Thinking with markers

Target markers, one Faber-Castell gel stick, and Rhodia paper

Erin Fitzgerald


(This is excerpted from an issue of my Substack, Stationary Stationery, where I usually just get really nerdy about fountain pens.)

Found a stash of pre-pandemic markers the other day, and had to test them. Most held up pretty well! If Target still sells felt-tip thin markers in a plastic cylinder, go for it.

I’ve been taking lots and lots and lots of notes for UX and design classes. For the first class, I tried taking notes via keyboard and I failed just about every quiz along the way. Then I switched to using thin markers and paper for notetaking, and went immediately to straight As.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my fountain pens for journal and fiction writing for the speed, and sometimes just the feel of the nib on the page. But taking notes on stuff like color theory and building user journeys? It’s a very different kind of writing. Markers force me to hit pause on the webinar. They make me slow down, pay attention, think spatially.

Markers — and yeah, probably the design classes, too — have also led me to get out my other art supply stuff. I now keep a little notebook on my desk that’s only for doodling. Turns out doodling helps me think, and doodling helps when I’m anxious. I had a zillion notebooks on my desk already, but this one feels like an actual piece of my brain that’s outside of my skull. Squares and lines and phrases and squiggles and comic heads. I try drawing exercises sometimes — look at the tree, NO, REALLY LOOK AT IT! — but I lose interest pretty quickly. For me, using smaller pieces to make bigger ones in drawing doesn’t fire the same neurons as it does in writing.

I’ve also been reading what can only be described as a mountain of books about UX research, UX design, content design, and every combination possible of those subjects. It’s been an absolute delight. This was a missing piece in my thinking: the theory that supports the intuition. Also, I’ve needed to get lost in something that wasn’t fiction reading/writing for a really long time.

This past week, I bought the first writing guide (besides Matt Bell’s) I’ve bought in probably at least five years, if not longer:

The book Doodling for Writers, by Rebecca Fish Ewan.

I’m about a third of the way through it. It’s like having the art teacher in grade school that I wish I’d had, who understood that I was trying, but was wired differently. (I also wish I’d had a gym teacher in grade school who understood that I was trying, but should have just been left to walk laps.)

There are some drawing exercises, sure, but I’m a good sport.