The Concepts Sketchnoting Toolbox

Visual communication has become popular — we use emojis to express our moods and images to share our experiences, while our thousands of little text characters blur into gray among everyone else’s. Studies show that 60–65% of the population are visual thinkers. Are you a visual thinker?

Within businesses, visual thinking is used for brainstorming sessions, making presentations and building team vision. Instead of skimming screens of hard-to-digest text, teammates are connecting via a few carefully chosen words and meaningful images.

On an individual level, visual note taking has become a positive force for understanding and remembering your experiences, whether for class lectures, Audible recordings or travelogues. The truth is, combining pictures with text to represent the main ideas in a presentation helps you to both listen and recall more fully, since it uses both halves of your brain.

The great news is, you don’t have to be an artist to do it.

Mike Rohde, champion of Sketchnoting and creator of the highly digestible The Sketchnote Handbook, shows that by using five basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, line, dot), you can sketch quick, simple images along with your words to capture big ideas. It transforms arduous note taking into a fun time with memorable and shareable results.

Where to start? A piece of paper and pen are the traditional go-tos, but these days everyone is going digital and mobile, so why not go with what’s convenient? If you’re looking for a brilliant Sketchnoting app, try Concepts. Its fluid pens, adjustable after-the-fact ink, and infinite canvas on both iPad and iPhone are just a few of the reasons.

Here is how you can get started Sketchnoting with Concepts.


PROJECT SETTINGS

Make a new project in your Gallery and give these settings to your first drawing. Every time you make a new drawing inside that project, the settings and tools will be the same.

1. Set your Paper Size to Infinite. You don’t have to be confined by dreadful boundaries.

Sketchnoting pros have learned how to plan their spacing beforehand, but knowing where to segment your paper can be excruciating. What if you don’t have a clear idea of the topics that will be discussed? What if there are amazing details to squeeze in but you’ve run out of room? What if the presenter goes off course into an interesting tangent and you never make it back to the plan?

An infinite paper size lets you keep going wherever the thoughts go. You can even Sketchnote on your iPhone — those plastic and glass dimensions are a facade, the canvas goes on forever.

2. While you’re still in Settings, how about some Gesture shortcuts to make your workflow faster? In Sketchnoting, speed is everything — you want to keep with the flow and capture the next big idea.

Under Gestures, set your Two Finger Tap to Undo. “Mistake, be-gone!” (It spoils you.) Set your Three Finger Tap to Toggle Color Wheel. If you need a new color, you’re prepared.


TOOL SETTINGS

1. For Tool #1 at the top of the toolbar, choose a Pen for drawing.

This ordinary Pen responds to speed. Slower is thicker, faster is thinner with nice inky dots on the ends. Set it to 1.5 pts, color Black, smoothing 30% so your lines have flow like your thoughts.

2. For Tool #2, choose a Fountain Pen. This alternate pen is great for popping out important text.

Set the Fountain Pen to 3 pts because thicker = bolder, opacity 100%, smoothing 30%, color Black.

3. For Tool #3, select the same pen as 1 or 2, but in a highlight color. For making brilliant notes brilliant.

I’ve chosen a Fountain Pen set to 3 pts, color Pretty. Orange, pink, green, blue… choose whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. Since you preset your Gestures to Three Finger Tap = Toggle Color Wheel, you can switch at any time, super fast, super easy.

4. For Tool #4, select the Filled Stroke tool. This tool fills in the area between where you put your pen down, and where you pick it up. I use it to highlight my characters — it makes them active.

Set the Filled Stroke tool to 100% opacity and 20% smoothing. I also use this tool in a layer beneath my Pen so the ink stays nice and crisp on top. I’ll talk about Layers soon.

5. For Tool #5, select an Airbrush, Marker, or Filled Stroke tool. This is for shading and emphasis. If you are on a device with a sixth and/or seventh tool slot, go ahead and fill them in.

Airbrush is for soft shadows: set to 50 pts, 20% opacity, 20% smoothing. Marker is for crisp emphasis: set to 40 pts, 20% opacity, 20% smoothing. Filled Stroke is for defining areas: set to 20% opacity, 20% smoothing.

Whichever tool you choose, make it Black. When you lower the opacity of Black, it becomes a lovely, see-through gray.

