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Visual diary: tools and techniques

Updated on March 24, 2016
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Jan T has new loves! Art journalling is among her new passions, along with watercolour and acrylic painting.

Starting a visual diary can be challenging

Just do it!

Some good advice, but what do you need to get started?

Let me show you sogoodme of my supplies, tell you what I like and why, and help you to start on your own art journal.

What you need to start a visual journal is something to write/draw with and something to write/scribble/sketch on.

Image: Jan T

What you need

to start a visual journal

is something to write with and

something to write on

Start with a book

Or some scrap paper

A journal usually implies a book with nice lined pages to write in, but that's not always what a journal is.

You can make your own journal from pages that you staple, or stitch, or glue, or tape together. The pages can be all the same size, or many different sizes. They can be all the same type of paper, or many different types.

Another way to keep a journal is touse single pages which you keep in a nice (decorated) box. This is how the participants of Life Book, an online art journalling course, keep their weekly lessons.

Journals can be altered books, which is what I used for my travel journal when we were living in the Winnebago.

Your visual diary (journal) is yours - and it can be:

  • as simple or
  • as elaborate as you want it to be

You could use an old book

(called an altered book)

There are many books and online courses on using old books to use as journals.

The basic idea is that you remove some pages to allow for the extra content you will paste in, and you glue in paper, memory aids, and gesso over the old writing so you can add your own writing.

Altered book information - from Amazon

Altered Books Workshop
Altered Books Workshop
I don't know how I would manage without this one! When I bought this book, I invited my friend Annie to come and stay for a few days and play with the concepts in the book. We had a wonderful time and made some gorgeous example pages in a couple of old books. Although the idea behind Altered Books Workshop is not to make visual diaries, there is excellent information about how to prepare a book for altering. I am sure you will really like this book.
My altered book journal
My altered book journal

This journal was once an index book

For my past students' contact details

I covered the outside with used gift wrap, glued graph paper and other plain paper scraps over the addresses, and I used it for an online course I was taking in art journal lettering.

Image: Jan T

Page from my letter love journal
Page from my letter love journal

Lots different from the original book

See the index tabs on the right of the page?

I changed the tabs to reflect the numbers of the lessons in the lettering course.

Now that I have more experience in art journals, I would paste stickers over the tabs to make them prettier.

See the index tabs on the right of the page? I changed the tabs to reflect the numbers of the lessons in the lettering course.

Some ideas for you

My pens in storage drawers
My pens in storage drawers

To write in your visual diary

you need pens and markers

Mine are many, as I've been collecting pens and markers for many years.

You need some fine, some medium, some thick, some really thick.

Black, colours, glittery...

Pencils, watercolour pencils, watercolours...

Brushes, water brush...

Love my Tombows!

What are Tombow brush pens?

From the manufacturer:

Tombow Dual Brush Pens have two tips — a flexible brush tip and a fine-point, hard nylon tip. Both tips are fed from the same ink reservoir ensuring exact color match. Tombow's odorless waterbased inks blend to create any color desired.

With the flexible nylon fiber brush tip, you can achieve fine, medium, or boldbrush strokes simply by changing the pressure on the point. The resilient tip springs back to hold its shape, stroke after stroke.

With the hard nylon tip, you can create consistent lines, tight drawings, borders, copy markings, fine lettering, and more.

Tips can be dipped in water to create subtle color washes. They're ideal for use with rubber stamps.

Tombow Dual Brush Pens are 7¾" long (20 cm) with color-coded caps for quick selection. The brush nib and hard nib are at opposite ends, and the barrel's anti-roll design is perfect for busy artists. The pens are odorless, use non toxic inks or pigments, and are acid-free.

Wish I had all these

How to use brush tip markers - in your visual journal

Pitt pens from Faber Castell - used for the lettering here

lettering with markers
lettering with markers

More ways with felt tipped pens

I used a water brush to 'paint' with my watercolour pencils - in the background of this Letter Love page

Letter love day
Letter love day

Other things that you can use in your journal

  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Double sided tape
  • Fancy washi tapes or duct tape
  • Stencils
  • Hairdryer to dry wet pages more quickly
  • Gesso
  • Gel medium
  • Stencils

Paste stuff into your visual diary


Glue stick was used to add - this painted page into my letter loved journal

Glued in painted page
Glued in painted page

Adding ephemera to your visual diary - (ephemera is collected bits like tickets, postcards...)

Part 2

Using stencils to decorate journal pages - tips and tricks

Gesso tips for art journals - why and how

Buy your gesso (black or white) - from Amazon

My new art journal

Strathmore 460-19 500 Series Visual Mixed Media Journal, Vellum, 9"x12", White, 34 Sheets
Strathmore 460-19 500 Series Visual Mixed Media Journal, Vellum, 9"x12", White, 34 Sheets
I have used glue, watercolour, acrylics, Copics, Tombows, cheap felt tipped pens, Inktense pencils, and more. All my pagesvare so beautifully flat and no bleed through. Love it!

Overwhelmed with choices?

Try using a starter kit

When you want to jumpstart your visual diary, you could start with a kit.

These authors have prepared ideas, books, pens and other great stuff to get your journal adventure started quickly.

© 2012 Jan T Urquhart Baillie


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