Do you feel ‘out of sorts’ if you’ve not created art for a while?

I certainly used to. I went 8 years without creating any.

I wasn’t always aware of it. For me it’s a kind of background frustrated restlessness.

It turned out that creating art was fundamental to who I am. And I’ve only realised that by learning more about myself as I’ve gotten older.

It can sometimes be hard to get in touch with who we really are: our authentic selves. One of the tools I’ve used to help with that is journaling. And it’s worth the effort. When we are able to connect with ourselves we feel: Calm. Curious. Energised. Restored. Strong.

Our creativity flows.

Here I explore how keeping an Art Journal can help make this happen.

What exactly is an ‘art journal’?

Usually a journal involves regular (ideally, daily) writing. So you can think of an ‘art journal’ or a ‘creative journal’ in a similar way. The difference is that, although you might write a few bullet points, a paragraph or pages and pages of prose, you’ll also want to inject colour, images, drawings and paintings. In fact you might hardly include any words and keep it really visual.

Your creative journal can take the form of a spare diary, a notebook, sketchbook, or can even be digital, like on your iPad (which is where I’m currently creating mine).

What to focus on

The Skills Focus

You could use your art journal to experiment with colour and mark making, documenting your thoughts and feelings about what you’re doing as you play. 

This is especially important when you’re in an early stage of your creative journey and developing your skills with different media is a high priority. You need a safe space to make mistakes and take risks. In this case you’re likely to want to use good old fashioned paper so you can practice painting for real. 

Working in this way you can flick back to your earlier entries and track your progress which is really satisfying. 

The Inspiration Focus

You can also use your journal to look within to discover what’s going on with your feelings and to create from there.  The sorts of things you’ll be on the lookout for include: What caused you to feel inspired today? Was it something you saw? What are you longing for? Are there subjects you keep being drawn to? Colours?

Some days the answers will come readily. You’ll have taken some snaps on your phone of something you saw on your walk. 

Other days we could feel preoccupied with worries and stresses. The point is to welcome anything and everything.  Write about it, draw it. Whatever comes up. Even if the ‘drawing’ is a squiggle of a doodle. There’s value in it when you are taking this approach to your journal.

Feel frustrated and blocked? Does that look grey and spiky to you? Write about it. Draw it. Feeling sad and low? Does that look small and blue?  Write about it. Draw it.

Getting the idea?

And if that doesn’t work for you, you don’t want a sketchbook full of grey spiky doodles, use your session to simply make note of how blocked you feel and think of things you could do tomorrow to invite creativity back (see my vlog on how to make inspiration show up).

With this focus, your ‘art diary’ will likely become a vault of ideas. You can also take your journal with you everywhere you go and use it to document inspiration as soon as you see it. It’s amazing how much more you do start to see once you begin doing this.


The Bit of Both Focus

Or you can do a bit of both. On the days you felt really inspired, create from there. On other days practice your colour mixing. Your art journal can take whatever shape you want it to.

The point is: anything goes. 

Permission is granted.

The benefits of creative journaling

Whichever approach appeals to you, creative journaling reaps rewards:

Connecting with your creative self

I believe there’s a core, authentic self within us all. Think of it as your soul, the bit of you connected to something bigger, or think of it as just YOU without all the social conditioning that gets in the way. However you choose to think of it, when we’re in connection with it life is more joyful, more peaceful and our relationships are happier. 

For those of us with ‘making art’ as part of our authentic self blueprint, spending time with our art journal strengthens that connection to our core.

Quieting the inner critic

If you have a perfectionist streak, or have found the pressure to create something ‘good’ inhibiting, it’s likely your inner critic gets a little vocal when you sit down to make ‘art’. 

Working in an art journal can be exactly what that part of you needs to relax and take a backseat. The pressure is off. No one is even going to need to see this. 

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

That’s big. And for some people this can be key to connecting to their creativity again.

Fitting into life

I’ve talked before about how I believe that it was how convenient watercolours are that helped me keep up my painting practice early on my painting journey as I fitted it around full-time work.

