Try Adding Art!

Art and journaling are both about being in the world intensely, about observation, about seeing and then expressing what we see and experience in a personal way.

Just as illustrations are used to enhance, clarify and expand meanings in published works of fiction and nonfiction, you can use art and images in your journal to help tell your story in more vivid detail. Photographs, sketches, collages, calligraphy—all can be used to add to the beauty of your writing and your pages. But the function of art and imagery in journaling can go beyond the illustration of words you’ve written or events you’ve recorded and become a source, a way to play with your impressions of the world. On days when words seem to be hiding from you, sketching or working with an image, collaged phrase or “found” text (such as a passage from a book or magazine) can be a starting point that leads you forward to explore your own feelings and state of mind in new ways. The nature of the media you choose may suggest a direction you hadn’t imagined.

1. Use Color in Your Journal

The child of a friend recently asked his father, “Dad, when did they invent color?” This simple question, besides being a great example of “kidthink,” can serve to remind us of a blessing we all take for granted, the presence of color in our world.

I think of color as a “nutrient,” something we actually need, like vegetables or vitamins. There are days when I long for a particular shade of rich red-orange or golden yellow.

Color can be a great addition to a journal, even if it’s added only by using different colored inks to write or by writing on different colored pages. I sometimes use colored inks to create divisions on my journal pages; dotted lines or borders can set off an inserted poem, quotation or drawing. If you like to reread your journals periodically, you might want to make a habit of leaving some space to one side of your entry, then return, after time has passed, and write your comments and insights in another color ink. Or, if you have multiple “opinions” on the meaning of an event as you’re writing your entry, you could assign a different color ink to each viewpoint.

It’s possible to use transparent colors to create parallel texts on the same page by highlighting sections of your writing. For example: One way to create a parallel text would be to start with your written entry, and use a highlighter to pick out words in your writing which, when the colored sections are read alone, create a poem, or new sentences and meanings.

Other ideas: Try using a waterproof, permanent writing ink, and painting over parts of your writing with washes of color. Or, write with a wax crayon, then paint a colored ink or pigment over it—the lettering will “resist” the color and create a sort of batik look to your page.

2. Draw and Paint

The world is full of amazing things, and so are our heads. A journal can be a great place to explore both the beauty and complexity of the “real” world around us and our own secret world of feelings, dreams and inner imagery. Drawing and painting give us a way to do this kind of exploration, just as words do. To sketch an object one must look closely at it, the first step toward true understanding. Sometimes, by drawing the natural world, we find a connection or way of being that mirrors our own life processes and teaches something valuable, like patience, or the necessity of change and growth.

When you are ready to draw and paint in your journal, choose media that will not bleed through the pages or rub off easily. Pencil, colored pencil, colored inks, watercolor, gouache or acrylic paints are good choices. Remember that watercolor is transparent, while gouache and acrylic paints are opaque.

Test your paper before launching onto a full page with a new medium. Don’t feel like you have to isolate the image from your writing on a separate page—script and drawing work well together visually, since they both come from the same “instrument,” your amazing hand.

Note: When I use a wet medium in my journal, I always protect the rest of the book from the moisture by inserting a piece of waxed paper and an extra paper sheet under the page I’m working on.

3. Add Patterns and Borders

Areas of pattern or decorative borders can create page divisions or just highlight and frame your words. Pattern can easily be added by stamping. Create your own stamps with rubber erasers or foam, or use commercial rubber stamps to make pattern areas and borders. You can also add pattern with lines or brushwork. Spatterpainting with ink and a stiff toothbrush can provide an interesting overall texture. You can cover or mask areas of the page to provide “writing boxes,” then paint or stamp around them. Pasting in strips of printed decorative papers can also be a source of intricate pattern

For More Ideas

See these books on using images in journals:
  • A Trail Through Leaves:
    The Journal as a Path to Place

    by Hannah Hinchman
    (W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95)
  • How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal
    by Claudia Nice
    (Northlight Books, $26.99)
  • Making Journals by Hand
    by Jason Thompson
    (Rockport Publishers, $21.99)

See these examples of how to combine images and hand-scripted text:

  • The Journey is the Destination:
    The Journals of Dan Eldon

    by Dan Eldon
    and Kathy Eldon (editor)
    (Chronicle Books, $35)
  • Noa Noa:The Tahiti Journal
    of Paul Gaugin

    by Paul Gaugin and
    John Miller (editor)
    (Chronicle Books, $19.95)
  • The Country Diary of an
    Edwardian Lady

    by Edith Holden (Friedman/Fairfax Publishing, $16.95)

on the page. And don’t forget that letter forms can read as pattern, when inverted, scaled up or down, or otherwise manipulated.

4. Cut, Weave and Layer

You can make interesting things happen in your journal by cutting the page in various ways. Use a knife and ruler to cut parallel slots in a page and provide a framework for weaving in and attaching lines of text taken from printed sources or handwritten notes or letters. You can make holes, windows, flaps and openings, allowing you to see through to carefully chosen letters or passages on the following page, view selected parts of a picture, or otherwise control the “view” to another layer of your journal. Slots can be used to attach items without damage. In addition, the overall shape of a page can be altered by cutting it to a new contour.

Working with layers can also be fun. Layers can be “stacked” on a page, using a sewn or paper hinge, allowing you to raise flaps and reveal text in varying order. Try adding layers of vellum or tracing paper to create overlays. Overlays allow you to write or draw on top of your previous writing or sequence words in new ways.

5. Add Photos and Collage

You can enhance your journal by adding “found” images, photographs, postcards, scraps of letters or notes, computer scans and other sources of visual information you didn’t necessarily create yourself, but which relate to what you want to say or embody what you are feeling.

Photographs you take can “capture” an image of a person or place you are writing about. Photos by others—on postcards, clipped from magazines, etc.—can be a starting point for a writing adventure, or provide raw material for creating a collage illustration that captures your mood. I sometimes like to browse through magazines and clip interesting words and phrases, which I paste on the page to create visual poetry.

There are many interesting options for attaching things to your journal pages. In addition to small amounts of paste or glue, objects can be attached with photo corners, by cutting slots in the page, by hinging with paper strips and by sewing.

I like to use thread for paper items, stitching along an edge, cross-stitching through corners, or looping over fragile items. The thread adds its own visual interest and pattern.

6. Explore Handwriting and Lettering

For me, handscripted journals are the most fascinating. Many people feel self-conscious about their handwriting. If you are among them, just remember, your handwriting is unique in the world. No one but you can use it. (For more on what your handwriting says about you, see the article on Page 46.) Calligraphy, or formalized handwriting, can be elegant, but personal script is immediate and charming. You can enjoy and explore your ability to write by varying the kinds of writing pens you use, the direction of your writing on the page, even the shape of your paragraphs and passages. Try writing in a spiral, or create an image with your writing. Lightly trace a line around your own hand on the page, and write a sentence using the outline as your baseline, then fill in around it in different colored ink. Make multiple layers of text by changing the size, color and weight of your writing.

You can also add text to your journal using words and letters cut from magazines, or by stamping with rubber stamp alphabets. These can combine nicely with handwritten passages.

If you are a very visual person, the idea of adding nonverbal imagery to your journal will seem like a natural and obvious one, but you don’t have to be “an artist” to add and enjoy pictures, colors and pattern in your pages. Remember, your personal journal is primarily intended for you. Don’t be inhibited by that “internal editor,” or by what an “imagined” audience might think of your drawing, handwriting or imagery. Instead, enjoy experimenting with creative ways of portraying your world. You may be surprised by the beauty and vitality of what you create.

From the October 2002 issue of Personal Journaling.

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