Demystifying the art journal. Part One.


As an empowerment coach, artist, and writer, I have used journals in a multitude of ways. On January 18th of this year I discussed ten ways to journal. In a series of articles, the art journal and the many ways to art journal will be discussed and explained, along with the artist’s journal, and the visual journal. Let’s start with a definition and a brief history. An “ART JOURNAL” is a nebulous, indistinct, and confusing, yet fun and creative form and use of a journal. In fact, there was a periodical published in London in the 1800s called THE ART JOURNAL, which ran its course until 1912. But, this publication is not what most of us imply when we speak about art journals.


In the simplest of descriptions, an ART JOURNAL is a notebook kept by an artist as a personal record of images and sometimes words; also called artist’s or visual journal. ( Art journaling most likely started with the history of paper, which dates back almost 2,000 years when inventors in China first crafted cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings. Before then, people communicated through pictures and symbols inscribed onto parchment (animal skin), papyrus, or clay.

The most remarkable art/visual journal was kept by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) back in the 15th century. Leonardo da Vinci carried his visual journal continuously everywhere (like most of us carry our smart phones), so that he could record ideas, impressions, and observations as they occurred. His journals, of which seven thousand pages exist, contained observations and thoughts of scholars he admired, personal financial records, letters, reflections on domestic problems, philosophical musings and prophecies, plans for inventions, and treatises on anatomy, botany, geology, flight, water, drawings and paintings. For Leonardo da Vinci, the visual journaling process of recording questions and making daily observations visually and verbally in a drawing book/sketchbook was absolutely essential.

Codice sul volo degli uccelli

Basically, the only difference between a typical diary or journal; and, the art, artist’s, or visual journal (or diary) is the addition of illustrations and pictures to the writing.

But, can the terms art journal, artist’s journal, and visual journal be used interchangeably. Are there absolutely no distinctions between an art journal, an artist’s journal, and a visual journal?

Let us consider the purpose of our journal as our guideline. Here is a dichotomous identification key you can use:

  1. Is the journal used for recording your daily observations and/or experiences using only words and symbols (not images) in a chronological fashion?
    • YES. It is a diary.
    • NO. Go to question #2
  2. Is the journal used only for drawing and sketching?
    • YES. It is a sketchbook.
    • NO. Go to question #3
  3. Is the journal used mostly for creative expression with words, illustrations, and design; often represents feelings; but, may also include daily observations and experiences?
    • YES. It is an art journal.
    • NO. Go to question #4
  4. Is the journal used to capture ideas, observations, experiences that can be used in future art pieces (perhaps scaled larger); and/or, test new art materials – pens, pencils, inks, etc.?
    • YES. It is a visual or artist’s journal (like Leonardo da Vinci’s)
    • NO. It is a hybrid art journal and/or one of your own creation…like a life art journal, smash-art journal, creativity journal, doodling diary, etc.

Visual journals are used in many fields and disciplines. For example, visual journals are used by naturalists and gardeners to illustrate their observations, to help them identify plants and animals, and to plan their gardens. These are often called: Nature Journals and Gardening Journals. Art therapists have their clients use journals to illustrate their feelings. This visual journaling practice is often called creative journaling.


Present-day art journals seem to have evolved from the scrap-booking craze of the 1970s. With the boom of available crafting materials, we can do so much more than we could when we were kids. Many art journaling pages not only include photos, greeting cards, and announcements, but also various types of collaging materials, mixed media, and all sorts of ephemera. Many art journalists have also incorporate recycled materials. Altered books and magazines make fabulous foundations for art journals, which is one of the many topics discussed in this series of articles on art journals. On a final note, here is a short list of my all-time favorite art journalists and their links (I wish I could list all my favorites):

Gulfsprite – Christy Sobolewski
Suzi Blu Art
Daisy Yellow Art – Tammy Garcia
Terri Sproul
Willowing Arts – Tamara Laporte

All rights reserved. ©2016 by A.K. Orobko

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