Top Coast Sketchnotes

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the MPR News Top Coast Festival. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give Sketchnoting the event a spin. Sure, there are lots of small details I could point out and nitpick. But, ultimately, it is about capturing the key ideas and images that made the conference memorable for me. I’m pretty darn proud of how they turned out.

I have long admired the Sketchnotes that my friend Mike Rohde did at conferences. Mike pioneered this style of visual note taking many years ago and I’ve been a big-big-fan from day one. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do it myself but have never been comfortable with my drawing skills. Mike gave a Sketchnote Workshop in Milwaukee last year that I attended. It was fantastic and, between that and his book on the subject, it went a long way for improving both my skills and my comfort level. If, like me, you look at Sketchnotes or drawing by others and say to yourself, “I could never do that.”, I totally recommend checking out what Mike has to offer.

You can check out the full set on Flickr. For those that care (meaning, likely, all of you), I used a large Moleskine Sketchbook, a Pentel EnerGel RTX 0.7 (on day one), and a Retro 51 Tornado Black Stealth 0.7 (on day two).

Hybrid Journal / James Gowans

Hybrid Journal / James Gowans

I have a long and rocky relationship with pen and paper. Ive often romanticized the idea of keeping a paper journal to record the passage of my life. Yet, despite many attempts over the years, Ive never been able to stick to any kind of journalling habit for more than a couple of weeks at a time.That was until I came across Ryder Carrolls brilliant Bullet Journal concept and mashed it up with Patrick Rhones Dash/Plus pen and paper markup system into a "Hybrid Journal".

Nice mashup of the two paper based markup systems by James. A reminder that, while adopting someone else’s system as is is OK, adapting it and making it your own is better.

The Noguchi filing system | Unclutterer

The Noguchi filing system | Unclutterer

Years ago, I worked in the IT department of a residential school. There was a lot to manage, from help desk requests to purchasing, maintenance, networking issues, and other administrative tasks. I typically had several projects ongoing at once, large and small. Nearly all of them had support files that needed to be referenced or updated regularly. This is where the Noguchi system was brilliant, as it moves frequently-used files together while creating an archive of seldom used files.

I used this system too for a while back in the day. It would work really well for organizing writing projects. Just throw the notebook/manuscript with all of your related research and materials into a single envelope.

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

Why We Must Teach Handwriting to Our Children

Maria Konnikova for The New York Times:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

So much educational focus is on typing, which is important, but kids need to learn how to draw letters and transcribe on paper. It’s not a matter of one technology outperforming the other, it’s about brain development.

Slower Posts This Week…

Just a heads up that I (Patrick Rhone — Editor In Chief) will be in San Francisco this week participating in Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference as part of some of my other responsibilities. Therefore, things will slow here for a bit. Not to worry, I have plenty I’m cooking up for when I return.

And, if you will be in San Francisco this week, I’m having a meetup on Wednesday night you are more than welcome to swing by. I’d love to share a pint or two with any of you.

See you on the other side. Have a great week.

Why We Write

“We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

— Cecil Day Lewis

Paper Based Markup Systems

by Patrick Rhone

I’ve long been fascinated with the various methods and organizational systems people use to take notes. I’ve even been known to spot something someone next to me in a meeting is doing and then pepper them with questions about it afterwards. I’m a real nerd that way.

I’m especially interested in markup systems — the little marks and symbols some use to process, prioritize, or otherwise make sense of the notes they have taken. There are many of these sorts of things out there, some well known and others not. Therefore, I thought I would start a post that would begin to round up some of these things — mainly as my own way of tracking them. These are in no particular order and is in no way complete. It is my hope as well that those reading this will get in touch if they see one missing.

  • Bullet Journal — This exploded onto the scene a few months back, thanks in no small part to it’s well designed website and video. It seems easy to implement and provides a lot of context in a minimum amount of space. Another unique feature is the incorporation of daily and monthly calendars and an index.

  • Getting Sh-t Done (GSD) — Mainly for task tracking and time blocking. It’s been out there for quite a few years and there are a lot of fans of this approach. It sure does look cool.

  • Michael Hyatt’s Smart Notes — Designed for taking notes in meetings to allow a quick processing of their meaning afterwards.

  • Word Notebooks — Word Notebooks are similar in size and execution to Field Notes, but it is the markup system incorporated into their pages that set them apart. I have seen a few people who have taken the idea behind that system and adopted it into their notebooks and workflow.