Well, now I have two young children, my me-time has evaporated by an order of magnitude. Now I might only get 45 mins of me-time before I go to sleep. And I want to be IN bed by that point in the day.

So creative journaling (on the iPad for me) means I can still connect to my creativity, and myself. And get to snuggle up too.

You might not have 2 young kids, but for most of us it’s rare that the conditions for working on a full-blown painting or drawing are spot-on.  

You might not have very long, or the light might not be good enough to work or you might have run out of a colour of paint you need. Rather than let that creative inspiration evaporate and go to waste because conditions aren’t perfect, this is the ideal moment to get out your journal and do your best with what you’ve got right now.

Maintaining momentum

So, to sum up, art journaling helps you to maintain creative momentum

It’s something artists often struggle with: hopping from project to project, sometimes getting stuck or bored with a painting they haven’t finished yet. Not feeling inspired to paint, they skip a session. Then another session. Before they know it, they’re off track and their paints are starting to acquire a layer of dust. 

If you’ve experienced this, give creative journaling a go.

My experience: Travel Memoir

As I write this, I’m 6 weeks into the coronavirus lockdown. I am usually quite a home-body. But from time to time I’ve experienced episodes of strong wanderlust. And, with no prospect of travel in probably at least a year or more, this lockdown has brought one on!

So I took it to my digital art journal. I focused on the place I was wanting to return to: the Ionian Islands in Greece. It’s where Phil & I honeymooned and I’ve been there at least 8 times over the years. I dug out photos I’d taken at the time of flowers that inspired me.  I spent time looking at regular holiday snaps like these too:

On honeymoon 💗 back in the days when camera phones were rubbish.
Me on the balcony, soaking in the warm evening. Yes I may have had a Mythos beer.
Still seas and clear skies.

Then I got in the zone. I opened a new doc in Procreate (my painting app of choice on the iPad – which I use with an Apple Pencil). I used a soft pencil (tool) to sketchily outline the flowers and bird, and then used a watercolor brush (tool) to add colour, and a few watercolour ‘splats’ for effect.

And what made the experience far more evocative to me was that I also wrote a few sentences where I conjured up sensory memories from time there.

Creative journal page

It took me about 2 hours. And for those 2 hours I was there. Strolling around a harbour in the Ionian Islands. Wanderlust tamed. Creative itch scratched. It felt so good.

I’m loving using my creative journal to really tap into what it is that inspires me, and to explore styles, memories and feelings. I can’t recommend it enough.

Though it feels a little scary, I’m thinking of setting up a new Instagram account to share more from my journal so please leave me a comment below if that’s something you’d like to see!

How to start

If this has inspired you to give it a go, here are my top tips:

Decide on a format

A spare diary, a notebook, a sketchbook or a digital document will all work.  If it’s sketchbooks you’re after check out my review plus my recommendations on what to look for.

Date it

If you’re using a  non digital medium like a sketchbook, be sure to make a note of the date with every journal entry, because you’ll be able to reflect back on it as often as you like and see your progression and improvement.

Do it daily

Making a journal entry daily  is one of the best things you can do to develop your skills as an artist because it’s a habit forming practice. It will keep you on track, keep your goals in your mind and it’ll get you to regularly review your work.

If that seems too much to start with, begin with a resolve to journal weekly, but schedule it in your calendar so you can’t forget.

On the days when you don’t have time, a couple of minutes writing notes or sticking in an inspirational photo you’ve seen is all it takes. And when you do have time, you can fill your pages with whatever you feel inspired to create that day.

You might wonder how on earth you’ll find the time and inspiration to keep a journal, but once you start it will grow its own traction and pull you along your creative path.

I hope this inspires you to start a creative journaling practice.

If it has, or if you’ve also experienced the benefits of keeping an art journal, please share your experience in the comments below. We all benefit from exchanging our creative experiences.


Happy painting,

Sometimes we need to see something to really WANT it. So I’m including here lots of photos supplied by members of my online School who’ve have been kind enough to let you look inside their journals to help inspire you to start your own:

64 Comments
  1. Dannie11e 4 weeks ago

    I’d love to see more of this via Instagram but I would love to see this content mixed in with what you already share vs on a separate account. In my mind it’s not separate. It’s a part of the process.

