symbolism as part of the communicative representations. Sketching can also detail nuance and an emotional resonance via the subtlety of gestural mark making. Having said that, how notes are rendered on the page through a choice of typographic forms and styles and as a piece of mark-making can have enormous potential as a higher level of visual communication.

A good example of the difference between the written transcription of information and an illustrative approach is to compare the Palaeolithic-era imagery found in the Lascaux Caves and the Egyptian hieroglyphics. The lost language of Egyptian hieroglyphs (ironically in this instance a series of pictorial symbols) would have forever been a mystery had it not been for the Rosetta Stone, which allowed the communication to be interpreted because the information was also recorded in Ancient Greek, which allowed the different transcriptions to be compared and interpreted.

Brainstorming (now called a ‘mind shower’ in this age of political correctness), is the recording then listing of descriptive keywords based around a concept or idea. The act of listing keywords can also be used as an evolutionary process – in that once a word is written down, it moves from the abstract, can be isolated and evaluated, and can itself then be used as a trigger/catalyst to unveil a subsequent array of keywords.


Once information is recorded either visually or transcribed as notes, the communication becomes subjective. Visualisation of information through the use of symbols and illustrative elements can ‘flavour’ the information being presented with essentially abstract conditions such as a sense of emotion and atmosphere. Ultimately thought is abstract, but how this information is presented as a visualised form has the potential to quickly present a form, setting or situation via the reader’s innate abilities to comprehend symbols and imagery as both representative and communicative.

Using representational images as visual communication require prior understanding by the renderer and the reader, of the use of symbolic mark making as a form of detailed communication.

The understanding of illustrated forms can be affected by the reader’s limitations of comprehension via inexperience, background or cultural exposure. The effectiveness of a visualised piece of communication can also be affected by limitations in the skills and ability of the person doing the illustrating.

The written language can also be constrained by the reader’s own limitations in the comprehension of word definitions within a specific language and understanding of a word’s meaning or definition. It is essential to present information with a specific idea about who you are communicating to.



Challenges and limitations to a sketch-noter can the individual’s own ability to communicate via illustrative means. Sketching does involve practice. The challenge is to improve one’s ability to communicate using illustrative symbols and representations.

To paraphrase the words of legendary Warner Brothers Looney Tunes animation director Chuck Jones, which he articulated to a class of aspiring animators, “You all have 100,000 bad drawings inside you, the sooner you get them out, the better you will become.”

It is relevant to note the director George Miller’s approach to the conception of the scripts/screenplays of his films – eg the Mad Max and Babe movies, which are ‘written’ visually through sketching. ‘Writing sessions’ involve the film’s creative team working with skilled storyboard artists who synthesise the actions as visual representations of character action within a setting. By conceiving the story immediately as a visual form, the detailed nuance and information regarding the setting, characterisation, production design and action can be effectively presented without the need for long, detailed written descriptions of the specific components of the film’s production.