How I Handwrite My Illustrated Stories

A few months back, I posted on Instagram a short video of myself hand-writing something on my iPad, and someone commented, “You mean you actually write that stuff out by hand?” And I realized, I’ve never really explained how I make these handwritten and illustrated stories, so I thought I’d take a minute to do that in this video. (OK, it’s actually 3 minutes and 29 seconds)

thumbnail from How I Handwrite My Illustrated Stories



And of course, here’s a handwritten + illustrated version of the above video:

I have a perfectly good laptop, but sometimes I take the time to write a story by hand. A story always starts with an idea, which usually does not come sitting in front of a laptop, but more often when I'm out running or hiking or walking. I think of an idea and I have to ask myself, "Oh, is this a good idea?" Usually the answer's not “yes” or “no,” but more like, "Okay, this is good enough to try and see where it goes." Then I consider how I best think I can present it. Sometimes it's a single image I draw. [Illustration “What do you call these things?” ] Sometimes it's an entire YouTube video. [SCREENSHOT OF YouTube Video “The Seven Summits of My Neighborhood”] Sometimes it's a written piece with some images and illustrations, [SCREENSHOT OF Outside Online story “The Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100K Is Not for the Faint of Heart”] and occasionally, it's an entirely handwritten piece with illustrations that I draw. [SCREENSHOT OF Outside Online story “I Did A Plank Every Day For 120 Days. Here's What Happened.”] You might wonder why bother to hand write all those words when you can just type them? I don't really have a brilliant answer for that. I think it's hard to capture people's attention nowadays, and maybe handwriting stands out a little more, or maybe it feels a little more approachable, or maybe sometimes people just don't want to read a big block of typed text. I just started doing it one day and it's kind of fun. But it is a lot of work compared to typing something. I type somewhere between 60 and 75 words per minute, and when I hand write something, it's much, much slower than that. [Photo of Brendan Leonard drawing] I use an iPad app called Procreate when I write and draw, and I really only use one brush, which is a modified gel pen I have saved to look exactly how I want it to look. Side note: Procreate is an amazing app and I think real artists do some really amazing stuff with it. I would guess I use maybe 1% of the capability of the app in what I do. In order for my handwriting to be readable, I have to constantly zoom in, write really big letters, zoom back out, and read it, and then scroll across the canvas. I write in all capital letters, which is something I've always done. It's just easier for me to write legibly that way. To break up the text in a story so it's not just one big block of handwriting, I will draw charts or illustrations or sometimes take a photo and just draw a little frame around it. I never had any formal graphic design training aside from learning how to design and print newspaper pages in the early 2000s, which gave me an idea of how to manipulate words and images to make the most of the space I had. [PHOTOS OF OLD NEWSPAPER PAGES] A big chunk of my following is on Instagram, so sometimes I will engineer these stories so that they fit on 10 Instagram portrait-sized slides. [SCREENSHOT OF INSTAGRAM CAROUSEL] You hope to grab people's attention with the first one, and hopefully, they scroll through the next nine slides and get the entire story. That can be a challenge, but I think it also helps give me a constraint on how long a story should be, and that way I can use it in my email newsletter, on my website, on my column for outside online, on Instagram and Threads. I actually learned to write in graduate school for newspaper journalism, so it's funny how different this process is from all of that, but as much as I hate to admit it, that was a long time ago. I mean, I got reading glasses last year. Which I basically only wear to draw and write on this iPad, which is something that didn't exist when I was in grad school. [PHOTO OF READING GLASSES NEXT TO IPAD] I guess if you stick around long enough, you're going to have to learn to adapt and meet people where they want to be, and learn some new skills in the process.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting my work