ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Visual diary? What's that?

Updated on January 1, 2017

Visual diary, artist's journal, studio diary

These are all descriptions of workbooks kept by practitioners in which they record ideas, designs, thoughts, inspirations, indeed anything that will help them in their artistic pursuits

They can be quite elaborate, or very basic.

What matters is that artists in any medium keep track of that 'great idea'.

What do you do when

a design idea strikes?

Reach for the nearest bit of something to write it down?

Use the back of a shop receipt or a paper serviette in a cafe?

And when you want these flashes of design creativity, where are they? Can't remember where you put them? Or even why you took the time to write them down?

Many quilt/textile/mainstream artists would agree that they have tucked away in a drawer or a box, pictures or drawings of a truly great idea.

Would you know where you put that diagram for a fabulous quilt, or a prizewinning artwork?

Would you remember why it appealed at the time?

Don't lose the scraps of paper - you'll lose the inspirations you wrote on them


Experiments are useful

but only if you know why you were experimenting!

In my studio there is a large box labelled 'experiments'.

For some of these I remember why I tried out the technique, while some I have no idea what they were about.

If I had recorded this information, how much more useful would the contents of my experiments box be?

Even if your ideas are scrappy, they can be a source to 'jumpstart' a new piece.


What can you do

to make your jottings more useful or findable?

Keep them all in one place.

A dear friend has been encouraging me for years to combine all my ideas into a permanent record, instead of in manila file folders full of what I call 'cartoons' for my quilt designs. Since she began her journals, she has had immense benefit from doing so.

My manila folders are not kept in any order, and scrabbling around in them is not always productive, even if I enjoy looking at the things inside.

I remember saying to one of my daughters very early in my career when an art quilt competition flyer arrived, "I wish I could design a quilt like that."

She said "You already have. It's in your cartoons."

So should you get a huge filing cabinet and set it up to hold alphabetical files for all your design ideas? Not at all.

This is where a visual diary comes into play.

What are they?

Many things, from envelopes to large bound volumes...

What is a visual diary?

It can be physically as simple as an exercise book...

...or a specially produced book which you can buy from any good stationers or art supply shop.

The notion is not to categorise the ideas, as you would in a filing system, but to just record the reasons you chose to draw, snip out or jot down a thought.

You glue the scraps of paper that hold your scribblings into the pages, but here's the difference between a simple scrapbook and a visual diary:

You also write quick notes about what inspires you about these snippets, then when you peruse the journal, you know why you chose that particular item as inspiration.

They do not have be balanced artistically, or arranged in any order on the page, you simply add to them as you want, even adding more notes as something else strikes you much later on.

One by-product of keeping these journals is that you can get very side-tracked as you look back through them!

It's good artistic practice

to keep a studio journal

Start a new journal for each new direction your work takes.

Use the pages to record your experiments, your adventures into the new road. This documentation can be important as a learning tool, and may trigger new adventures in your artistic endeavours.

Jotting down what worked — or didn't, and whether the direction you are heading is producing works that you are pleased with, can increase your discernment of who you are as artist.

What do these journals look like?

Anything from scrapbooks to artworks in their own right.

From quite literally bits of paper stuck into a notebook to fabulous expressions of the maker's philosophy.

Here is a wonderful example of one of these journals: Nirmal Dhiman

And here's a picture of a page from one of my friend's diaries and a link to the resulting work:

Pages from Annie's journal

What can you use for a visual journal?

Blank journals, notebooks, diaries, or art sketchbooks

It is usually best to have blank paper so you can draw or write, without the lines interfering in the creative process.

Anything you can paste onto, or draw/paint into, can be used to create visual diary pages.

Some creative artists use good quality loose paper, and insert the pages into a folder.

Yet others use old used books with hard covers and paste the journal pages over the original pages. (Altered books are examples of this.)

Altered books on Amazon - a great idea for a visual diary

Altered Books Workshop
Altered Books Workshop
One of my favourite books on this subject. It was the first one I ever bought.

What goes in?

Whatever inspires you!

Does my diary have to be artistic?

Not at all, but as you are an artist...

The idea is to add to it as and when you want, with whatever is to hand. You can paint in your idea, paste a cutting from a magazine, glue in a photograph, write some words.

Even though you might end up with an artistic creation, if your diary/journal is 'rough and ready' then your valuable creative time won't be spent on the production of the journal, instead of producing your real work.

Use your journal as a pictorial and written record of the inspirations that come to you as you go about your daily life.


Adding to your journal

becomes part of your daily routine

Here are some suggestions from staff at the Gippsland Centre for Art & Design for how to do this:

  • Be constructively critical of your own work.
  • Express your opinion about art and various issues.
  • Describe your approach to your current project and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Describe what you would call your 'personal' expression or what you are trying to communicate through your work.
  • Record any opinions of staff or other students about your work, including your reaction to these criticisms.
  • Describe as precisely as possible your reactions to all exhibitions you see. Try to analyse what makes something good or bad in your view.
  • Offer opinions about artists' talks you attend.
  • Note your positive and negative reactions to art and design, artists and designers, and art and design movements in both historical and contemporary contexts.
  • Comment on the formal elements within your work such as composition, colour, form, line, volume, shape, space, texture and pattern.
  • Include pictures of work by designers and artists you like. These can be useful as reference material and points of discussion.
  • Include any diagrams or images you may be using as source material. Use anything that grabs your attention.
  • Try to describe your responses to what you see and read, as well as experiences you have. Your life and your environment will feed your work.

Blank journal books on Amazon

How much time will all this take?

I don't have enough hours in the day now!

Time is relative. If you make recording your ideas part of your routine, then it takes just a few minutes each time you need to make an entry.

Some people set aside a time weekly for keeping the journal up to date.

For me it is a more spontaneous task, entering things when inspiration comes.

Have you started your own studio journal?

Do you keep a visual diary for your art?

See results

© 2009 Jan T Urquhart Baillie


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)