A sketch-note journey for Doctors Without Borders

What the heck's a sketch-note?

Sketch-noting is pretty much doodling. It's a style of taking notes using cartoons, colors, visuals, words, arrows, speech bubbles... pretty much whatever you want, to jot down information visually.

I've been sketch-noting since the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting back in 2015, when I broke out my dollar-store set of watercolors to imitate the beautiful nudibranch tweets of coral researcher Shayle Matsuda, on Twitter as @wrong_whale.

For me, sketch-noting has been my go-to trick at conferences to keep from zoning out. You know those long periods of a researcher's talk where you have no idea what's going on? The long list of acknolwedgements, or the details molecular methods? If I'm not keeping my mind busy, it takes off to a faraway land, and I don't even notice I've space out until the talk's over, ten minutes later, and I missed the whole punchline.

So, I paint notes the whole time. It works like a charm. When my brain isn't interested in the presentation, I take a minute to color in my last minute's cartoons and keep one ear open, ready to start listening again when the talk returns to something interesting.

Once I started posting my sketch-notes on social media, they picked up interest. Since then, I've gotten a few paid sketch-note gigs!

Here's the process behind my most recent work. It's a sketch of the Environmental Impact Toolkit for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), commissioned viaTwitter by the wonderful Carol Devine.

Brainstorming notes from my first read-through of the documents on which the sketch was based.

The concept sketch, based on three written documents.

The final sketch, after many back-and-forth discussions with the client, before I color.

The colorful final sketch. I draw and write with black pen and color with cheap watercolors.

One of endless possible edited versions. You can get any number of effects by altering the contrast and color saturation using a simple tool like Instagram.

There you have it, folks. Try it at home, it's fun! If you'd like to see more examples of my sketch-noting, check out my Instagram. And if you're interested in commissioning a sketch, send me a note — sketched or otherwise.