One of my first creative endeavors was building forts. My sister and I would gather kitchen bar stools, couch cushions, our favorite striped blue blanket, Nana’s rainbow knit one too, and pretty soon, poof! …a fort of amazingness. I didn’t realize at the time there was an art to fort building. I was not interested in building the perfect fort, just putting pieces together to get the job done. Kitchen chairs were our staples – sometimes we added different blankets, pillows, or couch cushions. These were precious times long before the inner critic inside of me would determine how “good” something I created turned out. So what does a fort have to do with visual note taking? The same concepts that apply to fort building apply to note “building.” When taking visual notes you can ask yourself, what are my staples? Just like my kitchen chairs were often the starting place for my forts, I have staples – things I tend to lean into – when taking visual notes. Here are three tips to help you find your note taking staples and develop new ones along the way:
1) Use a structure scaffold. In my last visual notes post (click here to read), I referred to three ways to make your notes visual. One way is to use visual structure. Take a look at this tool I received from a friend. The note on the top reads, “What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail?” Most of us have a well developed inner critic that has already decided whether or not we consider ourselves “artistic” and if the answer is no, we automatically shrug off visual notes as too challenging, or “not for me.” What if you started with a tool like this and just considered one thing – how you would structure your notes for the day? There are no right or wrong decisions, only choices. Below is an example of how I considered one of the structures in the tool as a way to highlight the main point of the sermon. The structure helped me divide the sermon notes from my application thoughts. Can you find the structure I used in the tool above?
2) Develop a font library. These are font staples – your ‘go to’ fonts. You want to have about three different fonts at the ready, then grow from there. I have a double line font, a bubble letters font, and a cursive font; these are the fonts I use 95% of the time. Here are some examples.
Once you have some basic fonts down and can vary them, look for new ones to add in. The dotted line font is an easy one. You can also vary the size and color of your fonts.
3) Develop an icon library. Again this is where the ugly inner critic shows up to rain on a perfectly good note taking parade. You DO NOT have to be an artist to take visual notes. As I stated in my previous post, there’s a good chance you already have a lot of icons floating around in your head. We text with them, we see road signs and billboards, and websites with simple everyday icons all the time. Feel free to be inspired by my favorite icon staple – star man. He is my go to icon and I have used him so many times, I can now change his position, make him a boy, girl, dad, mom, teacher, conductor (see below) and he comes in handy when I can’t find a more symbolic way to represent an idea. Plus he’s just fun.
Of course there are many other icon staples of a more symbolic nature that I rely on as well. Here are some of those.
These are just a few of my icon staples. I continue to grow my icon library by studying other visual note takers and snapping mental or literal pictures of their drawings. I’ve recently added a “bulls eye target,” “saw” “gavel,” “fruit” and a “fist-bump.”
So the next time you hear that inner critic come calling, do your best to silence it and give visual note taking a go. Start with what feels most comfortable and take the leap. Your kindergarten teacher was right. Everyone has an artist inside waiting to be awakened.
Renee is a single Christian woman who serves as mentor staff in the college ministry at her local church. She works as a literacy coach for a school district in San Ramon, California. Her hobbies include: boating, wake boarding, Zumba, riding roller coasters, and watching classic movies.