Keeping a visual journal

Why All Creative People Need a Visual Journal

blank page of art journal at start of new year with silver baubles and ivy leaves

January always seems so full of promise; a blank page waiting for something to happen. An ideal time to start a Visual Journal. In truth, any time is a good time to start one, but January seems particularly appropriate.

I’m a great fan of visual journals and think that anyone remotely creative should keep one.


  • What is a Visual Journal?
  • Why you need  a Visual Journal
    • Improve your observational skills
    • Increase creativity
    • Develop your style
    • Consolidate your thoughts
    • Widen your horizons



To be clear, I don’t mean an artist’s sketchbook or an art journal filled with amazing illustrations nor a visual diary that has to be completed every day (both of which seem rather daunting given my limited drawing skills and inability to keep a daily diary) but simply a random collection of notes and diagrams, photographs and magazine cuttings, pressed flowers and leaves, simple sketches and experiments with inks and paints or threads and yarn. Looking through mine, I can trace the various crafts I’ve tried over the years and pages from thirty years ago can still act as a spark for a new project.

If you have a blank notebook waiting to be used, stop thinking that you’ll save it for something special (along with all the others) and use it as a visual journal.




visual journal with photo of cattle, scissors, feather envelope, doodles


Still not convinced? Here’s why aspiring printmakers and crafters, in fact all creative people need a visual journal.


Keeping a visual journal can improve your observational skills. Making a sketch or taking a photograph forces you to look more closely so that you notice the patterns and textures, shadow and light. Often, the very act of observing can lead to the image being etched in your memory.


If you think of your visual journal as a tool, not a piece of art or craft, it becomes the springboard for creativity. Don’t be too precious about your journal but use it as a place to experiment and make mistakes where nobody but you will judge its content. Doodle, draw and make notes, print or paint directly onto the pages, stick in samples of sewing or knitting, add photos and magazine clippings.

If you aim to use it to spark ideas, be careful not to spend more time messing around with the journal than working on your projects; use it for creativity, not procrastination. Though, quite frankly, if you want to spend hours making your journal look pretty, then go for it.


Having a collection of images can act as a great stimulus when you’re searching for inspiration. When you’re new to printmaking, there’s a great temptation to find something on Pinterest and copy it (usually with disappointing results as it doesn’t look half as good as the original). In contrast, it’s immensely satisfying to take a rudimentary sketch from your journal, work out the best way to translate it into a print, to add or take out detail, prepare your plate and finally pull the finished print. A print that’s totally yours.

Visual journal sketches of tomato develp to foam shape print

Having a journal helps you work through ideas, refining and developing them. If you keep copies or photos of your projects in your journal, you can analyse them and improve your skills. It’s fascinating to look back at early attempts and see how far you’ve come or how your work has taken off in a direction you may not have envisaged.


AKA Points Out The Bleeding Obvious.

Recently, I wanted to make some rubber stamps and having tried a couple of ideas that didn’t work, flicked through my old journals for inspiration. I can’t sit with a pen in my hand without doodling; on college notes, minutes from meetings, on hold on the phone, in my journals … the same doodle appears time and time again. In a decidedly Doh! moment, I suddenly saw my doodles in a new light and knew exactly the design that I wanted to use.

If you look through your visual journal you might see patterns emerge that you hadn’t considered. Perhaps there’s a recurring colour or theme. Is your photograph album filled with dark, moody still life compositions? Do you have an overwhelming collection of Fair Isle patterned jumpers on your Pinterest Boards? Take a good look.


Once you get into the habit of putting ideas into your journal, you start to look for them and everyday activities like the journey to work or a walk have a different focus.

Using social media as an extension of your visual journal can open a world of possibilities if you seek out like-minded people and use the space to share your work, ask advice and find inspiration. Pinterest is an easy place to collect and save ideas and to keep photos of your work (keep the board secret if you don’t want anybody else to see it). Many people use their blogs as online visual journals, recording their successes and failures, new techniques and equipment, reviewing exhibitions and books.



What are you waiting for? Open that notebook now and start using it!

Is the first blank page too daunting? All you need to do is to make a mark. Write your name. The date. A quote.



Make A Mark – Tips for making blank pages look less fearsome

Visual Journals Board on Pinterest

The Visual Diary Journey

Sketching in Tasmania



5 reasons why all creative people should keep a visual journal


9 thoughts on “Why All Creative People Need a Visual Journal

  1. Some great ideas there Anne – there are so many ways one can approach a visual journal, and it can be a source of inspiration for years. Thanks for the link to my Tasmanian sketchbook – I have just returned home from a short break, with only time to do a couple of pages, but I know it all helps to make the memories last. Something I have been doing recently is creating large artworks based on my sketchbook drawings, or the objects I collected along the way, just another way these journals can lead to new places! Happy New Year, I’m looking forward to more inspiration from you in 2019!

      1. I think you will enjoy Tassie – especially from the farming perspective, there is an eclectic range of crops grown, including opium poppies, and daisies for insecticide! The cherries are excellent.The scenery ranges from very English, green and rolling hills, to wild and remote. Do try to get to some of the more remote places if you can. The sea is a spectacular clear turquoise. I hope you get good weather, but be prepared for rain and cool!

  2. Morning Anne, sitting in bed, reading your latest blog whilst drinking the first cup of tea of the day and you have filled me with inspiration! I was given a journal at Christmas, wasn’t quite sure what to do with it but now I’m full of ideas. Thank you!

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