  • Dash/Plus — Full disclosure — this one is mine. I developed it almost ten years ago as a way to handle tasks, meeting notes, and since have extended it to my daily logging. It involves using a dash before ideas, notes, tasks, etc. and then building upon that dash during review. I designed it to be versatile and I encourage others to adapt and extend it for their own needs — it’s very flexible.

  • Hybrid System — James Gowans adapted both my Dash/Plus system and Bullet Journal and created a hybrid of the two. Sounds really swell in practice and James does a great job of explaining what he took from both and why.

  • The Strikethrough System — Mike Vardy’s markup system that emphasizes completely striking through items and incorporates energy level based contexts.

  • Rocket Journal: My (More Robust) Bullet Journal — Chelsey Dagger’s tweaks on making the Bullet Journal system better fit her needs.

A note of encouragement: There is no “one true way” for any of this stuff. Perhaps you like the functionality of my Dash/Plus system but wish you also had the calendar/index of the Bullet Journal system. Mash them up? Maybe there is something that you want to track that is not covered in any of the above — make up your own. That is the beauty of this stuff (and paper and pen in general) — you’re not locked into someone else’s idea of how a thing should work. The page is blank, own it.

Turn a Blank Notebook into a Lined Notebook | The Well-Appointed Desk

Turn a Blank Notebook into a Lined Notebook | The Well-Appointed Desk

I have something so much better, at least in my humble opinion. I use a sheet of lined paper that I tuck under my blank page to create perfectly straight lines that are there. But not. Using a guide sheet does not require any prep time. Just slide the sheet behind your current page and start writing.

Great tip from Ana. But, where does one get such a sheet?

I have created lined paper guides in 6mm, 7mm, 8mm and 10mm spacing. Each .pdf file includes a full 8.5×11 US Letter sized guide and a smaller 5×7? guide that you can trim to fit in the average A5-sized notebook. Print out your favorite line width spacing on a laser or ink jet printer. One copy of the guide sheet can be kept in each of your favorite notebooks and should last for a long time. The guide sheet often doubles as a blotter sheet, pen primer or to protect the next sheet from pesky bleed through.

Boom! Downloadable PDFs. So helpful, that lady.

Starter Pencil Setups #PencilWeek #Erasable | Pen Paper Ink LetterPen Paper Ink Letter

Starter Pencil Setups #PencilWeek #Erasable | Pen Paper Ink LetterPen Paper Ink Letter

That’s why unlike, say, a coffee starter kit, a pencil primer shouldn’t be based on accessibility but rather, price, assortment and application. A writer who wants to invest a lot of money up front in pencils has totally different needs than, for example, a sketch artist on a budget. If you fit into one of these use cases, or somewhere in between, hopefully you can get some use out of this post.

I’m not a pencil guy but I’m always interested in learning new things. This seems like a good primer to get started.

Fountain Pen Guide For The Left-Handed Writer

by Ana Reinert

Left-handed writers face some challenges when writing, but I don’t think fountain pens make it worse. If anything, I’ve found that my handwriting looks better and I have less issues with smudging when I use fountain pens. There are lots of factors that can affect how a fountain pen performs for a left-handed writer but any lefty can use a fountain pen.

First, I want to dispel any notion that left-handed writers need a special nib or brand of fountain pen. Totally UNTRUE. I have used dozens of fountain pens, from as many brands, and they all write for me with no real issues other than purely aesthetic one.

The big issues for lefties being stem from the fact that we write from left to right, often dragging our hand through what we have just written. Some lefties compensate for this by trying to angle their hand above the line they are writing, often called overwriters or “writing with a hook” (I fall into this camp). The other method is to write below the line, mirroring our right-handed friends, which is referred to as “underwriting.” Often times, underwriters have fewer issues adapting to fountain pens than overwriters.

Both writing styles tend to put the writing hand into the fresh ink the moment a word is written. So, ink smear is a big concern. When choosing a fountain pen, consider whether you often smear your writing when using a ballpoint, rollerball or pencil. Does the ball of your hand often have telltale ink or graphite smudges? If so, then you will definitely want to consider a quick-drying ink like Noodler’s Bernake line. Also, a finer nibbed fountain pen might help since it will not lay down as much ink as a wider nib will. Paper selection will also play a role in how quickly ink will dry. Papers noted for their “fountain pen friendliness” are also notorious for taking longer for ink to dry since the ink sits up on the paper and does not soak in. That means your writing won’t feather or bleed until you stick your sleeve into it.

