Solidifying You Visual Vocabulary - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

Solidifying Your Visual Vocabulary

We’ve come to the end of Visual Vocabulary Month! This is the last post on the topic of building your visual vocabulary before we move on to the theme for next month: handwritten fonts. I’m looking forward to June – I think that will be another fun topic to delve into.

Let’s recap where we’ve been so far this month. I started by explaining why developing a visual vocabulary is a good place to start if you’re new to sketchnoting, and then gave you some ideas for organizing your visual vocabulary in a coherent and useful way. We then did the work of building up that vocabulary, first by focusing on one topic at a time, and then by looking back on a previous sketchnoting session. Keep in mind those two ways of building your visual vocabulary – they’ll come in handy in the future as well.

In this post we’re going to talk about how to solidify the visual vocabulary that you have built up throughout the past month so that you can go on and use those elements with confidence in the future.

Here are three things that you can do to lock your visual vocab deep in your brain and prepare yourself to pull it out at a moment’s notice.

1. Make A World

Make A World - Solidifying Your Visual Vocabulary - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

The first technique is inspired by Ed Emberley’s great book titled Make A World (which, by the way, is a fantastic book if you’d like more examples of objects and people drawn simply and beautifully). Because of the work you have done to date, you have at your disposal a set of symbols and icons that represent ideas and objects. But it may be that you have yet to sketch those elements in relation to others. When you are sketchnoting your task is to lay out words and visuals together to convey ideas, so this is your opportunity to practice that combination of visual elements.

Use as many elements from your visual vocabulary as you can to create some scene or situation. You could even add words to it if you like. Use your visual vocabulary to build a world so that you get comfortable putting multiple visuals onto a page.

2. Make Containers

Make Containers - Solidifying Your Visual Vocabulary - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

Of the many things that I learned from Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook, one was the idea of using a sketched object as a container for words.

This idea of containers gives you a second way to practice sketching out your visual vocabulary in relation to other elements on the page. Think about what words would go well with your visual elements, and then write those words inside a sketch of that element. Try sketching the object first and then the word(s), and try the other order as well – word first then the sketch around it. Which way was easier?

3. Make Variations

Make Variations - Solidifying Your Visual Vocabulary - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

When you’re in the middle of taking some visual notes, you might find that you want to use a visual element of yours in a way that requires you to alter the way you sketch it out. You may know how to draw a closed envelop, but can you draw an open one? Or maybe you can draw a one-story school building, but can you build a two-story building?

By taking time to play around with variations now (which can be kinda fun in and of itself) you’ll both be adding new elements to your visual vocab while also getting good at making those variations, which no doubt you’ll need to do on the fly at some point in the future.

What do your variations look like?


By taking the time to do this extra step of reinforcing the visual vocabulary that you have already built up, you’ll be all the more prepared for the challenge of listening to ideas and sketching them out on paper.

Do you have others ideas for solidifying your visual vocabulary? If so let us know in the comments below.


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