See the full note for details.
How you keep a visual journal is a totally individual thing. So often I think people starting to keep a visual journal think that they have to create "illustrations." For me the journal has always been about being a work book and as such it contains a lot of lists and meeting notes.
Imagine my delight when I stubbled upon the work of Craighton Berman, "a Chicago-based designer, creative director, illustrator & idea-shaper."
His thoughts on sketchnotes are sure shaping some fun ideas in my head. You can read about the creation of the Alec Baldwin Glengarry Glen Ross Speech sketchnotes here. You will also learn Berman's approach to this type of note taking—tips on how to organize your page and keep improvising.
You will also want to check out an earlier article he wrote "Sketchnotes of Ezio Manzine at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago."
Berman breaks down the concepts he uses to create these sketchnotes in a way that I think many journal artists might benefit, whether they take sketchnotes or not. I love his emphasis on improvisation and practice—they are two key components of my own journal habit.
I have several friends who already practice a variety of this type of notetaking. It is something that I believe comes naturally to artists, comics artists, designers, and architects. And I know a lot of people in those professions. Perhaps it's something that they get encouraged to do in art school, but I think it is most likely that visual people when faced with a need to sit and listen simply come up with a way to do that in a way that is most enjoyable for them. That happens to be organizing the material visually.
I tend to be a linear note taker. I have always had great mental retention. My notes are filled with vast passages of word-for-word transcription of things that my listening mind found important.
I have to admit that there are parts of sketchnotes as described by Berman that "frighten" me ever so slightly. He writes about letting go of capturing everything—"Don't be a completist."
Part of my reaction to that encouragement is that it goes against the grain of my earlier training to take exact notes for reporting purposes. But the reality is that even so we edit. We maintain a fiction of completeness.
Basically I love the way he is clearly setting out an approach that will be useful for people to access their creativity, stay engaged actively, and process what they hear. I think the more tools we have for that the better.
For me processing happens in two phases—somewhat when I'm notetaking because I take time to note my opinions about something or mark something for further research. Later more processing occurs when I read over my notes. Then I take more notes for more research, and so it goes.
Berman's approach is appealing not only visually to me but from a time management aspect. The processing is all happening right then. You're making decisions on what's important and what isn't. Complete and irrevocable decisions because you are moving on. Sure you may totally miss the point of what the speaker was talking about, but what emerges is the point you latched on to and captured.
I am surrounded by notes and files and masses of paper information that at some point it was my goal to synthesize. It has become increasingly obvious to me that it will not be so. And that is good. While I might love the "whole" of something, life doesn't really allow me time to apply that across the board. And by trying to appreciate the whole we can often miss the gist. So I am all for methods that get me to the gist quicker, because time's slipping by.
Perhaps it is just a new desire to be "lighter."
I think the world works in serendipitous ways. (I'm a Dickensian, I have no choice.) Just as I am thinking how to streamline my focus I come across someone making a pitch for not being a completist in notetaking. It's a push to move forward. It might even be a push towards a character for my 2012 International Fake Journal.
Whatever your current notetaking process I recommend that you read his thoughts on the sketchnotes at the provided links. Think about your own notetaking process and your own journaling process. Berman even provides a helpful suggestion that you practice by listening to TED Talks!
Move forward, even when it feels uncomfortable.
Post-Posting Note Added 1.18.12 at 10:45 a.m.
Readers sending in links in the comment section set me to searching "visual note taking" on Google. I found this wonderful short video by the extremely articulate Tom Wujec from Autodesk. He is flipping through his visual notes from a TED conference. In seconds he captures the different types of speakers and how distillation occurs. Watch it.