The xLontrax Theory of Sketchnote: the “making of”

Here is the story of a personal project that eventually became my second (the third, actually) book, so, make yourself comfortable: it will take a while.

I coined this in April 2014. In those days I met Mike Rohde for the first time at a conference in Prague.

I spent 3 days with him and in those 3 days my sketchnoting technique and understanding of how I can use the technique skyrocketed. Well, to be true I didn’t sketchnote that much but I observed a lot. Seems I learned by osmosis.

Back at home I started thinking, wondering about what happened and, of course, I made a sketchnote to map and reorder my thoughts. The main question was:

Ok, here is the sketchnote I did back in those days.

Of course this wasn’t an answer, furthermore, it raised a lot more questions!

A bit of background: among other things I do, I’m a Shiatsu practitioner and passionate about Traditional Chinese Medicine, particularly how to formulate diagnosis evaluating complex energetic patterns and not just symptoms. This creates a particular mindset that makes me always research the root of things, I always need to understand the dynamics and to know how energy flows. You can now understand that this “sketchnote conundrum” was something I couldn’t ignore or hide under a carpet.

So I started to take notes, jot down ideas and thoughts, and this materials slowly condensed in sketchnotes. The work has begun to make sense and I wanted to give it a more structured body, I wanted to give to my work a scientific-ish base. That was a fantastic occasion to put at work all the methodologies I studied.

In a couple of months I produced about 10 analog sketchnotes and with the help of Makayla Lewis I refined them with the idea to make an ebook. Here is a tweet about that:

At that time the title was “The General Theory of Sketchnote”.

Pretty pompous,eh?

Invariably, when a project is coming to an end, something “click” and I started looking at my work in a different way. I still loved it but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Too condensed, some parts made a sense only to me, other parts were only scratching the surface and the title, oh boy, that title.

Who am I to define a “general theory”? Since when my personal researches and opinions are “general”?

I still have the old files, drafts and all, in my storage.

Look at the dates

August, 24 2015 is the day when I put together the pdf and looking at it I was, let me say, disappointed. The whole was less and less valuable than the sum of the parts.

I tend to be harsh with myself so the enthusiasm faded away and left space to the feeling of “immaturity” regarding my work.

This was exactly my feeling at the end of August and I took 2 decisions:

No more unfinished, superficial assumptions, no more tweets like “look Mom! I did a sketchnote, do you like it?”.

I was waiting and I knew I was waiting. As Heraclitus says “Panta rhei”: everything flows. And I followed the flow.

The first ever World Sketchnote Day

It was so exciting! It gave me a deeper vision about how sketchnote was used around the world and I started to take notes about how the sketchnotes are shared and why.

I also updated my own definition of sketchnote in:

My first #the100dayProject that became a book

I strongly suggest to every sketchnoter to engage in at least one #the100dayProject . To me it was an eye opening experience on a personal side and made me deeply think about the concept of resemblance, fidelity and how much the quality and aspect of a drawing impact on the overall value of a sketchnote.

I quit my job

Well… I wanted to try something new. I wanted to understand if I can make some money out of all my theory/passion/knowledge about sketchnote.

My new life started very well: the very first week after leaving the company Mike and me landed a gig where we did 3 demo a day sketchnoting collaboratively on giant Cisco touch screens.

It was the first time where I had the feeling about what the general public think and react in front of a sketchnote. Being outside the “sketchnote community bubble” was… puzzling. One sentence in particular describe the whole scenario:

And that was the moment I started working on the “1 sketchnote is 3 sketchnotes” concept:

The point not only was “how to make a good sketchnote” but also “what make me/them want to read a sketchnote”.

I get a new job

Honestly, freelancing was and is NOT for me. However I had a time to review my original researches and “refresh” the results considering the most recent sketchnotes that were shared on the internet.

BTW: Have you ever played “the time machine” game and compared recent sketchnotes with some from 3–4 years ago? Not just yours, try with the ones from your fellow sketchnoters.

We all started with this, right?

Then we wanted feedback, then approval, then confirms

Finally, we adopted sketchnote as a way to communicate and our needs changed.

Where are we now? But this is another story.

Back to the point. Ok, everything was ok and one day something happened.

While riding on the Milan subway I was catching up with my instagram #sketchnote hashtag. I was mindlessly swiping and liking the long feed of images when I noticed that a guy was literally staring at my smartphone from above my shoulder.

“Not cool” I thought. I made sure he knew I knew what he was doing, I waited a while then I asked abruptly: “would you like me to send you a few screenshots by email so you can read more comfortably on your own smartphone?”

The answer was incredible! He said:

“No, thank you. I’m wondering if you really look at those drawings and understand what they are about before liking them or you do it for other reasons. I’m just curious.”

BAM! What a lesson!

We stepped out at the same station, we had a coffee together and a great chat.

This made me think, A LOT! If someone like me, who knows and is passionate about sketchnote, who is respectful of others’ work, doesn’t pay enough attention to what is looking, there must be a problem somewhere. It can be either with me or with the sketchnote or both.

This gave a very strong and important reason to resume the project.

November, 1st 2017: the project restarted and I had a blast! All of the pieces came together, I started from scratch and did again the researches with a new spirit.

I changed the title, it may seems a small thing but I felt more comfortable with it, I produced tons of material: sketches, doodles, whole sketchnotes… Every ideas was flowing smoothly from my mind, to my heart, to my hands.

I wrote, drawn, ordered, re-ordered, deleted. All of this only when I was inspired and my researches were conclusive.

I adopted this very simple strategy for every session (forgive me for using the present tense for a while):

With this system I had the impression that the pages I was producing were clean and made sense.

By the summer of 2018 I had finished the first part of the book about how I did my researches, the methodology I used and what makes a sketchnote a good one.

I was very lucky and the organizers of the International Sketchnote Camp 2018 in Lisbon gave me the opportunity to talk about the project.

It was awesome! I had fantastic feedback and insights and I was able to clear my mind about some doubts I had. There is also a video (partial) of my talk.

“Ok”, I thought, “I’m on the right track” . Normally, when you get a so good feedback the work gains traction and go faster.

Not in my case. It was like when at the end of a very long car trip you start to see familiar places and signs and you relax: those last kilometers always seem to be the longer ones. The last pages took ages to be completed.

I finally finished the book and went through the struggle of making it happens.

First of all the ebook and/or print conundrum. It was planned to be an ebook only but when I announced that I was ready to start to finalize the ebook some people in the community said that they would like a printed version.

So I started to work on a printed version. All of the pages are in landscape so the idea was to create a book like “100+1 Drawing Ideas” but larger.

Too bad that on the Self Publishing platform there isn’t a landscape format in a dimension like A4 (21×29.7 cm), only portrait! So? So, as always, I asked the community!

The feedback was positive but I wanted to “touch ‘n feel” the real object so, I made one!

Eventually I was happy and went with that: a portrait book, with all pages oriented in landscape!

And here we are! I’m in a bitter/sour mix of happiness and sadness: the book is out, what’s done is done. I want to add here the last page of the book: the thank you page.

Ok, it was a fantastic journey, I just hope that this book will inspire and help people to make awesome sketchnotes. Now I need to find another long term project: it won’t take too long 🙂

If you like this story and find it useful/fun/interesting I would be happy if you consider to help me spread the voice.

Did I already mention that you can grab now your copy of the book?

Here some numbers:

Thanks and, of course, no pressure at all.



The xLontrax Theory of Sketchnote: the “making of”

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