Visual Note taking

Visual Thinking is my thing.

It took a long time to get to this point but, I guess, I have always worked visually and the combination of words and image helps me to learn and retain things so much more easily.

Visual Notes – not just for artists



Rachel Smith -Visual Notes from Dan Roam’s From Napkin to Infinity

Sacha Chua – from Dan Roam’s Visual Problem Solving

We THINK in pictures, we write with words – why not bring these together? 

What are Visual Notes?

RSA Animate and RSA Insights have revolutionised how we listen to and watch TED talks. The combination of images to illustrate the speech helps us digest and interpret the concepts more deeply.

But most of us do not have the time nor the talent to produce something of their calibre every day.

Our notes should be true to us, capture what we want to remember or to share and be produced in a simple way that works for us at the time.

Simple brainstorms or mindmaps work really well to capture and present multiple points.

Graphic facilitators map the conversations live at conferences or meetings to engage and give visual feedback to both audience and speaker.

It’s like Mindmaps meets Pictionary.

Watch Tricia Friedman’s students bring visual notes to a different dimension in Class to Glass.


back-of-the-napkin     sketchnote-handbook

Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin and Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook are a great place to begin on your journey to Visual Note taking.

My other favourite Visual Note takers (or Sketchnoters) are:

Giulia Forsythe, Brad Ovenell-Carter, Rachel Smith, Sacha Chua, Matthew Magain, Sita Magnuson and Kelvy Bird to name only a few inspirational individuals.

Giulia Forsythe


Kelvy Bird

Why take notes visually?


Giulia Forsythe: Why Doodling Matters and you can hear more from her in her video on Sketchnoting

John Medina in Brain Rules tells us that the visual sense trumps all. Around two thirds of us are visual learners – when did we stop uses images to illustrate ideas and thoughts?

Images help us to remember, recall and share ideas more clearly and we can map out ideas to communicate them to others in a more engaging way.

Visual notes help us to organise our thoughts, focus our brain on the big ideas and filter out the superfluous. They are a great form of problem solving and can make our notes more meaningful and easier to revisit and solidify in our memories.

My Learning 2 talk emphasise the Power of Visuals:


How to take notes?

key to taking visual notes

What shall I use?

Many individuals like taking notes by hand, on paper or in Moleskines. 

I find the iPad allows easier access, storage and sharing capabilities and I can manipulate my notes and drawings more easily.

There are many apps you can use for note-taking. See my other page for the apps I recommend.


Great sketchnoters and visual note takers online:

Brandy Agerbeck

Sketchnote Army

Mike Rohde

Eva Lotta Lamb

Sacha Chua

Austin Kleon

Sunni Brown

You can find more inspiration on my Visual Thinking Playlist on youtube and more visual notes added over Learning2 on Flickr.

and if you like making your words animated simply try out Brushes and export the actions like this:

and one more gem…….Videoscribe, a bit like the RSA animate without the hassle!

These are ones I started with many years ago: 

fee78-neunotesplus256     6addc-neunotes






Apps with zoom facility leave you with more options and flexibility:

Nicki Hambleton: visual notes taken from Claire Gadsby’s book on Assessment for Learning using Adobe Ideas

Adobe Ideas


Adobe Ideas allows for a wider canvas, zooming capabilities and beautiful pen/brush writing. It is easy to use and gives clean results. If you would like some help starting out on Adobe Ideas here is the first in a series of short demos I have made:

Paper 53








Paper by Fifty Three has a simple drawing page with multiple journals available. Adding a watercolour wash adds colour creatively to the notes

Other great Apps:

Notes Plus, Paper 53, Ink Flow, Daily Notes, Note shelf, Procreate

Each one has its own specific functions and style – experiment until you find the right one for you!




  1. Vivian says:

    This post is a great resource and you have a very valuable talent! is a link to Brad Ovenell-Carter (educator) that makes great visual notes. He uses Paper app by 53.

    I got this drawing app too, but my efforts are pretty so-so, but it’s a lot of fun to try. I like following this Tumblr account where people share their Paper53 creations: It’s all very inspiring.

    Thanks for the new people you’ve introduced me to.


  2. Dianne McKenzie says:

    Hi Nicki,
    Could you use a shared Pinterest board or hashtag Instagram pics for this? (#remixart?) This would make it VERY public.

    and it would be visual with being unwieldy and others could be inspired from others! Great original and fun idea!


  3. Andrea Khambalia says:

    Hi Nikki,

    Thank you for such an inspiring and informative post! Our sixth graders at AAS are completely immersed in sketchnoting and their evolution has been awesome.

    Here’s the link to our google hangout with Mike Rohde:

    All the best,

  4. Silke Trester says:

    Hi Nicki,
    Wow! There is so much here! I gotta start from the top and go through it again. My friend Lisa Cooreman, art teacher at SSIS in Vietnam, said she participated in your Learning 2.0 workshop and really liked it (and you). Are you working at SAS? How is COETAIL received there? Do you get to spearhead a lot of innovative tech stuff? I am in the process of applying for the ES/ESOL position that was posted a few days ago. We’ll see how it goes…

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thank you so much Silke! I am so glad to hear Lisa enjoyed the session – I look forward to her sharing some of her followups on Twitter if she can! I am not at SAS but UWCSEA in Singapore – good luck with your application. I would love to spearhead stuff but as in most places I tread softly softly and hope that drip feeding ideas over time will help. I wish I had more influence!

  5. Ange Molony says:

    Wow Nikki,

    Thanks for an awesome post. I was really struggling to find free/easy to use apps to get started with digital notetaking. Any searches for sketchnotes led me down a path of dot coms that I couldn’t escape (and a million sketchnotes that appeared to be done by professional artists!) Your links and resources are exactly what I need, why would I ever go beyond the COETAIL domain?

    Congrats. I’ve heard nothing but great things about your Learning2 presentation.


    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks Ange. I do hope you find one that works for you. Bear in mind it took ages for me to find my style and approach so dont beat yourself up in the early stages! I would love to see how you get one – will you share results? I am really happy to give you any advice or feedback whenever you need it (which I am sure you will not!) Enjoy drawing and I look forward to seeing what you develop!

  6. […] know I’ll be accessing this site again and again, especially when working with older students to help them learn better ways of […]

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