Friday, May 18, 2012

Intro to Visual Journals, Part 1

The word "journal" (akin to "journey") is derived from the Latin dies, meaning "day."  A journal is worked in day by day.  It is not a finished, polished product, but a place where you can experiment, imagine, dream, hope, plan, organize, worry, fret, make to-do lists, sketch, draw, glue or tape in scraps of paper, and doodle in the margins.

A visual journal is a journal that includes both written words and images of some kind - sketches, drawings, doodles, paintings, collages, scraps of ephemera, etc.  The visual element can be as small as a thumbnail sketch or a glued-in fragment of paper on every other page, or it can be as large as a full page spread covered in multiple layers of paint and collage.  There are as many potential styles of visual journals as there are potential journal-keepers.

A Sampling of Possible Visual Journal Styles
The notebook with visual additions is probably the most understated and unrecognized type of visual journal.  At first glance, it appears like an ordinary written journal or notebook, but it also uses different colours of pens, and elements such as doodles, arrows, cross-outs, and highlighting to add a more visual element.  The purpose of this journal may be to increase the flexibility of handwritten notes, or to add some fun and colour to an otherwise mundane notebook.
The sketchbook journal can be a simple bound sketchbook with plain white paper.  Its pages can include both realistic and abstract sketches and drawings using pen or pencil, with perhaps some colour added with pens or watercolours.  Handwritten notes may be added on the sketching process.  The purpose of this journal may be to practice sketching or drawing skills, or to improve one's skills of observation.

The art journal is what most people think of when they think of visual journals.  The pages in this journal likely have multiple layers of paint, collage, stencilling, details added with pens and markers, etc.  The images may be abstract or realistic, and the pages may contain many words or none at all.  The purpose of this journal may be to explore different artistic techniques, to cope with stress in other areas of one's life, or to learn to express oneself in new ways.

There are countless possible reasons why you might keep a visual journal (or any journal).  For example:
  • To chronicle your everyday life.
  • To provide a record for future generations.
  • To develop, practice, and hone your artistic skills.
  • To relax and relieve stress.
  • To connect with nature through sketches and written observations.
  • To contain memories of your travels.
  • To practice your writing skills.
  • To track a certain activity, such as bird watching, amateur astronomy, gardening, running, cooking, etc.
  • And above all, simply to have fun.

Whatever the reason, including a visual element in your journal can expand your journalling practice.  Drawing, painting, or gluing in scraps of paper trigger other parts of the brain than writing, and can also supplement your writing, providing more information than your words could do alone.  Just think how much richer your journal of your trip to France would be if you included sketches of the sites you visited as well as wrote about them.  You don't need to be an artist to keep a visual journal.  You don't need to be skilled at drawing or painting.  You can be male or female, young or old.  All you need is a desire to keep a journal that goes beyond mere writing.

This series of posts will focus on the basics of keeping a visual journal, especially for people who don't think of themselves as artists, who aren't interested in spending a fortune on fancy art supplies, and who might be a bit intimidated by popular sites on art journals or sketchbooks.  In future posts in this series, I'll explore supplies and resources for keeping a visual journal, and suggest some ways to get started.  If you have any questions about visual journals or suggestions for topics in this series, please let me know!

(See Part 2: Supplies; Part 3: Getting Started)


  1. Great post - and I like the new look of the blog

  2. Well done, Heather!

    You've done an excellent job of explaining the differences in these types of journals. You've made me want to include more art in my journal. And you are right, I'm among those who are a bit intimidated by those lavish art journals which photograph so well. :)

  3. I echo Duncan. I'm looking forward to more on this too. I've been working on my Book of Days art journal but my pages are starting to all look alike. This will be great inspiration for me.

  4. Great post Heather! Nice succinct approach to a big topic - I look forward to reading more.

  5. Though I've been on a stationery kick for the last year or so I've only just discovered this blog and wanted to say that if this post is indicative of your writing I'll be checking in most days. A lot of the other stationery blogs are fun, interesting, informative, etc, but more than a few of the bloggers don't seem to care too much about grammar or spelling('stationary', for example, crops up far too often). You are obviously one of the exceptions, and that counts for a lot.

  6. Wow! Your work is so creative and you are a great artist! This post makes me want to make a visual journal, too! :)


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