The Return of the Sketchnote Army Traveling Book

In the quaint village of Merate, just a stone’s throw from Milan, Italy, the year 2016 witnessed the inception of an unusual tale. Mauro Toselli, with a craftsman’s touch, conjured a rugged, handcrafted notebook – 112 pages of uncharted potential, encased in a shield of his own making. This was no ordinary notebook, it was destined for a global rendez-vous, passing through the hands and markers of the sketchnoting community.

If you don’t want to read what follows but just discover the stages of the book’s extraordinary journey then see the visualisation I made of it.

Mauro unveiled his project in a blog post, imparting instructions to those future recipients who would guide the Sketchnoting Army Traveling Book through its global pilgrimage. Mauro poured his heart into this project, unleashing it into the world with a mission to return home by 2018. With emotions and a longing to release his creation into the unknown, Mauro sent it across 12.450 kilometers to Pastor Gary Lau on Hawaii Island. Perhaps a destination nearer than the ends of the world would have made the parting more arduous.

Nevertheless, from that day forth, the notebook assumed an existence shaped by the destinations, moods, and decisions of the sketchnoters yet to encounter its pages. Its journey unfolded, chronicled by sketchnoters proudly displaying their contributions with the #SABookjourney hashtag on the ever-scrolling tapestry of social media.

Yet, as the days unfolded, Mauro’s initial script began to blur. The one-week tenure prescribed for each sketchnoter’s custody stretched, and the once-vivid digital traces on social platforms dimmed. The notebook, akin the mythical Loch Ness denizen or a phoenix reborn from the ashes, would appear and vanish from the tapestry of time, adorned with new sketchnotes.

Two years waltzed by, and the notebook, a wayfarer with a mind of its own, resisted the call to return to Milan. It traversed short distances and quantum-leapts, like the 16.600-kilometer leap from Claire in the Netherlands to James in Australia in July 2017.

As time wore on, the apparitions of the notebook grew rarer, and, on occasions, it seemed lost. Then came the unforeseen twist – the advent of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Stranded in France during the lockdown, the notebook, alongside sketchnoters, confronted the indiscriminate virus. Yet, some, bound by an unyielding resolve, launched appeals across social networks, seeking tidings of the elusive book. Amid whispers of the notebook’s demise, a few tenacious seekers tracked it down, compelling it back on its journey. But the world had changed, and the notebook navigated a less conspicuous route, eluding the notice of the old guard.

Emerging from the labyrinth of the Internet, the notebook resurfaced in 2022 in the possession of my comrade Valentine in the realm of Belgium. In Belgium, where I reside. From that moment forth, my gaze remained steadfast upon it until, at last, it rested within the cradle of my own hands.

The prologue to the notebook’s homeward journey had commenced, unbeknownst to Mauro, its father. Before orchestrating its clandestine return, some sacred duties still beckoned. In the company of my confidants organisers of the International Sketchnote Camp of 2021, we bestowed our collective sketchnotes upon its pages. And, in due course, I, too, inscribed my own sketchnotes upon it.

For its final sojourn to encounter new sketchnoters, the tome accompanied me to Leiden in the Netherlands for the International Sketchnote Camp 2023. The elder members of our sketchnote community found themselves stirred at the revelation of the notebook’s presence at the camp, and for some, it marked a reunion after the passage of many a year.

The SATravelbook at ISC23NL

As for the fledgling members, their enthusiasm knew no bounds upon encountering this roving tome, bearing the signatures of numerous sketchnoters. Mike Rohde radiated joy as he cradled the notebook once more, a book he had adorned with his signature six years prior in the confines of his abode in Wisconsin, US.

The SATravelbook at ISC23NL

In hushed tones, I confided in Mike, unveiling my covert plan to reunite the notebook with Mauro in the coming weeks. A clandestine pact to keep silent, letting the illusion persist that the notebook had rekindled its worldwide trip after its Leiden escapade.

Amidst the camaraderie, on a sunlit Sunday in October 2023, after a day exploring Lake Como, I surprised Mauro with a package from my bag, marking the poignant end to the notebook’s odyssey. See what he said about this moment on his blog.

This was the Return of the Sketchnote Army Traveling Book.

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Sketchnotes and drawings from Phuket, Thailand

Sketchnotes and drawings from my travelbook during our trip to Phuket in Thailand. Everything was drawn on site even if not always finished or colored at the same time.

