The Art in Notes

Originally posted July 2014

I am an avid note taker, whether it be in class, during my own study time or just things I need to remember. One of my favorite things to do as I take notes is draw! As a visual learner, drawing makes learning easier and more fun, at least for me.

Plenty of people (and by people I mean my friends who have used my notes) have asked me how I do it. So now I make will make a post that explains my methods and maybe these can help you guys incorporate some more art into your studying. I am using my anatomy notes for this post as examples, in case you are wondering.

You don’t have to do it my way, and your way is awesome too! Hopefully you see something you like and it helps!

But I have no artistic skill! I can’t draw!

Not with that attitude. Listen here, you are going to be working on notes, not trying to get your work into the Met. You don’t need the talent of a genius and you don’t need years of study. You just need the basics and some practice.

What are the basics?

If you look online, you will find some really amazing tutorials on what seem to be very complicated topics, like hands, body motions or scenery. Most of these guides have at least this in common; all the artists start out with sketches using basic shapes. This makes drawing much easier because it becomes more like tracing. Here’s a very basic example so you can see what I mean:


Use those shapes to help you!

Use a reference

Everyone has an innate creativity, but the best part of note taking is that you are trying to learn something rather that “come up with something”. So when you are making notes, use references to help you guide your drawings. I can’t draw a heart from memory, I’ll only confuse myself when I look back on my notes later.

Use drawing as a tool for memorization

You want to be as accurate as possible for you learning, and then you can do practice of those drawings to help you remember facts about it later on.


This picture is a drawing of the Abdominal Aorta. In our anatomy class, we could get bonus points if we would draw this image (and others) with all the labeling and 90% of our class always got points. That means 90% of my 300 person class could draw this. So you can too! Use the original first and then use drawings to set in the info! For this practice, I suggest using paper that in not in your normal note arsenal.

Simplify when you can

Have you ever seen those diagrams of cells going through mitosis? Bio books love to make those images pretty and detailed. If you chose to draw this, which I’ve seen a lot of people do, there isn’t really a need for you to draw each cell as shown. Our brains are wired to remember simpler things, so why give yourself a heavier load? If you can draw a wiggly, detailed cell as a circle do it! Here’s an example for the skin. You just need to draw enough to understand.


Time it

I am fast at drawing. This is something I picked up over time. But I always follow a rule when I draw in my notes. In an hour, no matter how many images you draw it should take 15 minutes or less.  After 15 minutes you are wasting your time trying to perfect a picture rather than learning the material. This picture I drew in class, so it probably took me less than 3 minutes.


This one I did in my own study time and maybe took me 10 minutes. After I was done with it, I don’t see another drawing for maybe 3 pages, and not another large drawing for 6+ pages.


Drawing fast will only come with practice, but keep that 15 minute rule in mind.

Love your colors

I love taking notes in general in an array of colors, and those colors can help you memorize and solidify as long as you use them consistently. In my notes, I usually chose 3 pens, one for a header, one for general ideas and one for details. You can change those colors up from day to day, but the pattern should be similar. In the same way, you should pick colors in your images that help you remember things, like using separate colors for different areas, like this!


Vary sizes

One of the biggest mistake I see when people draw in their notes is they draw things to small! Some pictures do not need to take up the whole page, but make sure you give yourself enough room so you can actually see the picture and study from it.

Have fun!

Use your new art to make taking notes fun! Use doodles to remember things! And don’t you dare worry if your drawings aren’t perfect. These are your notes juts for you! This is all for the sake of for your education.




So I might be a little all over the place, but remember all these picture happened over a whole semester and I didn’t draw everything that I learned(now that’s crazy!). I did what I need to do to learn the best way for me. I hope this sparks some new art in all of you students!

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