Media & Techniques

My Pencil Made Me Do It! Sketchnoting with Carrie Baughcum (Ep. 194)

As sketchnoting continues to gain popularity in all different types of educational circles, more and more teachers come to their art room to learn our secrets. But in all honesty, is it really a secret that visual thinking can help kids learn? Teacher, author, and sketchnoter extraordinaire Carrie Baughcum joins Tim today to discuss her approach to visual notetaking, helping our kids break down some barriers, and her new book “My Pencil Made Me Do It!” Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

As you probably know from listening to this podcast throughout the years, I love to read. I’m always looking for new things to read, new ideas, new things to share, new ways of thinking and learning. And recently I found something great in a new book by Carrie Baughcum. It is called My Pencil Made Me Do It and it is an incredible book. You will love it and I am hoping that you’ll love my interview with her today as well. The book is about Sketchnoting but it is also about so much more than that. In the book, Carrie talks about her journey as she learns to create sketchnotes, how to do it well and how to bring those ideas into her classroom. She’s actually a special education teacher and so it really makes it an interesting read because Carrie’s very personable and she lets you into her mind and into her thinking as she tries to learn to do some things that generally come naturally to us as artists.

And I think there’s a lot of value in us as art teachers, seeing that perspective. Seeing what it’s like from someone else’s lens as they begin to learn and begin to see what it takes to break out of your comfort zone. What it takes to learn to create art and how to pass those lessons on to your students. There’s so much in there that we can learn from and so much in the book as far as bigger ideas about mindfulness and growth mindset and visualization and metacognition, and the best part is, even though we’re tackling a lot of those big ideas, the book is a fun read. It’s an engaging read. And it holds your interest the entire way through. Carrie’s personality really shines through over the course of the entire book and she is ready to chat now. Let me bring her on, let me have her introduce herself, and we will get the conversation started.

And Carrie Baughcum is joining me now. Carrie, how are you today?

Carrie: I am very good. I’m so excited to be here with you today.

Tim: Well, like I just said, I’m excited to have you talk to art teachers. To begin I guess, can you give us an introduction to yourself? Just kind of who you are and what you do. And I guess the important question, what made you decide to write an entire book about Sketchnoting?

Carrie: Sure. I’m Carrie Baughcum, I am a sixth, seventh and eighth grade special education teacher from the northwest suburbs of Illinois. I am also the new author of My Pencil Made Me Do It, a guide to sketchnoting. I’m also a mother and a wife and a creator and a YouTuber. I love to vlog. I have a YouTube channel as well. Yeah, that’s me.

Tim: That’s awesome. Now I got to say the first thing when I was reading your book, which is amazing by the way.

Carrie: Thank you so much.

Tim: One of the things that struck me, right at the beginning, I was like, hey, wait a second. She is not an art teacher. That made everything kind of come from an interesting perspective. And so I guess my question for you is, because you’re not an art teacher, it took you a little while to realize that you might be an artist. It’s something that you came to later in life. Can you talk about I guess how you got started with all of these sketches, all this drawing? Talk about your process of becoming an artist and when you finally realized, hey, I am an artist. I can call myself an artist.

Carrie: I still really don’t call myself an artist Tim and other people would argue with me. You probably included. It’s such a hard definition. It’s so hard for me to own that because I have such a strong definition and I’m sure many people do of what an artist is. For me, and I share this story in my book, it’s just so near and dear to my heart. My journey into drawing started with my daughters in my kitchen. They would doodle at the kitchen table and they’d sit there and draw and draw and draw. Even before they could write words and they knew how to spell and I would ask them about what they were drawing and they would share these huge elaborate stories all about the things that they had drawn. And this would go on night after night, week after week.

And it didn’t take me too long before I realized that if I wanted to spend time with my children, I needed to put a pen, paper, pencil to paper and I needed to draw with them. And so night after night I would join them drawing. And I started creating stories and it started to become something that I really fell in love with. This idea of combining words with ideas and drawing and putting them together. And when kids are little, life is full of so many different adventures and some of them are just fun and some of them are frustrating and some of them are, kids really think like this? This is insane. Or am I going insane as a parent?

