Get Creative with Sketchnoting – mini graphic recording workshop at EMBL-EBI

An event to form a new network of sketchnoters…

Since World Sketchnote Day back in January, I have been busy thinking how we could establish a new community of graphic recorders and wannabe-graphic recorders on the Wellcome Genome Campus, including of course many of my colleagues at EMBL-EBI.  I plumped for a workshop to kick-off our efforts, and was not disappointed by the turnout (18 people).  I was impressed by the skills and ideas of those who attended, and learned a lot.

An opportunity to practise the art of graphical note-taking

The event was billed as an opportunity for experienced sketchnoters, as well as complete novices, to get sketching to improve or refine their technique.  In other words – it was not going to be an art contest, but rather a sketchnote hackathon.  One of my goals was to convey that, of course, aesthetics are nice in sketchnoting, but graphical notes (aka sketchnotes) have to work for the purpose they are being made.  For example, your sketchnotes may be solely for your own note-taking to help you remember things or to create a memento of an event.  They may be for making figures for a report or paper, for instance, or maybe for use in social media to boost the exposure of your or your team’s work. In each case, the type of sketchnote you will need will differ, and will be influenced by your own style.  So there were no specific recommendations that I could give, rather just experience from myself and the group, and some stories of how I have gone about sketchnoting, but each person’s approach will be different.

A chance to share our experiences of sketchnoting

Of the 18 attendees many had never sketched their notes before – other than some doodles in the margins, so we started things off with a few warm ups.  Other participants had a graphic design background, or had clearly been working on their style for a while, so for them the experience-sharing may have been more useful.  We discussed styles, approaches and the materials you need to make sketchnotes.  One sketchnoter recommended dotted paper, for example, another suggested an artist’s layout pad.


A practical agenda (featuring no sketchnote theory)

Here are the highlights of the workshop in the order we did them.

1. Opening the workshop

Hello.  Browse the inspiration table…

tips books

Who’s who introductions.

  • Why am I attending this workshop?/What would l like to get out of this workshop?
  • What types of things would I like to sketchnote going forward?

We shared our reasons for sketchnoting in this section.  Several people said they used to draw when they were younger, at school or even in university, but some had stopped doing it. This is a shame, so they felt that sketchnoting could b a way to get back into drawing because it is appropriate, and potentially useful to do in their daily work.

Few tips to get started, including: handouts on how to draw things (e.g from Mikayla Lewis), selected visual vocabularies (one being the Bikablo visual icons) and a sketchnote how-to guide (by Chris Spalton).

Some visual aids for graphical notetaking

Warm up speed sketching exercise where you sketch individual objects, 1-2 min each:

  • Fold an A3 piece of paper in half 3 times, then open it out to create a grid of 8 rectangles.
  1. An arrow or pointer
  2. A flag, country of your choice
  3. A person speaking with a speech bubble
  4. Time – a clock face or watch
  5. DNA
  6. A mouse – the animal kind
  7. A computer
  8. A key
team sketch
team sketch

Report back, walk around to see everyone’s efforts:

browse gallery 2
browse gallery 2

Watch a short video (4min30sec) “How it’s works video: bananas”.

The brief:

We will think about how to use graphic elements in note-taking.  Learning by doing, and making mistakes, we will watch two very short videos and sketchnote them.  We’ll then regroup to consider what worked, and what we would like to change next time.  Listen carefully, you may not be able to watch everything on the screen and draw at the same time, but you can listen to everything.  When you hear a key point and you think you could draw something graphically to represent – do it.  Try to sketch a few key points – maybe 6 graphic items in total over the whole 4 minutes.  Don’t panic if you haven’t drawn anything for a while, just keep listening until you can think of something to sketch.  Use text as you see fit.

Hard at work sketching the youtube video.  In 4 minutues there was a lot of info to draw.

Show and tell – How did it go?  Any problems?  What would you sketch differently next time?

Rodica’s sketchnote
browse gallery
browse gallery

3.  Exploring your technique – Part II

TED talk from Peter Weyland 2023 (3min10sec) – a clip from the movie Prometheus by Ridley Scott.

I had to choose this one because he is such a good public speaker.  I could listen to it over and over again and try to emulate aspects of his delivery in my own presentations.  Anyway, that aside, for sketching it, I recommend you start by making the titles.  Focus again on listening to what is being said.  What stands out? What imagery does he use in his speech?  Remember you can start to sketch an item and not finish it, just come back to it later; you only need enough down for you to remember what it is, so you can finish it

[The speech transcript is available here in case you would like it.  Also check out a professional’s example of graphic recoding this very speech: Chris Shipton’s website.]

melissa pi

Show and tell – How did it go?  Any problems?  Think about the areas on the sketch that you are happy with, and things you would do differently next time.

walk around
walk around

4.  Closing the workshop

Discussion and suggested next steps.  What do we want to do next?  Has this workshop helped you?

What are the next steps for our sketchnoters?

We plan to keep in touch via a Slack Team, and will have future events, such as talks, workshops and get-togethers.  I’m looking forward to more ‘show and tell’ sessions, as I get so many new ideas by seeing the work of others.  So get sketchnoting guys, see you all soon!


  • Ben Reilly for helping with the agenda and set up
  • Rodica Petrusevschi for the photos
  • EMBL-EBI for the venue, materials and refreshments

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