Chad Moore on Getting Started with Sketchnoting

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Image by Chad Moore

This interview is part of a weekly series that focuses on creators who live at the intersection of writing and art. The goal is to provide inspiration and practical tips for anyone looking to add more visuals to their work.

I met Chad Moore through the Ness Labs community, and quickly became intrigued by his experience with sketchnoting. He was kind enough to share his journey with us below. You can keep up with Chad and his visuals on his website, on Twitter, and via his monthly newsletter.

Tell us about the creative work you do.

I am a Scrum Master in Software Development/IT. I’m not making art in my day job so to speak, but there is a lot of room for creative thinking in my role. I do a lot of coaching, and help teams solve problems, so there are elements of creativity throughout the day.

I’ve been a writer and doodler off and on for years, and a couple years ago started putting these things together. I add my drawings to blog posts, and have formalized my sketchnoting practices.

Over the last couple years I started to study and mindfully practice sketchnoting.

How long have you been visually creative?

Ever since I can remember I have taken visual notes of some kind. I made stop motion animations with the family camera and legos when I was younger. I studied photography in high school and college for a while. My teacher showed me photoshop and I got into the digital side.

I worked in game dev for a long time as an animator and technical artist. Then in the design field as a scrum master and project manager, where I assisted with facilitation of all sorts of activities for people and organizations to better understand themselves and their customers.

What went into the decision to start including original visuals with your work?

I don’t remember it being a conscious decision. It just kind of happened along the way. Now I am more purposeful.

What have you found to be the benefits of sketchnoting?

I’m more prone to distractions than I’d like, and have taken on several activities to be more present and focused. I’m building a meditation practice. I was studying improv comedy before covid. You have to be absolutely in the moment when you’re improvising. And sketchnoting is another one of these activities. There’s certainly pre and post work one can do for a sketchnote, but being absolutely engaged in what you’re hearing and seeing, and trying to represent it visually in the moment feels like magic.

What tools do you like to use for creation and publishing?

For sketchnoting, I like to think “something to write/draw with and something to draw on”.

Image by Chad Moore

There is no perfect pen, marker, or drawing app, etc. I think to myself: What pen is closest to you right now? Use that one.

That said, most folks go with a black archival ink pen. Any brand will do, really. I like Pigma micron and Copic multiliners, personally. Copic also makes nice water based markers too. They have ones with chisel tips on one end, and a brush on the other.As for paper, I use a stack of cheap printer paper for the day-to-day doodling and notes. I have a trusty Leuchtturm1917 notebook for bullet journaling and a 5×5 sketchbook for sketchnoting.

I typically start analog, take a picture of my sketchnote, and then go digital.

I have an iPad with the second gen Apple Pencil. It’s my primary computer and my entire digital studio. I draw and animate in Procreate. It is a really feature rich app that I’m still growing into. That said, sometimes I like the simplicity of the Paper app too.

My latest work has me making small animations in Procreate, and putting them together (arranging them on the screen, and controlling when they start) in Keynote. You can do what I’m doing on iPad in Keynote, but it’s frustrating to use, so I borrow my wife’s MacBook Air when I need to do that work in Keynote.

Here’s an example. I made a sketchnote on paper to represent what I wanted the final piece to look like. Then, I created six different animations in Procreate. I brought them all into Keynote to place on the screen, and control their appearance.

As a sidebar, I used to work in video games, as an animator and technical artist. I never did conceptual art myself, but worked with a bunch of folks who did. They’d have a huge PC of course. Over time they went from drawing with a tiny little tablet connected to the computer, to these giant monitors you could draw on directly. Now, all that processing power, innovation, and WYSIWYG is on a tiny tablet. Amazing.

Is there one image you are particularly proud of?

Image by Chad Moore

I was (still am) overthinking how I do what I do. I came across this post on Metacognition from the Ness Labs blog. It really spoke to me, and helped me understand myself a bit better. So I wanted to draw it to have it sink in even further.

I’m proud of the way I represented the abstract concepts visually. Especially Energy. That lil’ guy is my hero. Let’s get his energy up!

However I’m most proud of how I was able to put myself out there and ask several different groups of people for feedback. Sketchnoters, artists, and folks who would read these kinds of articles in the first place. That depth from creators and the breadth from the readers helped me iterate on the illustration quite a bit.

Show your work, get feedback. Don’t wait!

Are there any creators who work at the intersection of writing and art that inspire and motivate you?

Chris Wilson is a sketchnoter, teacher, and writer. I know him personally and he’s a great collaborator too. You can find him at Learn Create Share.

Austin Kleon is inspiring to me as well. His newsletter and books are fantastic. If you have the chance, give his books Steal Like an ArtistShow Your Work, and Keep Going a read. They are fantastic resources for creative people.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to start (or continue) adding visual creativity to their work?

Don’t think, just do.

Don’t get caught up in what you’re trying to do and which tools are best. Just start. Doodle when you’re in a meeting. Science supports the fact that you retain information better if you take visual notes.

Start small. Put one tiny drawing or collage or some other visual you made into your writing. If you’re a blogger, maybe at the start of each heading, use an image instead of an h1 or h2, etc. Putting an image you made into your writing really can show personality and connect readers of your work in new ways.

Here’s an image I used in that context, it was the start of blog post I wrote. This image took me seconds to draw, and is far from perfect. A simple, “imperfect”, easy to make image can go a long way for you and your readers.

Image by Chad Moore

Have fun with sketchnotes. It’s not about realism, it’s about capturing the idea of something visually. If you’re drawing a cat, you can search for images online, and try to represent the cat. It’s even possible for concepts like “interpersonal relationships”, or “code coverage”, or “political divide”. Those concepts require you to think creatively.

Have fun with it!

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