The Art of Sketch Notes

If you follow Pastor Colby on social media, chances are you've seen pictures of his Sketch Notes - a collection of words, sketches, and drawings that help him outline his messages for Sundays at Sojourn Grace Collective.  I'm intrigued by them, so I asked more about them.

Here's the skinny on Sketch Notes with some tips on how you can get started doing them yourself:

ME: Sketch Notes? Explain, please.

COLBY: The basic idea behind Sketch Notes is utilizing imagery, shapes, and big ideas to map out your notes. Rather than, say, writing things down word for word, or doing bullet points, Sketch Noting is about larger concepts and creative drawing. For me, specifically,  Sketch Notes is a way for me to study for my sermon writing.

ME: How long have you been doing Sketch Notes?

COLBY: Formally? Not very long. I first started experimenting with it back in December for the Advent Series. But I guess in some way I have been Sketch Noting ever since grade school. I was a doodler all throughout my education, and often times would draw my notes instead of write them during class. But I never had a name for it, nor knew that it was a “thing!"

ME: How did you start doing Sketch Notes?

COLBY: I saw a friend on Facebook (C.Wess Daniels)  post something about Sketch Notes and it piqued my curiosity. He talked about how it helped him in his sermon writing process. And, since I’m only one year in to this whole “writing a sermon almost every week,” I am still on the look out for tools and resources that resonate with me. I had a hunch Sketch Noting would connect with the way my mind works, and I was right!

ME: What insight does Sketch Notes give that text notes don’t?

COLBY: Often times I find connections to things when I draw them out that I might not have seen if they were separated by a few paragraphs and bullet points. There is also a layer of emotional resonance that can come out in a drawing. For instance, if I draw a picture of a man hanging his head low and write words above him like “bad/weak/stupid,” and then draw a little thought bubble that says “self?”, well now I have a more meaningful image for the type of negative self talk we can get in to. Which for me is more impactful when I’m crafting a sermon than just a sentence that says, “sometimes we have negative voices in our head, such as…" 

ME: What's the most meaningful insight you've gotten from Sketch Notes?

COLBY: A few months back I did a sermon involving the theme of forgiveness. I started by drawing a guys head, but it was more robotic than human. And he looked angry. Above him I drew two thought bubbles: one was inspired by an image from an artist friend of mine (Scott Erickson), and the other was a guy locked in a jail cell with the word “release” above him. So I was just sketching along and those two ideas came to me as what forgiveness could look like. Then, without really thinkng about it, I drew a large “NO!” coming out of the robot/man’s mouth. Then, below that, the thought “Who would I be?” And that became a huge theme for that sermon, about the difficulty in forgiving people and releasing them, because we KNOW who we are with that bitterness and that anger, but we don’t know who we might be without them. That insight was a direct result of sketch noting.

ME: Let's say I wanted to do Sketch Notes. What tools do you suggest?

COLBY: A heavy duty journal with nice thick pages (so the ink doesn’t bleed), and a Sharpie Fine Point Pen.

ME: Any tips for someone who wants to try their hand at Sketch Notes?

COLBY: First, I would say that quantity is more important than quality. Which is true of every creative endeavor. Just do it, and do it, and do it again. Second, decide you don’t care if it “looks” good or not. The goal is not to make awesome art, the goal is to capture the images and the big ideas of what you’re hearing or reading, in a way that will help you later. Third, experiment with different lettering and fonts. Find a site (like and just play around with trying to draw different types of lettering. Most of my Sketch Notes have to do with creatively writing words or ideas, and then building around that.

ME: Anything else you want to share about Sketch Notes?

COLBY: The most significant benefit I have found in doing Sketch Notes is that it forces my brain to slow down. I can write really fast, and really sloppily. And so things just come in my brain and leave just as fast. But when I’m forced to think about what I’m drawing, when I’m focusing on shapes and letters, or drawing hands coming out of a communion chalice, or drawing a man beaten on the side of the road, all these things take more concentration. Which allows me to better process what I just read, or just thought, or just heard. I retain the information better, and as a result when I go to write (or deliver) the sermon, those images and ideas are more seared in to my consciousness.