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 weeks ago

      Thank you. Pleased you’d love to see more, and yes I could certainly choose to mix the journaling in.

    • Alexia Pinchbeck 4 weeks ago

      Hi Anna, this has hugely inspired me. With two young kids too and focussing my work attention on marketing and selling my children’s book, I’m really not finding the time to get painting as much as I would like BUT I keep an almost daily written journal, so this has inspired me to combine the two and take the pressure off the painting (although man do I love it). I completely agree with Danielle above, it strikes me as an integral part of your creative process. Plus all extra instagram accounts are such an energy drain!! I’m sure your current audience would love to see more ‘informal’ shots like art journalling! Hope you and the family are adjusting to our strange, new, at home life. <3 Alexia

  2. Sharon 4 weeks ago

    Great idea. Beautiful journaling

  3. Julie 4 weeks ago

    Thank you so much, Anna, for the much needed inspiration. Thank you for explaining and validating my “WANDERLUST”. I said “aha!” That’s what I have. I haven’t been on vacation in years and had just determined to remedy that prior to the pandemic. Now, travel is on hold yet again. Fortunately, I am able to work from home but am working in my art room and it’s very frustrating being surrounded by beautiful paints and supplies but stuck on the computer. I think my choice of journal will have to be tactile and tangible. I spend way too much time on this computer. Well, I’m rambling. Thank you again and all my love from Oklahoma!

  4. Gail Curtis 4 weeks ago

    Great idea Anna. Your journaling and commentary will be extremely valuable and insightful.

  5. Katherine Ryan 4 weeks ago

    Thank for a great idea. I think a journal will help me stay focused a bit better. Like so many of my art friends it is easy to get lazy and not keep up with my better intentions.
    My journal will be today. Right after I go to Reddiarts and buy it.

  6. Mary Jo Mooney 4 weeks ago

    Thanks so much, I’ve been lax on Journaling. Your article has really moved me. I shall start today. Hugs

  7. Gabriella Ofstie 4 weeks ago

    I would love to see more of this on instagram as well. It would help keep the inspiration going through these difficult times. Thank you for this post. It’s what I’ve been needing.

  8. Katherine Ryan 4 weeks ago

    Please my comment above. Thanks
    I

  9. Alina 4 weeks ago

    Wonderful notes and drawings, thank you Anna

  10. Sheila Spain 4 weeks ago

    Love the idea of an art journal and the multiple ways to use this idea. Looking forward to learning from your blog and seeing how others use theirs. I tried an art travel journal about a year ago but couldn’t keep up, thinking I’d complete it with photos when I returned didn’t seem the same. Keep inspiring us. Thanks

  11. Chris 4 weeks ago

    Wonderful post Anna! I have kept a journal off and on for years. You have inspired me to get with it and keep a daily art journal. I have kept words and art separate, but now I think I’m going to just throw it all in the one journal. I think that will make for a richer journal and a journal that is much more me. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Zoë 4 weeks ago

    Very encouraging ,love the art journal

  13. ishKiia 4 weeks ago

    thanks for the amazing inspiration! I’m not an iBaby, but I will see if I can get procreate on the android tablet I have and try it out.. looks like an amazing app. I might can motivate myself to keep a visual journal that way vs getting paints out and feeling like i’m wasting paper .. at least with digital, it might be more apt to be used in the future for something. don’t get me wrong, I love drawing and painting on paper… it’s my #1. But visual / painting journaling electronically sounds less messy and less overhead for its purpose.

  14. Coby 4 weeks ago

    I found your post really hit a tender spot in my heart. I loved looking at all the journals. My step mom journaled her and my dad’s cross country trips gloriously in watercolor, and in hooked rugs! I’d love to follow your IG journaling account. I’ve taken several college watercolor classes and loved it. But now we are preparing our home to sell to move to Scotland from California. 20 plus years of collecting to heave ho. It’s daunting and I haven’t painted since my last semester class a year ago. I would love to make beautiful paintings every day but something is stopping me. I hope I figure it out. I have a room full or art supplies I have to decide whether to keep or leave behind.

