Visual Journals

Visual Journals

Working up designs in visual journals is something I do all the time.

This was in part prompted by a conversation I had with a work colleague the other day. He was saying that he works on much on screen now that most of his drawing goes on in a digital environment and seldom on paper. He was saying he felt it was a loss. I agree with him. I find I work in both environments as different things happen in a visual journal to what happens on screen. On screen it is easy to move in particular directions following a line of thought quickly, knocking out ideas and capturing them when they are popping about like pop corn. However, what I do try to do is take the idea and also work it up in my visual journal as I have learnt that often an idea will take on another direction again. Drawing by hand is a far more reflective process its slow and thoughtful producing a different quality of work. I usually take this back into a digital medium and work again – backwards and forwards until I feel right about it. That’s what I mean by different things happen during both processes.

Like any skill the more you use your creative eye, hand and mind the better your skills become. Just as an athlete will train the body a creative person will benefit from training the eye. If you don’t use these ‘muscles’ they will wither. Creative activity does not simply happen it’s a skill developed and used constantly – the more you look at your surroundings the more you will see. Once a skill is developed it is a case of use it or lose it.

Before I ramble on too much turning an introduction into an essay, this morning I wanted to do a general round up of resources online visual journals. No doubt there are more but here are a few that may be of interest. Firstly, if you are interested in keeping a visual journal have a look at Everyday matters by Danny Gregory as this site about drawing and keeping a visual journal. If you are looking for a bit more inspiration have a look at the 1000 Journals site. There is 1000 blank journals circulating throughout the world, like a huge round robbin, people everywhere are adding to their pages and passing them on. It’s a great project if you have not seen it before do visit it.

People keep visual journals for various reasons. Illustrated Watercolour journaling points out why it is a useful practice to keep a visual journal. Many people however keep a visual journal of what is seen or observed during that day or week (like Danny Gregory). Some people combine a written diary and journal together.

Tips from me:
Include in your visual journal painting, drawing, collage and also experiment with favourite colours, textures, patterns, shapes, and symbols. Using different techniques and approaches such as painting, drawing, photography, collage, print making, stamping and calligraphy. Experiment with different media such as watercolour, watercolour pencil, acrylic paint, oil crayons, pastel. Push your mark making, stipple, splatter, hatch and use tonal drawing techniques. Drip paint ink etc. Employ resists using oil and wax crayons. While you are at it experiment with layout and design. Include photos, photocopies of photos, computer print outs or do a photo transfer.

During this process keep notes FOR YOURSELF on new tools, techniques and media. Include research notes, web articles, research areas of interest and, other sources. Include fabric and thread swatches, notes on dyes and dye baths with samples and swatches for future reference. Make notes on how particular fabrics and threads behaves. Keep technique notes and paste in samples from workshops and experiments you do.

Finally do revisit your thoughts and rework ideas – filter and condense material by drawing and rewriting, summarizing as you go to get to the core of what you are trying to represent.

The last photo is simple to demonstrate that there is actually something in these notebooks!



  1. I loved this article. I have kept many journals, bu they are a mishmash of travel tips, drawings, websites,whatever. None of it is organized so that I can go back easily. Now I have some ways of doing what I have been doing, but well.

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