This way of collecting moments, places, people, food in a travelbook has become precious to me. Because I take the time to observe, listen, feel before opening my travelbook and drawing. Then because looking at these memories after my return, and even years later, takes me back vividly to the moment I experienced with the same emotions and the same feelings. Much more than photos can do. And I say that as an amateur and fan of photography. Besides, you can look at my photo album of Thailand.

Sketchnotes and drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand
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Le carnaval de Binche est une chose sérieuse

Le carnaval 2018 est terminé mais je voulais revenir sur le dimanche gras que j’ai passé à Binche. Personnellement, c’est la journée que je préfère des 3 jours gras. A cause de la diversité des masques et des costumes, des couleurs, et probablement aussi parce qu’il y a relativement moins de foule.

Pour rappel, le carnaval de Binche est inscrit au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité de l’UNESCO.  Il faut s’être mêlé aux festivités pour mieux comprendre le pourquoi de cette reconnaissance. La tradition, le folklore, l’engouement populaire, les couleurs, les costumes, les musiques, sont authentiques et envoutants. Au point que d’immatériel, ce patrimoine de l’humanité se transforme devant vous en quelque chose de bien tangible. La rivière de musiques et de danses traditionnels vous entraine dans son tourbillon. Quand vient le soir, vous sentez que vous n’avez pas assisté à un spectacle mais que vous avez vraiment participé avec les Binchois à une fête unique en son genre.

On ne rigole pas avec la tradition à Binche et on y fait la fête sérieusement. Est-ce pour cette raison qu’à mon retour de Binche, dimanche gras au soir, j’ai constaté que sur la plupart de mes photos, les personnes ont un air sérieux, absorbé, concentré? Et si joie il y a – et de la joie il y en a, je vous rassure – je la vois presque plus intérieure qu’extérieure sur mes clichés. Bien-sûr, j’ai des photos avec de l’allégresse et des rires francs, mais bizarrement ou coïncidence, elles sont floues ou moins belles.

Qu’en pensez-vous, surtout vous amis Binchois:  Est-ce cette reconnaissance de l’UNESCO (ou le fait que “El bon Dieu est Binchoû” ;-), qui donne aux binchois de ce dimanche gras après-midi cet air festif plus intériorisé? Ou n’ai-je encore rien compris au carnaval 😉 ?

Carnaval de Binche 2018 Carnaval de Binche 2018 Carnaval de Binche 2018 Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018Carnaval de Binche 2018

Observez le regard derrière ce superbe masque vénitien, il vous sourit aussi avec un bonheur intérieur:

Carnaval de Binche 2018

Voir d'autres photos dans la galerie Flickr
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Photos and sketchnotes of my trip in India

This article was originally published in the Sketchnote Army blog on 25 April 2016.

I prepared well in advance all practical details of this solo trip to India, like visa, vaccines, drugs, itinerary, hotels, etc.  My goal was a journey which makes me grow internally rather than only enjoy the visit to tourist places. Therefore I also prepared myself to accept the unexpected as part of the journey. See my sketchnotes one month before leaving about that.

I also prepared carefully my material for photography and for sketchnotes. Considering my desire to travel light, I chose the essentials only. One notebook, 3 black markers (0.2, 0.5, 0.8), one marker for shadows, my favourite black pencil, a set of Faber-Castell watercolour pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener. All these preparations turned out to be what I’ve had need, no more no less.

Sketchnotes from India - my itinerary

One thing only did not go as I had imagined it: sketchnoting on place! Before leaving I planned to sketch during the day and every evening what I’ve seen, learnt and experienced during that day. This plan was based on wrong assumptions; that I would have had the availability, the right conditions and the proper mental state. I was immediately faced to a different reality.

Delhi - Pahar Ganj area

My first days were very intense with a tour by car (with a driver with me). I visited many cities and beautiful sites on the pre-established itinerary from Delhi to Jaipur, then Agra, then Delhi again.

On a rickshaw in HaridwarBetween Jaipur and Fatehpur Sikri

See the photos and the sketchnotes. During these days I changed the itinerary on the spot from time to time to follow my intuition or my driver’s advices.

