Using a visual journal to harness and develop your creative side!

Sharon Boggon 2007

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Search-

Apart from stitching there is one practice that I always encourage crazy quilters to do and that is a to keep a visual journal. By a visual journal I mean a working notebook. Somewhere that you can keep information you have gathered, notes, experiments, fabric swatches, thread samples, and photos of projects as you make them.

I am in favour of using a visual journal as a place where you can collect and store ideas that may otherwise get lost on bits of paper around the house. My journals are very much about the practicalities of creative practice. They are not decorated books in their own right but instead it is the process of keeping a visual journal rather than an art product that is important. They do not have to be works of art. Some people call them notebooks, some people call them visual diaries, it does not matter what you call them just keep one!


A visual journal is a place to toss all your ideas stir them up and see what happens and then work the piece. These ideas can be little better than back of the envelope sketches doodles and squiggles. In other words they do not have to be images developed into full finished art works they are an idea, a notation and memory aid. 

Visual journals can be a grab bag of ideas that you encounter percolating away in the back of your mind. Into a visual journal can go notes, web articles, fabric and thread swatches, photos that you just like the look of, experiments with different techniques, notes on dyes with samples and swatches for future reference. Notes on how particular fabrics and threads behave, tips and tricks. You can paste in samples from workshops and experiments you do. Ideas you would like to try and thoughts about techniques. None of this has to be neat, finished or particularly well designed because it is a place for you and only you to use.

For instance when I was working out what I would do on a crazy quilt block for the Katrina Survivors quilt I used my visual journal to toss in all sorts of ideas.     
This is the crazy quilt block that I made. You can see many of the ideas have been generated in my visual journal. 


As a tool they become a compost heap of ideas that enriches the texture of your visual life. Visual journals are about potential projects, not just about documenting actual projects made, or planning down to the last detail a project. A visual journal is not a 'to do' list. Just because an idea goes in your journal does not mean it has to be realised it is simply that an idea that may or may not be worked but unlike ideas noted on scraps of paper (the back of an envelope) because it is in a journal it will not be lost. It can even be that scrap of paper pasted into a note book! The principle is to catch the idea, note it and keep it all together so it does not get lost.

The more you use a visual journal the more your ideas are developed quickly. I am sure everyone reading this knows what it is like to be on a roll with so many ideas that it is impossible to keep up and work them all. If they are noted and caught you can return to them in your uninspired times. If an idea is recorded you can return to it, reshape it and develop it at a time when you do have the energy to develop the idea or you can simply let it be. It is the fact that the idea is caught that gives you the opportunity to take it further or not.

Visual journals are also a great place to keep technical information. This page spread is full of fabric swatches that clipped from pieces I dyed. The white swatches are the original fabrics and beside them are the dyed fabrics. 


Visual journals aid creativity. A visual journal develops the regular habit of looking at the world in a creative way. Just like any skill creativity needs to be developed, maintained and used and visual journals help this process.

As I have said the principle is to note the ideas together in one place. If you do this constantly you will see patterns emerge that you have not seen before. In the act of collecting sorting and storing visual materials, you think about them consciously and subconsciously.

This rich visual diet will eventually teach you about you, what attracts you, patterns in your work, you will see both your strengths and weaknesses. Patterns of themes and ideas which would otherwise go unrecognised can be seen over time and over time you can spot your own style emerge.

Visual journals also act as a record of skill development, improvement and achievements. This is most useful in moments of insecurity because you can look back on what you have done. Instead of thinking about what we have not done sometimes it is necessary to protect an insecure creative self and look at what has been achieved. I often see students who are so focused on what they cannot do, that they forget to see and acknowledge what they can do well. A visual journal highlights this and helps to build a strong confident creative self. In moments of doubt or dissatisfaction they can act as a review of work done and accomplished helping to stave off the creative blahs.

As a safe place for exploration of techniques and ideas visual journals are ideal but they preform another function. On a psychological level they declare that personal creativity is of value and important. So often women have to fit their creative life in and around a busy family life. Everyone's needs are met but the creative side of a person is simply not recognised in amongst the noise of daily life. It's not something that is deliberate, it just happens that way.

Recognising that the creative aspects of your life are important. Establishing the practice of keeping a visual journal makes a space for creativity in your life, re-values this aspect of your life and makes you give yourself permission to do it. In carving out a safe place in a visual journal creativity is valued and recognised by you and others as being something of value in your life.

Call them what you will notebooks or visual journals it doesn't matter really the important thing is to do it, and do it regularly so that the process becomes natural. Choose a notebook that is not too large so that you can carry it easily in your handbag, or have it next to as you sew or sit at the computer. You don't want something so large that you never 'get it out'. It should never be put away! You don't need to spend a fortune on art materials all you need is pencil and an- eraser. Perhaps if you like straight lines invest in a ruler.

That's it! You can go on to use coloured pencils, watercolours if you wish but its not necessary to catch an idea before it runs away. I recommend a notebook with firm cartridge paper in other words an artists sketchbook as the paper in these books are sturdy. You can glue things in, attach fabric swatches, threads, and the like and the paper is strong enough to take it.   
Let a visual journal become part of the clutter of your life, use it daily as work and live and I bet in a year's time you will be surprised at what you have achieved, how many ideas you have and just how creative you are!   
Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Search-

Copyright 2002 - 2011, All Rights Reserved
Editor: Published by: Pretty Impressive Stuff