5 Ways To Build Your Visual Vocabulary

One of the best ways to build your confidence as a visual note-taker is to develop a personalized visual vocabulary – a set of easily drawn icons that you can produce with little effort in a short period of time.

Here are five activities that will help you to build your visual vocabulary.

Look Around Your Immediate Environment

You might be surprised at how much inspiration already surrounds you. So look around, pick an object that you see, and then draw that object.

In addition to adding new visuals to the bank you’ll later be able to pull from, this activity also helps you develop the skill of taking a complex three-dimensional object and breaking that object down into simply-drawn lines.

I’ve worked this exercise into my morning routine – it’s the first thing I do when I open my notebook. Prior to some stream of consciousness journaling, I take in the sights around me and draw just one thing that I see.

Where in your day might you be able to weave in this activity?

Look Into Interesting Ideas

In additional to looking at the environment that surrounds you, you can also look into the ideas that interest you.

Read a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a talk. Then take a single idea (just one!) and explore how you might draw out that idea. In the process of that exploration not only will you be solidifying what you learned, you’ll also be adding to your visual vocabulary in a way that’s aligned with your interests.

That’s what I call a win-win!

5 Ways To Build Your Visual Vocabulary - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - sketchnotes, visual note-taking, graphic recording, doodling

Pick A Topic

Another way to build your visual vocabulary around your interests is to pick a topic that you’re interested in, brainstorm a list of words related to that topic, and then come up with a unique icon for each of those words.

This is similar to the way you might learn a new language. Rather than learning words randomly, you focus on a theme (like food, or travel, or daily life) and learn a set of words related to that theme.

In your case, you might pick a topic that’s related to what you’re currently studying or a project that you’re working on.

Word Of The Day

Speaking of language development, you might also try a word of the day app or email newsletter. Use the daily word as your source material, and come up with a visual that best represents that word.

The words you receive each day likely won’t be commonly used, so after coming up with your visual you might also add a new list of words below it that also go along with the image you created.

That’s one of the benefits of building your visual vocabulary – each element can be used to express a variety of ideas!

An added bonus to this activity: you’ll be able to wow your friends with all the new words you’re learning. 🙂

Draw Your Social Media Feed

For our last skill-building activity, let’s reimagine how you engage with your social media feed. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, try focusing in on one post (be it an image, text, or a combination of the two) and draw it out!

There’s actually a Twitter account dedicated to that very activity called Drawn Your Tweet. Check it out for some playful inspiration.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to give one or all of these activities a try!

Know that with each new image that you add to your visual vocabulary, the more prepared and more confident you’ll be the next time you sit down to sketch out some ideas.


Free Sketchnoting Guide

Want to start building the other skills involved in sketchnoting? Check out this sample of The Verbal To Visual Notebook:

That 100% hand-sketched notebook includes a set of prompts to help you put pen to paper and start sketching out ideas yourself.

You can get the free guide here.

Happy sketching!