And so it offered me a lot of opportunities to just join some humor or things that they would say with drawings and didn’t take too long before my love of writing stories and drawing with my daughters flowed into my blog and I would share out images on social media. And a teacher friend of mine was like, “Oh my gosh Carrie, that’s an amazing sketchnote.” And I’m like, what is a sketchnote? Because I’m just doing what my three year old is doing, which is drawing pictures and writing words on a paper.

And so that was really the start of all of everything for me for sketchnoting. It just became this rabbit hole of learning about this idea of putting images and words together on a piece of paper to do amazing things for learning and for teaching. And I think it’s something that our teachers and I honestly, kindergarten teachers and first grade teachers have known just for forever. That combining drawing with anything is enhances everything.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s why, as art teachers, we are so receptive to seeing all of these other teachers from all different subject areas trying to put these things together and trying to incorporate it more. And you have some great stories in the book about how you kind of bring things into your classroom. Like how you’re incorporating these with a lot of your students. But before we get to that, I guess, I love the story too of the first time you were actually trying to do a sketchnote where other people might see it. You’re doing it in public. I think you were at a state education conference and with all this pressure you said it didn’t go very well. Can you tell us a little bit about that and I guess a little bit about why it was such a disheartening experience? The first time you tried that out in public.

Carrie: I think, it’s funny, disheartening was I think all internal, because when I look back, even to the sketchnote that I shared out, I still have it. It’s on my wall in my house. We have a wall of things that we share it at our house and I look at it now and I’m like, wow, that was really good. It wasn’t terrible. But I think the disheartening experience, and it really offered a really great opportunity in growth mindset was the internal struggle that I went through the whole thing. And so the state conference was happening and I was right in the midst of really learning about sketchnoting and really falling in love with it. That this was something that I really enjoyed doing, but all the really good sketchnoters, they sketchnote in public. They don’t sit at their house with their two children on the floor with Crayola crayons, coloring on the floor.

They listen to real people draw and draw in live time. And so I am always up for a new challenge. I love to try new things and so why not just dive into it at a state conference and decide to do it? I found my daughter’s pencil case and I shoved it full of pencils, and an eraser and I don’t even know if I put pens in there. And I did some research about how do live sketchnoters sketchnote? And there was all these different rules that at least in my mind they were rules. Like pre-draw your title, have your three colors picked out, draw in pen. And I was not drawing a pen check, not picking three colors check. And I’m not going to pre-design the title check. I also tend to do things by my own rules, Tim, if you haven’t realized that yet.

I had my paper and I had my pencil case and I set it down next to me. I was ready for the keynote to start and I started to draw and it was Sylvia Martinez and I don’t know if you guys, do you know who she is, Tim? She’s Maker Movement to the right. Amazing. To me it was like when I look back, I’m like the universe just had everything lined up. This amazing speaker, a maker, a risk taker, a designer and she’s just so great at speaking and it offered a lot of opportunities just as a new sketchnoter to, so many ideas to capture. And so I just remember sitting there listening to her and just trying to connect with her words, how they made me feel, what was new and interesting to me and really taking it all in.

And I was just, it was just this wonderful moment of being completely absorbed by somebody and then being really connected with them. And just for me, sketchnoting is also like a keynote is also kind of an emotional experience. I really do enjoy it. Really connecting to somebody. And so as I was doing it, I was sketchnoting and I had to have my phone in one hand because I didn’t know how to draw half the things that she was saying. I could imagine them, but I didn’t know how to draw them. And so I have my phone out and I’m drawing and so all this internal, some of these internal struggles that you were talking about were happening. Like real sketchnoters don’t need to look up pictures on their phone.

