Using a Visual Journal

What Exactly is an Art Journal or Visual Journal?

Put simply – an art journal is a visual diary. It is a safe place. It’s an experimental laboratory. It combines written words (journaling) and art making so you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

  • It’s a space for questions you might have that don’t necessarily have neat and tidy answers.
  • It’s a place for those thoughts that don’t feel safe for you to keep inside or don’t yet understand their meaning.
  • It’s a safe container for emotions that you don’t want flying around out in the world.
  • You can release the “stuff” inside you that may seem like a swamp of confusion onto the pages with color, words, and pictures.
  • It’s incredibly healing.
  • Your pages become oracles into your deepest desires.
  • It’s a place to go when you’re bored and just want to doodle.
  • You can make lists (I love lists and writing down stuff that I don’t want to forget).
  • Practice with new supplies.
  • It is your private magical artsy world. It’s yours and it’s great.

This will be your laboratory as you experiment with finding your style. I am going to have two rules for you 1) Everything you do will help you learn so THERE ARE NO MISTAKES and 2) After you finish a page look for at least 2 things you really like about your page. Even if you don’t really like your whole experiment, there will be parts about it that ring true in your gut so find those.

When I’m experimenting I’ll circle stuff I like and jot down notes about how I did it so I can keep doing that.

practice page

I was practicing with bottles of stain & making splatters and I didn’t like the whole page so I glued in a page of water-doodles. I made notes on the parts I liked.

I like to use spiral bound sketchbooks so I can sketch, doodle, and collage on the pages or glue in watercolor paper if I use wet supplies. They will expand easier with the spiral binding. I’m really liking the 7.5X10 size sketchbook I’m working in right now.

You can use anything you want – even an old hardcover book. You can draw right on top of the print. Glue pages together for more stability. If you collage or glue stuff on the pages, you’ll have to tear out a few here and there so it will close.

Other supplies you’ll need is what ever you have on hand. I don’t want you to think you have to invest a lot of money in this. I’ll be using my collage images from magazines (I’ve been collecting them for a long time so I have a lot), glue, scissors, thin tipped markers, gel pens, craft acrylic paint, watercolors, and distress stains.

If this is one of your first art journals don’t make it too complicated by having a lot of supplies. If you have too much to choose from then you might not even get started. Start will stuff you feel really comfortable with. If you want to take photos and print them out to glue in that’s great too. Anything goes!

When you’re out getting your journal, stop at some home improvement stores and look at the paint chips. Grab a few from several colors that you really like. Look at the different shades and tints of the colors – which ones really call to you? (I collect these paint cards/chips – don’t worry no one gives me any trouble when I take them).

Altered Book spread 2 miracles in 1

I’ve been passing this page spread since I made it and it still didn’t seem “right” to me. There was something that I just didn’t like so after a month of not liking it, I knew it was time to alter my collage.

In a previous blog I wrote about the creative process-how your project starts out great in your head and there’s a lot of excitement. As you start your project it might take a different path than you expected so you start to not like it. . .

the track of a project

As I create my art (bead embroidery pieces, paintings, and collage projects) there is always a time that I really don’t like what I’m doing. I finally realized that is part of the process and your creation is still developing.

Think of fetuses – they’re pretty ugly until they’re fully formed. What you are creating isn’t fully formed until it’s done. If you don’t like what you’re making just remember that it’s part of the creative process – DON’T STOP. Your creation just needs more time.

That being said, if you sit with a piece and it just doesn’t feel right after you have done all you want to, it may need more or different stuff. If you aren’t satisfied with your page (and it’s not just your perfectionism/inner critic buzzing in your ear), then changing/adding/subtracting is needed.


This is the page that really bugged me. I didn’t like the dress form and the red & green tag. I liked the post card, vintage picture from my hometown Baraboo, WI, and the home letters. I was so so about the clock.

I went to my stash of magazine cut outs to find something that would cover the upper 1/2 of the page. I also took off the red & green label which pulled off some paint & the page.

I found an image from a Sommerset Studio magazine, some transparent stickers of vintagy butterflies, and a transparent sticker of script. I also used key stickers for hands on the clock. I also changed the words on the other page and added a butterfly sticker next to the bear that matched the other stickers.

page redo
Playing is great practice!
another page redo

Here’s another page where my experiment of smearing some of the ink on my doodles went too far. I didn’t get upset, I just collaged over it, outlined the flower heart in black, and put “The Glee of getting Mad” on.

The moral of the story is: 1) Sit with your pages to make sure they are fully formed or need more attention from you. 2) You will like parts of your pages more than other parts and that’s ok! 3) This book is to make you happy so look at your pages as if they were done by your friend and not with an overly critical eye. 4) Trust your gut!


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