End of Toolbox.

Just a second. What about an eraser? You can’t not have an eraser.

Since speed is everything in Sketchnoting, the goal is actually not to erase. But people always erase, right? In this vector app, the easiest way is to select your offending stroke with a tap-and-hold and toss it into the garbage. Or Undo your last stroke with that nifty Two Finger Tap shortcut. Fastest.


A FEW MORE TOOLS

1. The Duplicate button. I use this for everything — lines, arrows, sketched ideas already drawn that come up again. Select one, two or every item on your screen and duplicate it as many times as you need.

2. Open your Layers Menu.

Concepts has two Layer modes. Automatic mode puts each tool into its own layer, so each time you pick that tool it draws inside its namesake. Great for airbrush shadows or marker highlights where you draw behind the pen.

But the app doesn’t differentiate every pen type or have an option for every tool yet, like Filled Stroke. That’s still coming.

This might be a reason to consider Manual mode, which is also simple. Tap “Sorted Manually” and select the layer you want to draw in.

I like this method because instead of focusing on tools, I can draw an entire idea inside its own layer. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts. Yes, it takes tapping an underlayer when I want to fill behind the pen, but a tap is speedy enough.

3. Link strokes to link thoughts. Whether you draw in one or several layers, you can keep your ideas together by selecting your strokes…

and grouping them.

With a single tap-and-hold, you can then easily drag the entire thought to new areas, new layers or new object libraries.

4. Infinitely Adjust your ideas. You can see how easily you can select and re-organize your thoughts. If an idea is growing too big for its part of the paper…

… you can calmly select and shrink it, or move it to another area of the infinite canvas.

5. Open your Object Library. Back in the day, people took classes on writing shorthand so they could capture the information fast enough (an amazing skill). With Sketchnoting, you can speed up your process by using pre-drawn objects, which you can tap straight onto your paper.

Concepts has a basic sketchnoting library available in the Object Store, including arrows, banners and thought-bubbles.

Or you can Make Your Own Objects library (MYOO!) using personal objects you use all the time. Try it out by downloading the objects I used to illustrate this article, and use them for free in your own Sketchnoting!

6. Share your notes! Since, you know, they’re awesome.

Use AirPlay to share your screen for presentations.

Export to a JPG or PNG and share on your social channels.

Select Share Drawing Link on the Export screen to send a fully editable Concepts (CPT) project to your iPhone, iPad or friends — just paste the link from your clipboard into your email and send!


That’s a great start. A few other ideas to consider as you start on your Sketchnoting journey:

  • Warm up by drawing a few quick strokes on your paper with action in mind — you are attending your class to actively learn from it. Feel the flow of the ink from your hand through the pen to your paper.
  • Every idea has a motion behind it -> you are going somewhere with it. Arrows and lines are great for showing motion, flow, speed and even emotion. Allow your notes to share the same energy you do.
  • Don’t try to write or draw every word. Focus on listening for and capturing the main ideas of the discussion. Find the ideas that mean something to you because relevance is how you learn best. You’ll be surprised by how much you remember of your experience when you revisit your notes.
  • If you know what your topic matter is going to be, like environmental awareness, art techniques, or sightseeing in Europe, try sketching a few objects in advance to pull out of that library!
  • Finally, find a flow that works for you. Encourage your inner notetaker by trying new things but also appreciate it for its strengths. You are your very best friend.

Best of Sketchnoting to you!


P.S. I highly recommend Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook for Sketchnoting basics, I devoured it in an hour and am happily transformed for life.

P.P.S. To make your own object library using the template:

1) Download the template onto your mobile device. It will open right up in Concepts for you.

2) Open the Object Library and tap More for the Object Store. If you haven’t purchased MYOO, redeem a couple of credits for it. Then touch New + in the upper right corner of the store.

3) Select an object (they are already linked) and tap the + for each one. Enjoy your new Sketchnoting library, and feel free to add your own objects!

If you have more ideas for Sketchnoting, tell us in the comments or email us at concepts@tophatch.com! If you like this article and want to see more like it, please touch the heart and recommend it. Thank you!

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Written and Illustrated by Erica Christensen, Writer | Illustrator | Designer and Sketchnoter at heart.