Sketchnotes - The art of driving in India

Taking notes in the car while traveling was quickly discarded due to the mad Indian traffic or due to the bad road conditions. I was only able to write down keywords and some signs on the corner of my pages. At night, after a shower and a good vegetarian dinner (in different places every night) I was so exhausted that I felt unable to take decent notes or to draw. I still was thinking about my second week to do that correctly.

Sketchnotes from India - Along the road

After the tour by car, I left my driver in Delhi and, alone, continued my trip by train, towards the north. Well, I finally managed to start to fill in some pages in the train. It’s worth to mention that this was possible only because this train offered me good conditions to do it. This was far to be the case in the train on return one week later.

Sketchnotes from India - From Jaipur to Agra

During my stay in Haridwar and in Rishikesh I was again faced to the same difficulties to take notes. Traveling by bus, tuk tuk or rickshaw is worse than by car. But I continued writing down keywords and signs, many signs, on another small notebook that I bought locally. Then I arrived in the Phool Chatti ashram, a heaven on earth, for a retreat of one week. I was expecting to have time to sketch, to write, to draw. Again, wrong assumptions… The daily schedule of the ashram was intense; see one of my sketchnotes on it.

Sketchnotes from India - program of the day in the Phool Chatti ashram, north of Rishikesh

I also spent the free time of my first days washing my dirty clothes. I had the opportunity to work on my sketchnotes in the last days of my stay but in the meantime I continued with keywords and signs on the small notebook.

Sketchnotes from India - Some sacred symbols in India

The drawings of the meditative walks are the only pieces that I did on the moment while I was on the place. The watercolor on the banks of the Ganges river is even done with water from the river itself.

Sketchnotes from India - Meditative walks in Phool Chatti ashram, north of Rishikesh

My take-aways from this experience concerning sketchnoting:

  • Never plan in advance too much, be flexible and ready for the unexpected
  • Related to the previous point, and really linked to me: Put aside beauty and draw like it comes naturally on the moment
  • In case of lack of time or for any other reason, quickly write down a maximum of information on the spot, can be keywords or simple signs that will remember you what was your idea, your feelings, your impressions, the colours, etc [I use these technique when I practice live graphic harvesting at work during events]
  • When visiting, especially in crowd and choppy conditions, just take with you a small blocnote and a pencil. Leave other material in the car or in the room, they will be useless and they only risk to distract you from the essentials
  • Photography is also helpful to remember later what was seen to draw it

Last but not least, the best feedback I received on my return after I published my photos and my sketchnotes is about the latter. People told me that they were able to perceive more my emotions through the sketchnotes than through photos. Another proof of the power of handmade sketchnotes.



In the original article on Sketchnotes Army, my friend Mauro added this part at the bottom:

You can see the whole bunch of sketchnotes and photos here:

Sketchnotes from India
Photos from India
All sketchnotes and drawings

I’m speechless Claudio! But there is one more of your sketchnotes I want to add to your story.

For our readers: Claudio live and work in Brussels.

Sketchnotes from India - How I lived Brussels terrorist attacks at 7500 km distance

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this story with us, Claudio!


– Mauro

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My first blog post

My first blog post is about my trip in India in March 2016.

I prepared the trip alone and travelled solo. This means that my journey began months before the real departure. My “One month before” sketchnotes and transcript:

India: First post

In exactly one month I will travel to India. I prepare this journey, and myself, since months. I think about it since years. Looking back I certainly think unconsciously about this journey since my twenties at the times of my stays in Taizé and in the San Masseo community in Assisi.
Since the first days it was clear to me that India would not be only a tourist destination. Not only wonderful landscapes, amazing colours, unknown perfumes, beautiful palaces and mosques, ancestral cultures, and interesting people to meet. Not only that. India represents to me a spiritual universe to which I feel attracted. I feel that India is one of the places where I can deepen my quest of who I am, why I am here and now, and many other questions on the purpose of life and of my interactions within my daily eco-system.
As I said to my family and to friends, I’m not going there to convert me to another religion or to follow a spiritual movement. I want to be there because India is the cradle of ancestral spirituality/ies and because people are still strongly connected to them.
My journey is my quest. India is one element of both of them. India is not the destination. The unexpected can happen. I’ll not be disillusioned nor disappointed. I’m ready for the unexpected because what will happen is what has to happen in my journey.


I can finish this first blog post with same conclusion: “What will happen is what has to happen in my journey with this blog“.

See all pictures and other sketchnotes of my travel in India.

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