    • Beryl 4 weeks ago

      Hi Coby, I know that feeling of “something is stopping me”. I liken it to a writer’s block. When I was doing an oil painting class many years ago, the teacher said, “Just get paint on the canvas”. Good advice! Moving to Scotland; what a great opportunity to slip a watercolour travelling kit into your bag/purse so that you can begin an adventurous journal while flying … the beginning of a new life. “Just get paint on the canvas” each day and it’ll become a good habit leading to those bigger, beautiful paintings you would love to do. Sort through your art supplies but definitely take as much as you possibly can. They could become your comfort in a new place. You might even join an art group when you settle in. Wishing you all the very best in your new move to a beautiful country.

  15. Esther Wintringham 4 weeks ago

    Thank you for that, Anna. I have recently moved – the third time in a year – so am just setting up my art studio after a long time without doing any painting. I have kept a sort of art journal in the past but never kept it up but you have inspired me to start again and try and keep it up this time.

    Many thanks again

    Esther

  16. Robert L. Bates 4 weeks ago

    Just curious, has anyone made a “inventory” of their paintings? I have just started making an inventory dating back to 2000 when I first started with watercolors. Some of my headings are Painting,Date,Size,CD,Print,Matted, Framed, Value, and places I have them on view such as Etsy, FASO, Instgram and my Newsletters.
    This turned out to be quite a challenge.

  17. bwdonohue 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for this update. I loved seeing what you did on the iPad with Procreate as well as the submissions of other students. I have been too timid to purchase the program Procreate, as I’ve been afraid it is beyond me. I have a pretty new iPad with a pencil and have used it with the Sketch program. I loved what you did with your entries! You have inspired me to try something new here. Journaling during lockdown, in this era of Covid-19, has helped me develop a regular habit of daily art making. I have found I really look forward to these moments when I sit and journal and paint and YES, give myself permission to let the creative juices flow and not focus on perfection! Please continue along this path providing inspiration to all of us who find journaling a necessary part of the process. Looking forward to your blog!
    Barbara

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 weeks ago

      Thanks for your comment. Great to hear you’re journaling. Procreate has a good help manual available so that makes the learning curve easier. But if the Sketch one works for you, stick with it.

    • Cheryl 4 weeks ago

      I just downloaded this app…I’d never heard of it till I read Anna’s article. It’s really fun! I’m sure it will take time to learn it, but will certainly have fun in the meantime! Try it!

  18. Susan Lichter 4 weeks ago

    I would love to follow your journal journey. I often think you get the heartbeat of the person through these. xxx

  19. Gillian Hunter 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna
    I would love to follow your IG journaling Account. I need something to kickstart my love of painting flowers. I have just photographed some apple blossom in my garden so will give that a go tomorrow.
    Gillian

  20. Becky Johns 4 weeks ago

    I would love to see nature journalism ideas, especially simpler ways to draw flowers using watercolor. Your example was perfect. I would love to see how to draw more different types of flowers, and also like the visual inspiration of how to compose the page. Not interested in architecture or people, for me …I see life in flowers. Love the idea of illustrating a trip using the flowers you saw. But because of time constraints, a journal needs to have simpler flower images.

  21. Sam 4 weeks ago

    Anna, please please0 please set up an Instagram account. Love your work. So inspiring.

  22. Meredith Childress 4 weeks ago

    Beautiful artwork as always! I’d love to see more on Instagram.

  23. Meredith Childress 4 weeks ago

    Beautiful artwork as usual, Anna! I’d love to see more on Instagram! Thanks for the inspiration~

  24. Ruth 4 weeks ago

    Can we also have some procreate lessons? I have the app. The iPad. The pencil. But no idea. I would love to start a journal there. Yes to Instagram.

