Exploring your creativity is a practice, not a one-time fix. You can’t just go to a creativity seminar and come back a “certified creative.” You have to put what you learned into practice, preferably daily practice.  That can be a daunting proposition for many of us. The answer just might be to keep a journal.

I’m not talking about an emotional, angst-filled diary, but a journal where you develop your creative voice.  There are many sources out there that can show you how to make and maintain an artist journal, but some of you may be a little hesitant to claim the word “artist” for yourself.  If so, take a step back and commit to keeping a creativity journal for a few weeks just to see if it works for you. If you’re comfortable calling your work “art,” then feel free to call it your art journal.

Benefits of a Creativity Journal

First and foremost, keeping a journal means you are committing to exercising your imagination on a regular basis.  If you can fit 10-15 minutes a day into your schedule for your journal, you’ll start to see a real difference in your creative life fairly quickly. If daily practice isn’t possible, then try to schedule creativity sessions the same way you would exercise: 20 minutes 3-5 times a week to start and then see what happens. As with any other skill, regular practice is key to developing technique, strength, and stamina, so don’t expect to be able to call on your creative mind unless you’ve done the groundwork.

The second best reason to keep a creativity journal is that it’s a journal, not a finished work of art or a polished idea. It’s a way to experiment, to play around with a lot of different things to see what works, what doesn’t, and what might work with a bit more experience, i.e., practice. Only you will see this – and if you don’t want to look at past entries once you complete them, you don’t have to.  That means the result can be sloppy and disjointed and downright awful because no one will ever see it.

There are other reasons to keep an art journal or a writer’s journal or anything else you want to call it.  It doesn’t really matter what motivates you, just that you are motivated.  And remember, with this journal it’s about the act of being creative, not the outcome.  Let’s repeat that: it’s about the act, not the outcome, of creative thought.

Journal “books”

You don’t have to buy a fancy, “made for art” journal or sketch pad to begin your creative practice.  In fact, it doesn’t have to be “book” at all.  Maybe you prefer digital media and want to create a folder where you’ll store all your “journal” pieces. Maybe your journal will be a bunch of loose sheets of paper that you keep in a folder or binder.  I’ll tell you another secret: your journal doesn’t even have to be blank to start. No. Really.

Altered art is a thing you may or may not know about.  One of the most popular forms is the altered book.  Artists take an existing book and paint, cut, draw, collage, affix, and even carve into it to create a brand new piece of art.  Some people love the fact that they aren’t starting with a blank page, but with pages full of words, pictures, and diagrams that can inspire the work.  So, if you’re intimidated by the blank page at this stage, consider using an existing book as your journal.

Here are some options for a physical creativity journal:

  • making art journal by Johnna GaleSpiral notebook
  • Old textbook
  • Blank journal
  • Sketchbook
  • Children’s picture book
  • Encyclopedia, dictionary, or atlas
  • Art journal with prompts, quotes, & inspirational notes
  • Vintage cookbook or “how to” book
  • Sample book (i.e., a book of wallpaper samples)
  • A pack of index cards
  • A packet of construction paper

Spend a few minutes browsing through an art store, bookstore, or the book section of a thrift store and you’ll start to see that the only limit on what you can use for your “journal” is your own imagination. Just make sure the pages are thick enough to hold ink or paint. NOTE: if you plan to keep a mixed media journal, you may need to prepare your book by gluing multiple pages together and cutting out a number of pages so that your journal will still close when you attach heavy things on interior pages.

How to Use a Creativity Journal

Fierce Warrior by Darby CaseyA creativity journal is a place for sanctioned doodling.  That’s it. So at your allotted time, find a spot to work, open your journal or a blank document or grab a piece of paper, then doodle.

Let your fingers do the heavy lifting, you’re just along for the ride.  That means you let whatever ideas flow out – whether it’s typing or writing a story or poem or story idea or literally doodling with a marker or drawing pencil, pastels or crayons. If you are a collage or mixed media person, grab a stack of magazines and start ripping or cutting out images that speak to you and then glue them in whatever design seems right.  (Junk mail can be a good source of images, words, and symbols for collage pieces, too.)

If the blank page is too overwhelming, use a creative prompt.  They are everywhere on the internet labeled “writer’s prompt” or “art prompt” or “creative prompt.”  In fact, I post a new creative prompt every Monday on this blog.  Here’s the archive.

Other ideas for jumpstarting your journal:

  • What did you dream about last night?
  • Pick up a book and choose a page at random, then point to a sentence and use that as inspiration for today’s entry.
  • Turn on the radio or TV and randomly change the station, then take a word of dialogue (or an image from the TV) and use that as the starting point.
  • Randomly pick a color, flower, animal, or another thing.
  • Use your favorite artist, sports hero, or celebrity as inspiration.
  • Use a dice from a board game and roll. Ruminate on the resulting number.

Get the idea?

It’s even okay to have a journal entry – or many entries – that start out with “I don’t know what to write/draw/do” and just keep doing until something happens.

I have dozens of spiral notebooks and even computer files from times I maintained a writer’s journal and many of the entries start out expressing how frustrating it is to not know what to write. But I kept writing and, eventually, it turned into something. I may not have done anything with it later, but I did write something that day.

My dear friend Darby Casey is an accomplished mixed media artist who has kept numerous art journals over the years.  The art journal photos in this post are hers. She uses prompts, art challenges, and other sources of inspiration to create the entries in her journal. She has even been featured in a book on art journals). Between us, we demonstrate the spectrum of how journaling can work.

Now go out and start your own journal (or revive the one you’ve been neglecting). Remember what I said earlier: it’s about the ACT of creativity.