I used a pencil because I was like, I was not ready to put pen to paper and let that be permanent. I was like real sketchnoters don’t use a pencil. And so this whole process was going through and I’m having this internal struggle of loving the whole thing of like connecting with Sylvia, really connecting with her words and taking these notes and developing the sketchnote and I’m in public, so there’s two people sitting next to me. They were my friends, which was nice, but it’s public. And then when Sylvie was done, I still hadn’t finished some of the images. Well real sketchnoters finish when the keynote is done. And then it still wasn’t in pen. Real sketchnoters sketchnote in pen. There was no color, real sketchnoters sketchnote in color.

That was that whole internal struggle that I had to struggle with. I went back up to my hotel room that night and I added the color and that was so much fun, picking out my colors. And I really found, when I look back, even to that moment, the palette that I used on that sketchnote, it is the palette that I’ve stuck with forever. Just this like my childhood favorites of those neon that really, your ROYGBIVs but kind of like the neon version of them. And I still love those even to this day. And then, yeah, so it’s funny, you’re really bringing back a lot of connections. I’m having a deep moment right now.

And so I snapped a picture, I was like, I took a deep breath and I snapped a picture of that picture and I put, I forgot what the hashtag was. I snapped a picture out of it and I was super proud of this sketchnote that I had drawn and it was just, it really became a really big moment for me, that very first sketchnote that I shared and the whole looking back to that internal struggle that I had between this fight for, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but this fight and this other fight between this is, I really want to do this and this is important to me and it’s exciting and it makes me happy. Even if it doesn’t follow what people say, became a really wonderful moment and risk taking and this working through something that makes me happy. And it doesn’t matter what other people say the rules are.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. That’s really cool. And I guess, if we can, I would like to explore that mindset, explore that thinking a little bit more because as artists and as art teachers, everybody listening to this, we’re very used to sharing our work. We’re very used to critiquing and having other people always see this, what we’re doing. But like you said, for non-artists it’s really intimidating. It’s scary to have people seeing what you’re doing. Why do you think people are so hesitant to share their drawings or share their work? And I guess the question for our audience here, what can we do as art teachers to help our non artists or our emerging artists, how can we help them get past this roadblock of not wanting to share what they’re doing?

Carrie: Sure, sure. No, it really is a hard mindset isn’t it? And I sometimes I think, is it just art or is it everything that we share? It makes us so vulnerable, putting pen to paper. And I think, art is always seen as a talent and not as a skillset. And I think, looking at you, looking at art teachers and you guys have always known that and you believed it for so long and it must be wonderful to have the sketchnoting community now, sharing more of what you know and making it more mainstream. But I guess it’s just a really hard mindset to get past. I think the way that art teachers can support that is the way I do it in my classroom, it’s just time, experience and words.

Giving them time to try it or giving them, letting them take their time to go through their journey and the speed that they need to go in it. Giving them experiences, experiences that are going to allow them to take risks or allow them to try new things and that aren’t going to feel so vulnerable and that they can feel successful. And then, and I think we also need to remember to give our artists and our students words of encouragement and just letting them know when they’re trying something new or they’re trying something different that we give them words that fill them up. That those words can take the place of the negative words that might be in their head from previous experiences.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think another thing that kind of goes along with that is just that growth mindset idea that you talk about so much in the book and just your personal journey to kind of where you are. It’s really inspiring to read about that. And I think there’s a lot there that we can take and kind of share with our kids. But I also wanted to ask too, like you mentioned, sketchnotes are becoming so much more mainstream and we have a lot of English teachers coming to us and we have a lot of science teachers coming to us saying, “Hey, how can, how can I incorporate these?” I guess, what I want to ask you because so many different teachers are no seeing the value in sketchnotes, what can we do as art teachers to help people learn more about sketchnotes? How can we help the other teachers, our colleagues, implement these sorts of ideas in their classroom?

Carrie: Well, you all have a wonderful skillset as art teachers and as educators as well, that you have so much to offer other teachers when they come to you about these types of things. And when it comes to sketchnoting, I see sketchnoting in the parts that it offers and not as a whole thing. There’s so many things that sketchnoting can offer. It’s not this big piece of paper that we have to fill up. There’s each of its parts offers so many wonderful things that teachers can layer over what they’re already doing to enhance their teaching. And so I think as art teachers picking out that part of sketchnoting that is really connects with you or that you feel like you would feel comfortable sharing with another teacher. Maybe it’s icons. That’s when we hear or read information, we imagine a picture in our head and then we’d doodle that image. And that’s what sketchnoters call an icon.

