A Warm-Up Routine for Sketchnoters

An often-neglected aspect of any type of work is the warm-up.

We’re too eager to jump right into the task itself, either because we’re excited about it or because we just want to get it over with.

But both mental and physical warm-ups have significant benefits. In addition to priming you for the activity that follows, a warm-up also helps you to set an intention for that activity so that you can bring the right type of energy to it.

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a simple but effective warm-up routine to get you into the flow of sketchnoting – a form of note-taking that merges handwritten words with hand-sketched images to ignite both sides of your brain.

Since sketchnoting is both a physical and a mental skill, it makes sense to take just a bit of time to warm up your mind and your body (in this case your arm and hand) so that you set yourself up for success once you start taking in ideas, processing those ideas intellectually, and then making physical marks on the page to represent them.

Here’s a three-step process that I have found to be useful.

Step 1: Shapes & Lines

First, begin by making some simple shapes and lines. Nothing recognizable here, just some abstract marks to get you going.

Begin the warm-up process with an handful of abstract shapes and lines to get you comfortable making marks other than letters.

I’ve developed a sequence of shapes that I enjoy making: I start with some clustered circles, then add some cloud-like shapes around that, then curved triangles in between those clouds, and finally some lines emanating outward in between each of those triangles.

This can be a helpful activity for folks who are new to sketchnoting and not necessarily comfortable with drawing yet. Since it may have been years since you’ve jotted down anything other than words, this is a way for you to get comfortable making different types of marks on the page.

With a bit of experimentation, you might find your own weird set of shapes that you enjoy making at the beginning of each warm-up so that you don’t have to think about it and can just get started.

Step 2: The Alphabet

Next, return to the more familiar world of words! Write out the alphabet in one or two ways.

In the second step of the warm-up process, write out the alphabet in a few different fonts, paying attention to any trouble letters and practicing those a few extra times.

This will probably be a pretty comfortable experience, but if you feel like you have sloppy handwriting, then it’s also an opportunity to slow it down a little bit and pay attention to each individual letter.

You could even practice any trouble letters (those that look or feel clunky) by writing those out a few extra times. The goal here is two-fold: to make sure that your handwriting is legible (so that it’s as useful as possible when you look back on your notes) and also to build up to writing quickly (but never rushed) while maintaining clarity.

So start with your go-to font (which is likely just a cleaner version of your natural handwriting), and then experiment with new fonts that you might want to incorporate into your note-taking process, to help you differentiate between the big ideas and the smaller details.

Step 3: Icons

As we jump to the third step in this warm-up routine, we move from writing to drawing. Let’s practice some icons!

In the third step in this warm-up process, you begin to engage your visual brain by drawing some simple icons – first those you’re familiar with, then some new ones within a theme that might be helpful for you and your work.

First stick with some go-to icons, ones that you’re already fairly comfortable drawing. (Need some help with that? Check out this video: Drawing Basics for Sketchnoters).

After you’ve drawn those familiar icons, then work on expanding your visual vocabulary by picking a theme (like nature, for example) and experiment with some new icons connected to that theme.

If you get bored of singular icons, play around with creating some simple scenes!

The Benefits

Once you’ve completed those three steps, you’re ready to dig into whatever material you’d like to sketchnote for the day!

This process helps you warm up for the day while developing skills that will be useful for life, all in five minutes or less.

You will have practiced all of the letters that you’ll need and done enough drawing to engage the visual parts of your brain so that when you jump into your sketchnotes, you’ll be ready to start merging the two together in a way that’s useful for you.

What I like about this three-step process is that it gives you an opportunity to warm up for that day while also doing some skill-building for life. And it’s a simple and short enough process that you can complete it in five minutes or less.

It doesn’t have to be an hour of dedicated practice. It’s just a bit of warming up and a bit of skill-building right before you jump into the material that you’re actually interested in. This warm-up process will help you get the most out of the attention that you pay to that material.

So prior to your next sketchnoting session, grab a piece of scratch paper and do a bit of warm-up using this method, with whatever alterations you feel like making to it.

And then jump into the real thing.

Dig Deeper

If you’d like a deeper dive into the development of your sketchnoting skills, then check out our courses, starting with An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking:

Reconnect to making marks by hand as you learn to use text, layout, imagery, and color to engage your visual brain.

That course will walk you step-by-step through the process of developing all of the individual skills that make up sketchnoting and then combining those skills as you create a note-taking system that works well for you and your situation.

You can check out our full course library here.

I hope you enjoy giving this warm-up routine a try for yourself!

Happy sketchnoting,

-Doug