How to Create a Story Map – Kayaking in Moreton Bay

A couple of days ago we went kayaking across Moreton Bay near Brisbane, Queensland
As usual I took my camera.
But we had a variety of nature encounters with fish, sea eagles, stingrays and turtles that were so fleeting (or occurred underwater) it was impossible to photographically capture them –

So I published this blog post –

How Do You Capture Moments Your Camera Misses? 

My solution?

Doodle a few cartoon-like sketches and create a pictorial ‘story map’.

Most people say – “Oh, but I can’t draw”
Well that’s good!
Because story-maps aren’t artistic renderings, which is what everyone seems to get so hung up on.
They’re a pictorial mind-map where the boxes normally reserved for writing are substituted with diagrammatic symbols to represent events and, more than anything, convey an expression of your experience.
Here’s the link to a few examples of story-maps I created when travelling Europe.

How to Create a Story Map

1. Layout with Pencil and go over it with Pen

I start off with a scrap of paper to outline what events I’d like to include.


As I go through the events of the day in my mind and commit each memory to somewhere on the page, the layout unravels itself.

It doesn’t have to be sequential – nor realistic or logical – It’s recording all the things we experienced and that happened too fast to photograph.

The visual journal I used was quite large: 23cm x 30.5cm (9″x 12″) so I created a border to work within by pencilling a ruler width in from the edge of the paper.

Then, in a simple cartoon-like doodle style I marked in the highlights first in pencil, then in a waterproof Faber Castell Pitt pen – I usually use a Fine tip in the Sepia colour as it seems not quite as harsh as Black.

The important thing with pen work is to make all your lines strong and confident. Its amazing how even where you consider the line you’ve made appears not ‘quite right’, if you’ve applied it with a conviction that it should be there – The wonkiness will be interpreted as being part of your quirky intentional ‘style’!
If you dither, and hesitantly apply feeble lines – your lack of confidence is what will shine through and then it really won’t look right 🙂

2. Colour in the Penned Outlines with Watercolour Pencils


I used to use plain coloured pencils, but I’m experimenting with watercolour pencils. 

You colour in sections, just like a school colouring exercise – remembering the watercolour technique of leaving some sections blank so the white of the paper gives the impression of reflected light.


3. Paint over the Pencil Colours with Water

Story_Map_3With a paint brush, simply dip into a jar of water and ‘paint’ over the pencil colours – As you wet the coloured lines they’ll merge until they appear as though you’ve painted them with watercolours – and they’ll also become more vibrant.

Watercolour pencils are a great way to quickly and effectively apply colour. Unlike real watercolours, which require practice to learn how to use effectively, watercolour pencils require little skill to attain pleasing results!

4. Add some Text & a Border to complete the story


I wrote the notes with the same Faber Castell Sepia Pitt pen I originally drew the outlines.

But I then felt the main characters of the story were looking a little lost so I went over the lettering of the – fish, sea eagle, turtle and stingray with a thicker calligraphy pen to make them stand out a little more.

I’d started off with a pencil border, so I loosely inked in scrolls around each corner to frame the image (and then erased the pencil line).
You can see how wonky the scroll line in the middle at the bottom went – but I kept going – and so it looks as though… guess what?
It’s been done by hand!
This is the charm of story-maps!
As a final touch I added some coloured pencil to the scrolls, which again I blended with a wetted paint brush.

Here is how the story map evolved, shown in 20 seconds…


And if that went too fast, here are the stages again below:

  • Pencil layout
  • Commit with confident pen strokes (even if you’re not feeling that way)
  • Colour in with watercolour pencils (leaving highlights blank)
  • ‘Paint’ with water
  • Add lettering and a border

How to Create a Story Map of Kayaking in Moreton Bay


Here’s the final pictorial story map, with coloured border (when I also decided to colour over the action words too) ~



It was a gorgeous day, and I’m happy I don’t have to only rely on my camera to remember it 🙂

Kayak in the mangroves of Moreton Bay

How do you remember moments that you can’t photograph?

Do share in the comments below –

Or if you have any questions I haven’t answered above –

Please ask 😀

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25 thoughts on “How to Create a Story Map – Kayaking in Moreton Bay

    • You’re welcome Shawn!
      I’m planning on a more in depth series showing some great techniques for those who believe you have to be an artist to produce a story map… which is not the case ~
      So stay tuned! 🙂

  1. This is a really interesting concept! I’d love to draw an image of our family’s home in a village in Guatemala. You should do a workshop on this! Or do you already offer workshops?

