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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For the third year in a row, visual thinkers in the world celebrated the World Sketchnote Day on 11 January. At the call of Mike and Mauro , the two geniuses behind the Sketchnote Army blog, hundreds of sketchnoters, graphic recorders/facilitators, doodlers, or simple visual lovers, shared on social media their piece of work on sketchnoting with the #SNDay2018 hashtag.  See the amazing creativity and diversity of ideas posted on Twitter or Instagram.

Since 2017 for #SNDay2017, where I participated alone, I feel that the visual thinkers community has grown on Internet, but in my working environment too. Thanks to Catherine and Gene, who are two colleagues very engaged in visuals like me, we have a small but existing community of visual thinkers in the European Commission. I sent them an invitation for a collective sketchnoting session on 11 January lunchtime and four of them were available: Catherine, Gene, Celia and Fred. We met on two different sites in Brussels via video-conference facilities (this is why some pics look strange).

I offered to practice sketchnoting on “What does visuals bring us personally or to our institution?”

My take-away of the session:

There is a particular energy to “work visually” together on the same subject, respecting and adding our different visual styles. This energy is even stronger when you feel united to a global community that the same day celebrates the beauty and power of the visual language.

We shared our pictures and sketchnotes on social media with other practitioners (it’s fun to notice pics from one side of the screen to the other). We also photographed ourselves in #eyecontact mode, according to Chris‘ idea.

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