  25. Pamela Lund 4 weeks ago

    It’s great to see the variety of styles your students have shared, and to find inspiration in them. Your school offers such a nice variety of tutorials I always look forward to choosing my next Anna Mason painting. These are meticulous, requiring a level of planning and dedication. Journaling is spontaneous. It provides a way to mix up my artistic efforts so everything feels fresh and challenging. Having a journal is a lovely way to memorialize new skills and perfect old ones. My journals are more for experimentation, both sides of the paper and with nothing torn out…warts and all are kept to watch my progress. It may be mixing colors for substitutions, practicing painting raindrops on a petal, or trying out new pens and brushes. Such a plethora of options!

  26. Diane 4 weeks ago

    Yes, please create an Instagram acct. of your art journaling! I’d love to see what you are creating and would find it so inspiring!

  27. JJ 4 weeks ago

    I would like to read your ideas on skethcbooks. Where would I find your review? “If it’s sketchbooks you’re after check out my review plus my recommendations on what to look for.”
    JJ

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 weeks ago

      Oops sorry, I added the links in now!

  28. Pat 4 weeks ago

    I would love to follow your journal. It is so inspiring. 🙂

  29. Laurie Turner 4 weeks ago

    I would log into Instagram on the regular to see your art journaling inspiration. Yes please!

  30. Kim 4 weeks ago

    I would love to begin the process of art journaling, just never knew where to begin so I am excited at the prospect of learning more and being inspired through you sharing your process and ideas.

  31. Linda Jimenez 4 weeks ago

    Thank you so much I am definitely going to start a journal maybe today or tomorrow i think it is going to be so good for me. Yes I would love to see more in Instagram. Love your work

  32. Rose 4 weeks ago

    Thank you for the article. My first thought: I tried a sketchbook and failed. My second thought: I have tried watercolors and failed. Countless times. My third thought: This obviously isn’t for me. I kept reading and saw your sketchbook painting with the sweet little bird and flowers. My fourth thought: I may fail again, but it’s worth the effort to try again!! Thank you for the inspiration! I don’t know what happened, but that painting really spoke to me in its own way. I love it and I am grateful for your encouragement!

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 weeks ago

      This comment from you Rose was so great for me to read: to feel my journal creation touched you like it touched me meant so much. Please do use this inspiration and pick up that brush (or Apple Pencil!)

  33. Ann Starnes 4 weeks ago

    I would love to see more journaling mixed in with your regular posts since I don’t do Instagram!

  34. Colleen 4 weeks ago

    Good day, Anna,
    This is the perfect time for me to retry journaling! My new IPad Pro arrives next week and I am looking for projects. There is nothing better for my learning to use a new device than an intriguing project! Can’t wait to begin!

    I would follow an IG about art journaling happily! Thanks for all you do!
    Colleen
    Woodburn, OR USA

  35. LadyCinnamon 4 weeks ago

    I love the whole idea of art journaling, Anna, but why Instragram? Why not just add a page to the school pages? I don’t have Instagram and don’t want to add yet another app or program or something else. But I’m in your school pages all the time. I’d be sure to check it then and (hopefully) add to it. Definitely have to start using all those blank notebooks I have collecting dust on my studio shelf. Doing simple rough sketches is something I’d like to work on in them too.

  36. Honnie 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna,
    I’d love to follow your art journaling on IG, either as a combined stream, or a separate one.

  37. DebJoy 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna!

    Thanks for these lovely ideas. .I would like to combine art and journaling. I have, like many, kept a journal for years but have not included watercoloring in that journal. I always appreciate so much the structure you add in all your teaching. It helps me stay focused. I also am similar to LadyCinnamon. I really do not want to have to check another area on my phone for this but would love if it could be included in the online school menu. Thanks for all you do. Oh. I plan to get your dad’s book.. That was so sweet you would do this for him. Take care.

  38. Anne 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna, loved the article. I would love to follow you on instagram. I have the basic procreate on my iPad I think I only paid about $12 for it, I use put the school pictures on it, it helps me see highlights, mid tones extra…. great for help with the tiny details. Maybe I should try using it for journaling!!

