The Visual Journal – 7 Tips To Help You Build the Most Valuable Resource Any Artist Could Have – A Treasury of Ideas!

My very first Jewellery Journal

My very first Jewellery Journal

The one question I get asked most often by my students is this: “Where do you get your ideas from?” A lot of them haven’t got a clue how to go about generating ideas to design their own jewellery.

In my opinion, it is one of the most important skills for any artist to learn; where to find inspiration and then how to translate it into an unique piece of work. The process is not difficult, it requires thought, sometimes a lot of it, and,  having your eyes open and attuned to your surroundings. Ideas can come from anything around you!

I’ve been keeping a Visual Journal for over 20 years, and I can say without a doubt that it is one of the best things I’ve done. I have 20 – 30 of them now, going back to my days as a student at Art School, where keeping a journal counted towards our grades. Looking back at my ideas from that time, I realize my tastes have changed a little, but in essence I am still inspired by fundamentally the same things.

My Visual Journals

My Visual Journals

When I finish a project and want to start another, it’s the easiest thing just to grab one of my journals at random, sit in a quiet space and enjoy the things that I have put there. It’s like reading a favourite book, but somehow, as your life changes, the things you find in your journal will spark off completely new ideas from what you originally intended.
They never fail to give me an idea, enough to grab my current journal, make some notes and sketches, check what materials I might have to buy and start working straight away!

Here are 7 tips to help you get started creating your own Visual Journal:

Tip # 1
Get yourself a sketchbook.

This could be a beautiful book you buy ready-made, there are many available these days. Buy one you’d be happy to have laying around, ready whenever an idea hits. It should have unlined pages, even if you do a lot of writing, you can always print out a lined underlay.

Or it could be a common sketchbook, just a cheap one, but one with good cartridge paper. You could then alter the covers to make it very personal.
This is the way I’ve been doing it these past 10 years, I like the spiral bindings, they allow me to have the journal  opened flat and close to where I’m working and the covers I create myself reflect what I’m ‘in to’ and make the book much more memorable in later years, when I might be looking for something, I’ll know where to find it.

Tip #2
Break the “Tyranny of the First Page’!

The first page is sometimes the hardest to get past. To break in a new, pristine book takes some doing, it’s always hard for me!  The thing to remember is that it is a workbook, a very nice one, but still only a tool! Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that just to leave the first 2-3 pages blank for a while, works well for me.
Then, as I start to work and use my new journal, I’ll always find something I can paste in, or draw there later on, making the image relevant to work I’m doing at that time and anchoring to a period in my life.

Tip #3
Find things you love to put in there!

Inspiration can come from anything and anywhere, snapshots taken when going for a walk, at the beach or in the park, or just walking down the street. It is easier than ever to take snaps, just using your mobile phone, no problem if you forgot to take your camera, just a quick shot with your cell phone will remind you of what you found so you can work it out further when you get back home.

Tip #4
Jot down ideas when they come to mind.
Don’t wait to do this, they are a fleeting inspiration very easily forgotten! I make sure I have a small sketchbook with me at all times, you just never know what you might see that could spark off new work.

Most of my students are worried about their drawing skills, but there’s no need to be anxious about that at all!  Don’t even think about it as drawing, it is only making notes; they only have to make sense to you and no one else ever has to see them.
In fact, I don’t show my journals to many people, they contain my ideas, my work methods and other private information I don’t want to share.

These quick ideas can be worked up further at any time into more precise drawings, adding notes about materials and construction methods, sizing and other considerations before starting work on the piece.

My very first Jewellery Journal

Tip #5
Take cuttings from magazines.
Not just from ones relating to jewelry, but anything that inspires you for any reason at all.
 I like to use home and garden magazines, fashion and art mags, and anything else I have around could have something interesting in it and that I might want to cut out.

Look for small details; a pattern on some curtains, or clothing, little snippets of colour, a bit of texture you like, anything that takes your fancy, this is all about what you love and there’s no reason required!

Tip #6
Use quotes and other inspirational texts.
Cut them out, or rewrite them, maybe using some coloured pencil to add extra interest to the pages.
Paste in theater tickets and other travel memorabilia, they help bring back the feeling of your trip and can take you back to those surroundings that were so different from your daily life.
Add some photos, maps, pressed flowers/leaves,  or anything else that might help recall that time.

I also like to put in some recipes I might have gathered on our travels, attributed to the person who cooked it for us and gave me the recipe, maybe even a photo of the cook.

I think you’re getting the idea right? Anything goes, as long as it excites you, can go into your Visual Journal. As time goes by, it will become a pleasure to look back at what inspired you at that point in your life, what things were  considered  fashionable at that time, and, an interesting look at your own journey as an artist to boot!

Tell me, do you have a Visual Journal already? Do you use it a lot? How does it help you in your work? Please leave your comment below, I’d love to hear of your experiences.

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10 Responses to The Visual Journal – 7 Tips To Help You Build the Most Valuable Resource Any Artist Could Have – A Treasury of Ideas!
  1. StudioSylvia
    December 18, 2009 | 12:01 am

    Maggie I had idea journals while at UNi and then I stopped. I have started a journal but as you wrote, starting is difficult. I will persevere.

  2. Maggie
    December 20, 2009 | 9:28 pm

    Yes, have another try Sylvia, it is actually addictive once you get going.
    I know it might be for you, I started with one of my handmade books, just made to be a journal, all different colours of paper in it, it was so nice to work in and see it grow. This was nearly 30 years ago, but I still look through it once in a while:) BTW, nice to see you here, first one on the new blog!

  3. carol gregory
    December 24, 2009 | 11:05 pm

    This is great Maggie, I love my special book you gave me and enjoying putting into practice some of the things I’ve learned from you

  4. Patrice
    March 22, 2010 | 12:08 am

    I love what you share and how light hearted and fun it sounds,My daudhter and I are starting to make Jewelry toghether,it’s a Blast.I know what you mean about De-stressing.
    Thanks so much,your the coolest!!!

  5. Merrily
    May 27, 2010 | 4:42 am

    One of my assignments in my photography class is to keep a visual journal. We only had to do two pages, integrating our photography, but a few friends and I fell in love with keeping them. I have two going right now- one is very specific, I’m making pages for certain aspects of my life and people who are important to me, it’s not just a free-for-all. The second one I just started today, so far it has a favourite quote and a sketch of my camera; it’s going to be my everything journal.
    I love visual journaling. It’s a way to pass the time waiting in the doctor’s office, a way to organize thoughts, to remember things… it’s the best!

  6. Maggie
    May 27, 2010 | 8:02 am

    What a great idea Merrily! I just got some book rings (hinged rings) to make my own visual journal. I got inspired by Vicki Cook’s book (although mine won’t be as fancy) have a look here:

    The beauty is that you can put all sorts of pages in there, scrap paper, coloured or textured, the sky is the limit! And you can take portions out or put stuff in, I love it!

  7. ashley
    February 11, 2011 | 6:25 am

    i really like how u put tips for other people to create more in their art journals.

  8. Maggie
    June 2, 2012 | 12:54 pm

    hmm, I have no idea why! I have the mobile plugin installed. Sorry, I’ll have to ask around to see how to solve it.

  9. Cheryl McKenney
    July 27, 2012 | 10:46 am

    You can find me on FaceBook at Kelelah Kreations. I have been doing visual journals for several years and have about 10 of them now. I LOVE doing this form of art work…..have learned a lot about myself too. I hope you can get to view my Kelelah Kreations on FaceBook!

  10. Maggie
    September 18, 2012 | 9:03 am

    I’ll have a look Cheryl!

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