Developing Your Core Handwritten Font For Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

Developing Your Core Handwritten Font For Sketchnoting

Welcome to the month of June, which I am declaring Handwritten Font Month here at Verbal to Visual!

Last month we tackled the building of a visual vocabulary. This month we’ll be focusing on the verbal side of things to help you develop a set of handwritten fonts that you can use consistently while you are sketching out ideas.

Recently on the podcast I shared some research that demonstrates the benefits of writing by hand. So we can go into this month confident that working on our handwriting is a useful way to spend our time!

When I first started sketchnoting my handwriting was sloppy and inconsistnet, but I was really intrigued by the idea of developing different handwritten fonts as a way to distinguish between different types of ideas. Of the many reason that I enjoy visual note taking, one high on the list is the ability to show hierarchy and relationships in a clearer way than with text alone.

So the ability to use different fonts for different purposes while sketching ideas out gives you one more tool to differentiate between ideas.

We’ll get to the use of multiple handwritten fonts later this month. Today let’s start with the development of a core font – your go-to writing style while taking visual notes.

The Important Factors

The Factors - Developing Your Core Font For Sketchnoting


Here are some things to think about as you start developing your core handwritten font:


Even though sketchnoting takes us away from verbatim notes, the ability to write words quickly is still important. The quicker you can get a word or phrase out of your head the better, because that will free up your working memory to be able to pay attention to the new stuff coming in.


Clearly, the ability to read what you wrote down is going to help you out when you later refer to your notes. Legibility affects not only whether or not you can read what you wrote, but also how quickly and easily you can read what you wrote. Any effort and attention spent on decoding letters is effort and attention taken away from your thinking on the problem at hand.


You’re probably familiar with writing on lined paper to fill a page with text, but once you enter the world of doodling that space opens up and it’s worth paying attention to the way the words you write interact with the other visual elements on the page.


Since we are working up to the development of multiple fonts, the more consistently you use each font the better. No need to be too strict about it, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be on your brain.

Now that you’ve got some of the important considerations to keep in mind, let’s dig in to the development of your core font.

Step 1: Select Your Core Font

Step 1: Select Your Core Font


To figure out what you want your core font to be, start with your natural handwriting style. Using either gridded or lined paper, write the alphabet out a little more slowly than usual – first in lowercase, then in uppercase.

Repeat that a few times.

After the third time, take a look at the last set. Between the lowercase and the uppercase version, which is more visually appealing? Make that your core font.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities later to play around with fonts other than these first two, and it is just fine if at some point your core font changes. But this is a good place to start.

Step 2: Practice Your Core Font

Step 2: Practice Your Core Font


Now that you’ve got your core font selected, do some practice to build speed and consistency.

First, go through the alphabet a few times, again using lined or gridded paper.

Then practice writing words – a little bit of stream of consciousness writing in your core font.

Step 3: Get A Feel For Layout

Step 3: Get A Feel For Layout


Next let’s get a feel for layout. On a single page, sketch out quick icons of some things you use on a regular basis. Then next to that sketch (or below, or above) use your core font to write out what you use those items for.

Complete those steps for a number of objects, then step back and look at the page to see if there is anything you notice.

Do you wish you had left more space here or there?

Do you wish you had written your letters smaller here, bigger there?

There are no hard and fast rules to those layout decisions and it’s not worth stressing about them. Simply start paying attention to what feels and looks right for your purposes and move in that direction over time.

Step 4: Sketchnoting Practice

Step 4 Sketchnoting Practice


You have now selected your core font, practiced writing it out, and played around with layout a bit. Now let’s dig into some sketchnoting.

Find some source you’re interested in – could be a book, a video, a podcast, a lecture, a meeting. Take some visual notes using only your core font for writing (and as many visual elements as you like).

After the sketchnoting session, take a step back and reflect on how it turned out. Appreciate the new things your learned, and take note of anything you might want to approach differently in your next sketchnotes.

If you’d like more practice right away, find another source and give it another go!

Keep in mind that a great way to practice your font is to write out the alphabet as a warm up prior to each visual note taking session.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


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