There is no one-way to eliminate the smearing issue but knowing what to troubleshoot can help. If you have dreams of using a broad stub nib on Tomoe River paper, you may want to invest heavily on quick-dry inks.

Because of the left-to-right motion when writing, left-handed writers are often pushing the pen rather than puling it. This can inhibit ink flow in some pens– fountain pen, ballpoint or otherwise. Very fine needle tip fountain pens, like the Japanese extra-fine nibs or custom “needle tip” grinds can be difficult for some lefties. If you prefer a super fine line, I recommend that you try a pen first, before buying it, and be sure to sit and write a sentence or two in your natural writing position to be sure you don’t have any issues with ink flow.

Ink flow problems can be exacerbated if you press down hard on your pen. All fountain pen users learn that a light touch (unless we are talking about flex nibs, but I’ll get into that in a minute) is best but its particularly true for lefties.

If you are hoping to use a broad calligraphy or stub nib, positioning of the pen on the paper may present some issues for some left-handed writers. I frequently use a 1.1mm stub nib and a smaller 0.6mm stub with no issues. For me, though, wider nibs are an issue as I have difficulty making consistent contact with the paper from my overhanded position. Partly this has to do with pushing the pen, rather than pulling so the ink does not flow as consistently. Also, the wide flat nib is difficult to keep in constant contact with the paper from the left-handed direction. And finally, because of the different angle to the paper, our approach to drawing each character and how we put the pen on the paper, the thicks and thins that become noticeable with a broad stub/italic nib might be in the opposite place. The best test for this is to grab a chisel-tip marker, like a highlighter, and try writing with it. If your writing looks strange, you may want to give the traditional wide stub/italic nibs a pass. If your writing looks okay some of the time, but at others, the pen doesn’t seem to be making consistent contact with the paper, you may be a good candidate for a custom ground stub/italic that is angled for a left-handed writer. A left-handed stub/italic nib will be tapered down to the left to make more consistent contact with the paper. These left-handed nibs won’t work for all left-handed writers as it depends entirely on your writing angle.

Flexible nibs can present a similar problem. Flex nibs are designed to create line variation as you write which works great if you are most often pulling the pen. If you are pushing the pen, the springy quality of the nib will not be on display. If you are a heavy handed writer, the flex in the nib will make it even easier to strangle the ink flow on up strokes which can potentially damage the nib but will, more often, cause the pen to splatter ink as it springs back. If flexible nibs are interesting to you, before investing in a Namiki Falcon or a vintage “Wet noodle”, I recommend experimenting with flexible dip nibs. A holder is usually about $5 and nibs are a couple dollars each and available at most art supply stores. Or an inexpensive flex nib like the Noodler’s Creaper/Ahab.

The last issue I want to address is the grip area on the pen. Often mentioned as a great “starter” fountain pen, the Lamy Safari/AL-Star features a molded plastic grip intended to help writers angle the nib properly. Most right handed folks love this because it makes it mostly foolproof. Left-handed writers are less enthusiastic about this pen because the “proper angle” can be less-than-perfect for some left-handed writers. Often, left-handed writers ignore the grip and hold the pen in such a way as to get the best and most consistent ink flow which means that the grip will cut into their middle finger or thumb. This is the only reason I don’t recommend the Lamy Safari/Al-Star as frequently as other bloggers. Lamy nibs are awesome and if you are ready to invest in a fountain pen over $50, I have plenty of Lamys I can recommend.

Retractable fountain pens like the Pilot Vanishing Point can also be less-than-comfortable for left-handed writers (and some right-handed writers, for that matter). In order to get the proper grip and angle on a retractable fountain pen, some left-handers have to grip over the clip which is not ideal.I prefer a consistent grip barrel, be it smooth or ridged, which allows me to twist or angle the pen as needed for the best writing results without poking my hand unnecessarily. Grip issues are not a make-or-break issue but for long term comfort, pens with molded grips or clips may not be your go-to favorites.

If you can, try to borrow or test drive a pen before you buy it. If that is not an option, find out what the company or web site’s return policy is. If they will not accept a pen return if its been inked up, try dipping the pen in water to get a feel for how it writes.

I hope this helps. More than anything I hope more left-handed writers feel like fountain pens can be an option for them as much as anyone. If you have more questions, please feel free to email me directly or contact me on Twitter or


Ana Reinert is The Chair at The Well-Appointed Desk, a blog dedicated to paper, pens, office supplies and a beautiful place to work. To the pay the bills, she works in a beige cubicle at Hallmark Cards designing greeting cards and drawing typefaces and lettering, dreaming of a better workspace