I work in a software company, but I couldn’t do my work without paper notebooks. I’m running several at once:

Five Year Diary

A gift from Paul six years ago and again last Christmas, this book from Levenger gives me five lines a day, for five years. It’s eerie to read back several years and remember what I was writing about, I’m about to finish year #1 of volume #2. I love the short snapshot format. I write this first thing in the morning for the preceding day, while I’m sitting in front of my light-box.

Gratitude Journal

I started this in August 2013, but made it a daily practice on September 1st, 2015. Only good things go in here, it is my second morning journal. I read some of Janice Kaplan’s book The Gratitude Diaries, and I liked her ideas. This feels like a good exercise to remind myself of good things when I can’t currently see good in my world. This is a Rhodia Webnotebook in a (now discontinued) Saddleback Leather cover.


After the five year diary and the gratitude journal, I do some sketching in a Strathmore wire-bound sketchbook until I fill up a page. 28 days straight as of December 20th. There’s some progression in my doodles and I’m finding I want to draw things from sight, not by memory, so I’m staging a few objects there, including a small model of a person, a wooden bead, and a piece of driftwood from my parents.


This is the all-purpose book I carry around with me, I leave 3 pages blank in the front for an index and hand-number the odd pages. When it’s full, I put a full index into Indxd and make a written index of highlights in those first three pages. It holds song lyrics, quotes, diary entries, musings, answers to questions, notes from talks I attend, notes on books I’m reading, sermon notes, this is my catch-all. It’s another Rhodia Webnotebook in a Gfeller cover periodically treated with One Star Leather balm, which has saved it from a leaky water bottle.

Work notebook

My daily companion at work, this travels with me in a waxed canvas clutch. Meeting notes, status updates, doodles during meetings, lists, all the work-related note-taking lives here. I use a Clairfontaine 1951 notebook in a custom leather cover from Graham Keegan. I’m on the third one of these and I managed to put this one into the holder upside down. I’ll need a new notebook soon because it’s well over half full.

Task list and Mood Log

I use a Word notebook for task lists with personal tasks in the front and work tasks in the back. Twice a day, at lunchtime and around 5pm, I put a mood rating in a second Word notebook, from 1 (hideously awful) to 10 (best day ever). I average over the week and keep an eye on the week-to-week trend. Walking into your annual check-up with metrics gets a doctor’s attention. These two travel with me in a Nock Hightower case.

End of day notebook

This is new, an experiment from Shawn Blanc’s Elements of Focus course, which is a free video course with small assignments. One assignment is to leave myself a note with what thing I should do first tomorrow, another assignment is to list what I accomplished today, and two things I’m grateful for. It’s going to be interesting to compare the gratefulnesses with the gratitude journal over time. This is a 3×5 Calepino notebook.

Handbag notebook

This is another Calepino notebook in a One Star Leather cover that lives in my handbag. It’s for out and about notes, things I think of while driving, songs I want to buy when I get home. I don’t write in it while I’m driving, but I have pulled off the road into a store car park to jot something down.

Nine notebooks, and all of them have their own purpose, I didn’t realise it was that many. I have a preference for the Rhodia and Clairfontaine papers because they can handle a fountain pen. I’ve already filled a Mood Log, a Task List, a Handbag Notebook, two volumes of Diary, and two Work notebooks this year.

Learning a sketching habit, day 14

I want to be someone that sketches on a regular basis. I have drawn something in my sketchbook every day for the last two weeks. Nothing is a masterpiece, but I’ve been experimenting with letter forms, faces that show emotions, lots of spirals, some cartoon roses and tulips, suns, squirrels, and it’s been good.

For my experiment in forming a habit, I’m doing this:

  • I scheduled a time each day to sketch. First thing in the morning, after I write my 5 year diary and my gratitude diary (make it a routine).
  • No fancy Art required, spirals and circles are OK (make it so easy you can’t NOT do it).
  • Mark an X on a visible calendar on the days I sketched (visible feedback on new habit).
  • Planning to keep this up through January (habits take 66 days to form).
  • Planning an art supplies shopping trip between Christmas and New Year, maybe getting some colours to play with (anticipation of future reward)

The stuff in brackets is advice I’ve read on James Clear’s website and eBook on Habits.

I’m reading through Mike Rohdes The Sketchnote Handbook when I need inspiration. Next sources will be Danny Gregory’s Art Before Breakfast, and Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Craftsy drawing class

I picked up a Craftsy class, 10 Essential Techniques for Better Drawing by Patricia Watwood, and this is what I produced for lesson three, where she’s talking about composition lines, block in lines, and contour lines.

Craftsy drawing class, lesson 3.

Above is my drawing with just the block-in lines to show where the angles and edges are. Below is the finished drawing.

Craftsy drawing class, lesson 3.

I have another 7 lessons to go, I’m liking the format and this is one of my better drawings yet.

Doodle revolution

The second half of the Doodle Revolution book is about the Infodoodle, and it’s a lot more text-heavy. The Infodoodle sounds a lot like a sketchnote, it’s a tool for remembering and summarising a large amount of verbal or written information into an easy-to-recall image and text display.

This part of the book has infrequent exercises in, it’s about group Infodoodles. Since I don’t lead many meetings, there’s not too much here I’ll immediately use. I like the descriptions of ways you can use a doodle in meetings, and I’ll see if I can use them at work. We do have a lot of walls you can write on.

The next books in my drawing discovery are going to be Mike Rohdes The Sketchnote Handbook and Henning Nelms Thinking With a Pencil. I’m also going to try a few Zentangles, and design an alien.

Designing an alien

I’ve been drawing the same cartoon hedgehog since high school, it’s time there was a companion doodle. I’m calling this guy Boris, and he’s a work in progress.


I’m reading Sunni Brown’s book The Doodle Revolution, and this is from two of the exercises in chapter four:

Doodle game - Stickify and Face Matrix.

Sunni Brown has a six minute TED talk, Doodler’s Unite! that includes some of the material from the book. I’ve drawn cartoon animals on sunny landscapes since I was in high school (thanks to dull history lessons at Copleston High), and I love the idea of drawing, but my practice always falls short. Doodling has a much lower bar.

My plan is to finish this book and keep doodling. Pictures of my doodles will end up in a Flickr album, Drawing and Doodles. The next book about doodling I’ll work through is The Sketchnote Handbook.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

I’m working my way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, and one of the early exercises is to copy an upside-down line drawing. Right-side up, this is what I got:

Upside down drawing.

There’s a few lines out of place or missing, and the hands went badly for me, possibly because I was thinking of them as hands and not just lines. But I’m pleasantly shocked at how well this came out and I’m ploughing through the rest of the book. It’s rather word-heavy, especially for a book saying that the problem is the left side word-centric brain is the part that can’t draw, but there’s useful information there.

I’m also looking at The Natural Way To Draw by Kimon Nicolaides as a possible follow-on book.

Drawing class

I’ve been taking a weekly class at the St Louis Artist’s Guild (acronym SLAG, which makes me giggle) and the teacher, David Zamudio, has been gently working us towards drawing an actual human. Prior lessons focussed on spheres and cubes, working on shading and accuracy, this one was drawn freehand over about 20 minutes:

Drawing class - Lesson 4.

This week’s lesson had us drawing a model of a skull, homework is five self-portraits. We do a lot of timed rough sketches, these ones took three minutes each:

Skull roughs.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how not-impossible it is to draw a halfway decent thing given the right tools and some tricks on how to get the layout right. After that page of rough sketches, I really want to take the one at the top left and turn it into a proper robot head…