Visual journaling is sometimes called art journaling, where you fill a sketchbook, journal or altered book with mixed media. However, in this article I describe a meditative practice that specifically involves writing, drawing and watercolor painting as a way to explore your interior landscape – thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc.
My definition of visual journaling
In a visual journal – as I define it – you illustrate your reactions (internal) to environmental stimuli (external) using pencil and watercolor. How your illustrations manifest themselves is up to you and your skill level.
Basically you develop a visual language in your journal, and as with any language, it becomes more articulate as your skills develop. It’s highly personal and the result of self-discovery. As you become more familiar with your tools and your skills expand, your personal iconography evolves and becomes more nuanced.
Making the art of you
How the visual journal differs from a sketchbook, an art journal, a written journal, an objet d’art, etc., is that this isn’t actually about “Art.” It’s about the art of being you.
In a visual journal, you create images, textures, and symbols that mean something to you as a response. You write text that illuminates your thoughts. You combine it all together in a way that you can revisit over and over to comfort yourself, dive deeper into subjects that are important to you, get out from under overwhelming feelings, or celebrate a moment in this epic journey we call life.
You write and illustrate your story as it unfolds and as you process it. This is your personal journey. Maybe it becomes a jumping off point for “Great Art” that others will see and interact with (see my article here about how Art is created). But this is really for your eyes only.
Like all works-in-progress, your visual journal is going to include your notes. Text and image do not compete. They work together holistically the way your brain does. It’s the right and left hemispheres working as partners to make sense of your world.Like all works-in-progress, your visual journal is going to include your notes. Text and image do not compete. They work together holistically the way your brain does. It's the right and left hemispheres working as partners to make… Click To Tweet
There is so much out on the interwebs about the left brain and the right brain as if you have two brains (actually I think I’ve actually seen that as a title somewhere).
It’s one brain with two hemispheres and a lot of back and forth between the them. Keeping a visual journal will help the two lobes work together.
Your visual journal helps you learn to use your logical, analytical skills with your intuitive ones. This space safely lets logic and intuition play, roll around in the dirt, and work together to find solutions and insight. In the process, one tempers the other and balance is achieved.
And we all know that where there is balance there is harmony and happiness!
What if I can’t draw?
Good news! You don’t have to know how to draw or paint to keep a visual journal as I describe it. But somewhere along the way you will learn, I pinky swear. However, you will have to let go of some preconceived notions first:
- A person is born with the ability to draw, make art and so forth. This is crap talk. No one is born with much ability at all. Have you been around a baby? They are born with the skill to giggle, cry, poop, eat and observe! They pick up the rest as they go along. And in keeping a visual journal, so shall you. Your writing will get better. Your ability to draw and paint what you see (or not – we’ll get to that in a minute) will improve. Your communication skills will evolve.
- Observational drawing is the be-all, end-all of drawing skills. It isn’t. It’s just one way to process your environment. I am someone who draws from observation, but lately in my own visual journals I’ve incorporated more abstract forms, drawn from imagination or just slapped paint around in a deceptively haphazard manner. It’s all good.
- Art making is expensive. It certainly can be. But you can start – and stay – small if you’d like. For the type of visual journaling I do, it requires a pencil, a book with sturdy paper, a sloppy watercolor brush, a pen and three colors of paint. You could start with as little as a pen, brush, one color of paint and a book with sturdy paper. You could even just start with a pencil and a book.
What if I’m not a good writer?
It’s the same thing – you weren’t born knowing how to write but picked up along the way. You can only get better at writing in keeping a visual journal. And here’s the thing – writing well, drawing and painting well – who decides what is good or not? This is the art of you. Nobody judges you in the personal space of these pages but you. If you struggle with self-judgement and feel it boxing you into a small slice of life, I urge you to get a copy of Gabrielle Bernstein’s book Judgement Detox. It’s eye-opening and filled with everyday tools to help you rewire the destructive self-criticism.
Why writing and drawing/painting?
Are you wondering why I don’t include collage, stamps, and the rest of what makes art journaling so fantastic? Well, of course, if art journaling is your self-discovery jam then continue on. Art journaling is fantastic!
But assemblage can be a veil between your exterior world and your internal self. Images that are not your own are appropriated as your response. I’m not saying this is bad. Just that when you limit yourself to a response that comes from someone else, you can lose an opportunity to develop a highly personalized visual language.
I certainly don’t advocate one over the other. Instead, why not incorporate one into the other? If you make art journals, begin adding your own visual responses to your layouts. Add a drawing or two, paint something in response to a prompt and collage around it.
How I visually journal
I start with a prompt, a thought or sometimes just a feeling. It can be as simple as “how am I feeling today” to the more complex “what if” question. For example, let’s say you’re going through a major life event like job transition. Your prompt may be: What if I took that job offer? Maybe first you’d write about what a typical day would look like and then draw what was on your desk, or diagram your new office layout, or your first-day outfit, etc. Maybe the image comes first and the words later.
The answer to the prompt could be visually abstract.
For me, the idea of accepting say a corporate job offer evokes a square in my mind. A block. Heavy with sharp corners and it’s a flat, muddy dark blue.
I may write that while a block is solid and regular (regular paycheck, security, etc.), it also keeps me stuck firmly in place. It’s a box with a defined perimeter. The sharpness of the corners makes me uncomfortable, keeps me on edge. The color and the fact that I didn’t draw it in 3-D makes me think I’d feel flat in such an environment. And so on.
For someone else, the answer to the same question could evoke an entirely different response. It could be a response of safety, security, teamwork, community, etc.. This type of journaling is the space to record your visual and written reactions.
Sometimes visual journaling starts with a thought that you want to record and come back to (like the doodles I drew after meditation – see featured image above). Right now, I’m writing random stuff and drawing a lot of trees. Some of them have doors in their trunks.
Visual journaling doesn’t have rules – just suggestions. I hope you found some inspiration/motivation. On Thursday, March 28, 2019, I’m posting a video demo of visual journaling.
Edited 3/28/19: Bookmark this post – I’ll add the link to the prompt here.
As always, if you have questions leave them in the comments!
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