The Language of Imagery: Keeping a Visual Journal

For many years, I stopped myself from using art in my journals by telling myself I wasn’t an artist. About twelve years ago, I began keeping a written spiritual journal in a bound sketchbook. After making several entries, I had the urge to buy a set of watercolors. My original plan was to paint colored washes on the pages of the journal so that I could write on a colored background.

Before long I found myself dripping and brushing bold stripes of crimson, burnt umber and phthalo blue along the margins of my writing to make borders and frames. When the paint dried, the random shapes I’d created reminded me of the pictures I’d seen in the clouds when I was a child. I found myself tracing their outline with a felt tip pen. Soon afterward, I bought a gold pen to add more detail.

Sometimes I’d make art in response to journal entries and other times, the abstract paintings in my journal pages inspired me to write a poem or express a thought or feeling I didn’t know I’d had. I loved the interplay of words and images. My illuminated journal seemed to be creating itself.

collageCollage is another wonderful tool to break free from a journaling rut and is great for people who feel self-conscious about drawing. We express ourselves through the bits and pieces we choose and through how we assemble them. Sometimes images seem to choose us. The synchronicities can be amazing.

To get started making a journal collage, collect a few magazines that you’ve finished reading, grab a glue stick and scissors and begin cutting out the images that call to you. If you want, you can cut out words as well.

When you have a stack of found material, begin gluing the pieces where they want to be on the page. If you feel inspired to do so, add feathers or fabric. You can draw, paint or rubber stamp on your collage as well. Often, the result will have a dreamlike quality that calls out for a written interpretation.

No matter what medium we use, working with images allows us to access and express deeper parts of ourselves than we can with words alone. By unhooking from the logic of words, we gain access to our intuitive selves. Besides being a powerful way to work with feelings and issues too big for words, using color and shape in our journals frees us to be more creative. Best of all, it’s fun.

Resources for Visual Journaling


The Way of the Visual Journal This article by d.l.clay offers good ideas for starting to work with images, including many practical hints.

Artist, Michael Bell, suggests ways to use visual journaling as a way to find answers to life’s deepest questions. He also brings up the notion that visual journaling can be a family project.

Take a Journey In this article, Sarah Ban Breathnach shares how collage can be a way to self-discovery.

Visual Journals and Paper Arts This site has sections on art journals, visual travel journals, preserving letters, paper craft and book binding. The related links to other sites on art journaling and paper arts are fascinating.

Artist and visual journal keeper, Luna Jaffee, has recently begun teaching visual journaling, in Portland, Oregon. For the past nine months she’s been working on a visual journal called Conceiving a Life: Birth and Rebirth at Forty. The excerpts on her site are beautiful, moving and inspirational.


For your convenience, if you wish to order a book from, click on its title. (Amazon sells both new and used books and offers free shipping on most orders that total more than 25 dollars.)

capbookThe Creative Journal : The Art of The Art of Finding Yourself by Lucia Capacchione
If I were going to recommend one book on visual journaling, this would be it. Capacchione writes in an encouraging, inspiring and down-to-earth manner. This book offers many practical suggestions and encourages a sense of playfulness.

The Artful Journal : A Spiritual Quest by Maureen Carey, Raymond Fox and Jacqueline Penney
This was published in January 2002. To read excerpts posted at, click on the title.

Visual Journaling : Going Deeper Than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox
Focused primarily on emotional and physical healing, this book contains a number of exercises as well as an explanation of the benefits of working with images.

Tracy Eaton’s Listmania List
at offers reviews eleven books relating to book binding, visual journal keeping and paper arts.

For more ideas and resources read Kay’s article,
Illuminations:Visual Journaling Inspirations.