  39. Carol staines 4 weeks ago

    Such a fabulous idea, Anna! Painting is my salvation at the moment as I’m feeling the impact of social distancing myself from beautiful grandchildren…….your two little ones are gorgeous by the way. As I’m a technophobe and messy painter, I may just start a drawing journal to develop my skills in line drawing. As always, you are an inspiration….definitely your father’s daughter! Enjoy the moment before the world changes again.

  40. SallyA 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna,
    Love the journalling idea. It’s something I have toyed with for a while and during the lockdown I have tentatively started a sketchbook of my garden. It makes a welcome change from trying to master the precision of botanical painting and I’d love to see more. Peeking into other people’s sketchbooks and seeing how they use them is very inspiring! Thanks, Sally x

  41. Kim Moir 4 weeks ago

    This was wonderful Anna I am new to watercolor journaling and so I enjoyed your paintings very much!! Thank you.

  42. Cheryl Nielson 4 weeks ago

    Hi ANNA,
    Thank you for using my drawing in your post! Quite honestly, I was shocked and pleased.
    The journaling Is a great idea, and also a way to stay creative even if you aren’t ‘feeling it’. I’ve downloaded the Procreate app and had some fun already on the pad as well.
    So thanks for this informative and personal article…YOU are an inspiration…Cheryl

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 weeks ago

      Thanks for sharing your journal photos Cheryl – you’ve helped inspire lots of people!

  43. Pauline Eccleston 4 weeks ago

    Hi Anna,
    I’ve been journalling for about 17 years, and am just commencing my art journal. I’ve been working with a Sakura Micron Pigma 003 pen, trying to teach myself ink pen, with the hope of graduating to ink and wash.

    I would love it if you continued to share art journalling tips and ideas with us. I have always written on my art as I think it adds a fourth dimension to the art work.
    I love the idea of art journalling but I have never come across an art journalling blog that appealed to me, however, because I love how you take traditional subjects and give them modern art style, I am convinced that I would love anything that you presented in this area. Finally I know that just having access to your tips on this would be enough to keep me subscribing year after year, so please open this up as an offering to us all!

    DO take care of yourself and your family. I have just reached a place today where I can commence my next tutorial with you. Its been too long, and I look forward to doing my beginner mushrooms this weekend.

    Thank you for everything you are doing to inspire and teach us. Incredible ow you do this when you have such little ones.

    Pauline

  44. Pauline Eccleston 4 weeks ago

    I would love to follow your art journalling on Instagram Anna.

  45. Victoria Webster 4 weeks ago

    Anna,
    Bravo! Great post and at the perfect time. I would love to follow your art journal on Instagram! I find artist’s sketchbooks and journals among the most inspiring things of all. It helps so much to get a glimpse inside an artist’s mind and heart.; to peek at the place the art begins!

    Victoria Webster

  46. Gaby Haftmann 3 weeks ago

    I’d like to see more of your using a journal

  47. Linda O'Connor 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing Anna! I love to art journal. Sometimes I paint, sketch, write poems or inspirational quotes. Sometimes I just doodle.

  48. Karen Rushton 3 weeks ago

    I enjoyed your article. thank you I would follow you on intagram.

  49. cathy shi 3 weeks ago

    Thank you Anna for the inspiration! I’d love to see more of your journaling and would be great if you can talk more about journaling in the future as well!

  50. Louise Kraft 3 weeks ago

    These journal samples are great, Anna, and so inspiring! I love that you included a variety of techniques and skill levels. Yes, I would enjoy seeing more on Instagram. Thank you for being our inspiration!

  51. Diane Ruggles 2 weeks ago

    Thanks so much for the many ideas and inspiration! I’m now excited to start my journey journaling! I know it will help me reconnect to myself. It feels so right!
    Blessings
    Diane from The Ozarks… MISSOURI USA

  52. Susan Williams 1 day ago

    I really needed to see what others are doing as well, to stay connected with their art making when or even while working on a ‘piece’ so to speak.
    This has helped a lot, gives me ‘permission ‘ to mark up my paper…overcoming a mental block of sorts.

    Thanks to all who shared here…

  53. Kathleen Michael 3 hours ago

    Thanks for sharing.

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