Maybe going into an English class and talking to that teacher about how that teacher could just bring simple images or simple icons into their teaching to enhance a lesson. Color coding, is something that educators have been doing forever. Sketchnoters use colors in their sketchnotes all the time. Maybe going into a class and talking to a teacher about how they could anchor certain colors with certain pieces of information when they’re teaching. In a math lesson, if it’s the notes, the notes are highlighted in green, but the example is highlighted in red. Using color anchoring strategies in the classroom could also be a simple way to bring a sketchnoting technique into the classroom to enhance a lesson. Or containers. Containers are things that hold information and there’s all different kinds of containers from thought bubbles to talk bubbles to like a boom, a really pointy bubble.

Art teachers could work with other teachers to create a container key, meaning that certain containers will always hold certain pieces of information. And to know students are still, even with color coding and icons and containers, students are still having to imagine the information and think about it and synthesize it and they’re still having to put pencil to paper whether they’re color coding or using containers or icons and all of these things enhance learning and tap into all the really great things that sketchnotings do. But there’s simple ways that art teachers could go in and and layer over, offer that teacher something that they’re to add to what they’re already doing. They’re not going to have to create a new lesson, but instead they could enhance it with something really simple just by a single element from sketchnoting.

Tim: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s really, really good advice. So cool. All right, well Carrie, we can go ahead and wrap things up here, but before we go, just any final words or inspiration or ideas that you want to share with everybody before we go?

Carrie: No, I was thinking back to when we talked about the art teachers and what they could do to keep encouraging students. I think one of the other thing that we could do all as teachers at or even as art teachers is just giving our students opportunities where we all are vulnerable and we can laugh together and we can talk about our mistakes and errors. And I think anytime that teachers can be vulnerable with their students in the classroom and show their students that they, that risk taking and making mistakes is fun and it’s welcomed in this classroom is going to improve the mindset in the classroom and really offer an opportunity for everybody to feel free to take risks in the classroom.

Tim: Ah, that’s really well said and I think that’s some awesome advice. Great place to leave it Carrie. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been great to talk to you and yeah, hopefully we can get a few more people checking out your book, so thank you.

Carrie: Thanks Tim.

Tim: Thank you to Carrie for coming on the podcast. That was a really fun interview and as I said in the beginning, it’s awesome when teachers who aren’t necessarily artists really appreciate and value what we do in the art room. What we are teaching our students. And I think there are a lot of bridges that can be built there if we are willing to share our strengths, share our tools and show people what we are doing in the art room, especially as there’s so much interest growing in sketchnotes and the idea of visual thinking and visual learning.

Now before I wrap things up, I want to talk to you really briefly about the Art of Education University. We had an awesome episode last week with Heather Crockett, the Dean of the university, talking so much about the Master’s degree. But even if you’re not trying to earn a Master’s degree, even if you just need a graduate course or a few graduate courses, make sure you check things out from the Art of Education University. We have over 20 online courses. Eight of those are hands-on studio courses and they are designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. Whether you’re working on curriculum or classroom management or technology or even you just want to brush up on your own fine art skills, we have the course for you. You can see what’s available, what interests you and what you may want to sign up for at

And one final point that I want to make, just because you’re an art teacher, that doesn’t mean that you inherently know how to create sketchnotes or how to teach kids how to create sketchnotes. And that’s one of the great things about this book. If you are interested and you want to learn, the book takes you through the entire process of doing sketchnotes from beginning to end and breaks down every step with visuals, which we as art teachers love. And examples of how she puts all of these great things together and it’s told through the lens of Carrie’s own journey. But it can also serve as a great guide to how and why we can work with our students on sketchnotes. And for that reason, I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at this book.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Shannon Lauffer will be back on the show next week, and that is something to look forward to because she is always incredibly informative and incredibly entertaining. We will talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.