    • Thanks for your comment Michele!
      I don’t run workshops, nor focus on drawing techniques to create an image of a family home – but I am planning an on-line series to show a few tips, tricks and techniques that come in handy for creating simple story maps, like above 🙂

      However… What I can suggest, if you want to create a picture of this house, is to go out with a pad of paper and give it a go ~
      I suspect you’ll be incredibly disappointed with your first attempts and will even consider its just too hard and want to throw it in, but the act of sitting and observing the little details of this house that you will never have noticed before, will be time well spent with this old friend and will even be meditative!
      Of course, if you’re not there all the time use photos 🙂

      You don’t say whether you have any drawing skills at all?
      If not, Betty Edwards’ book – ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ is a great place to start as she shows how literally everybody can draw – and she gives a few great techniques of how to look at the subject and transfer it to the paper.

      The beauty of a sketch/painting is that it reflects the feel of the place so much more than a rigid photo can so I’d love to hear how you get on –
      And if you get to the point of wanting pointers to more technical approaches, please ask 🙂

    • EXACTLY Red!!
      No one else ever need see it, but you may be very pleasantly surprised what great memory joggers they’ll be in the future ~
      Photos show elements of the day, but a story map can summarize the whole day’s experience in one fell swoop 🙂

  2. Here’s your statement that resonated for me, “Unlike real watercolours, which require practice to learn how to use effectively, watercolour pencils require little skill to attain pleasing results!” That’s what I need—-the ability to achieve “pleasing results” with “little skill” — this is applicable in so many areas beyond drawing and painting too. 😉

    PS: You did present a helpful tutorial for the day I’m feeling like I could try drawing. Maybe it’s like speaking a foreign language—-easier to do after several glasses of wine.

    • You are so funny Suzanne – But if a little bit of Dutch courage is what is required to grab a piece of paper and a pen…. This is your moment to shine!
      Yes – The advantage to watercolour pencils is you can carefully colour in the bits where you want the colour, and even rub out the bits you’ve accidentally gone over and when you’re ready, with a wet paint brush merge the colours so they look virtually like a watercolour –
      They’re a great place to start – and in fact would be effective on the not too intricate Zentangles 😉

    • So pleased this little guide helped you a see how simple creating a story map is Suzanne –
      I’m planning on creating a few more How To posts on this subject as being able to summarize your trip on a single page like this is very close to my heart 🙂

  3. I like the story map. I am not a good drawer or sketcher, but think I could try this. It would be a good way to look at and remember what I’ve experienced a little differently.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head there Donna!
      Stopping to re-visualize in your mind’s eye events and record them immortalizes those travelling/holiday memories forever, however simplistic your sketching style is 🙂

    • No one is ever satisfied with their drawing ability Anita!
      Keep it simple, using symbols to represent what you’ve seen and the results, however rusty in the beginning, will always vividly remind you of ‘that’ time 🙂

  4. Your posts are always so inspiring! We just finished a six-week trip which was so full of sights and sounds that I always found myself several days behind inmy travel journal and the ‘best’ sketching I did was to draw little pencil maps of where to find buses on future trips or where hotels were located. Love your writing and your art!!

    • Thanks so much Jackie 🙂
      I do know what you mean about the fun and games of the adventure being so full on its hard to then fit in any journalling at all –
      I’m therefore thrilled that you created some little pencil maps –
      Diagrams and symbols I feel are far faster to both express an experience onto the paper as well as later reliving it from those marks!

  5. I REALLY love this idea because it makes me crazy not to have captured something with my camera! Thank you so much for the instructions because I CAN’T draw 😉

    • When you think about it, a few symbolic scribbles (however poorly rendered) will remind you of that time far better than a missed shot! 😉

  6. Hello, I do think a wee series on drawing your be so helpful, I’m one of those who has no confidence in my drawing ability. I’m sure that like many things, a bit of learninga nd practise would work wonders,

    • You’re right Seana – It does take a little bit of practice – just like learning to do anything!
      But my series will be for those who feel, like you – that they have no confidence in their hidden abilities 🙂

  7. I just showed my 10 yo (non reading) homeschooled son. He watched your video a couple of times and then we discussed the steps and he asked me to read what was written. I will definitely be adding water color pencils to our tool kit and if this helps with his literacy in a non confrontational way – yippee! Thank you for sharing, Ally x

    • Does he enjoy drawing, colouring or painting Ally?
      Story maps are a great visual way for him to express his story where illustrations can be symbolic as well as literal representations.
      Although advertising agencies understand the importance of images for conveying information, our education system has lent towards a linguistically orientated world where the left (language) side of the brain has taken, in my opinion, an unbalanced dominance.
      Hope he has fun expressing his world creatively through the right side of the brain! 🙂

      • Thanks for the reply Linda. No he’s not much into anything where he has to hold either a pen, pencil, brush, etc. indicating poor fine motor skills however he can stitch better than most Nannas!

        We are working on ‘deschooling’ him at the moment, too much trauma associated with ‘school’ and ‘school work’

        thanks again, Ally

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