What is a Visual Journal?

Very simply: A visual journal incorporates visual media in addition to text.

It’s an umbrella term for a method of journaling that usually combines writing and art. Art journals, junk journals, and scrapbooks are visual journals created using slightly different methods, for instance.

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What’s a visual journal anyway?

Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA on Unsplash

A visual journal is a wonderful way to record your life! It can be as simple as adding in a few photos to your diary entry or as complex as creating an entire spread using paint, stamps, and bits of ephemera.

Visual journals are also great for exploring your feelings and thoughts as a kind of art therapy tool. Tapping into your subconscious (your intuition) and using that to create a spread can lead to a deeper understanding of your own mind.

If you’ve only ever tried keeping a regular written journal, I encourage you to try incorporating some visual elements as well.

Types of visual journals

There are different types of visual journals, as I said before. I tend to make junk journal style pages, but there’s many other styles.

Art Journals

Art journals usually focus on handmade art like painting, drawing or doodles. Materials used in art journals tend towards the wet medium side of things, so you’ll see lots of paint, alcohol inks, stamps, etc. along with the typical paper ephemera and text.

Artist Teesha Moore makes amazing art journal pages using a combination of paint, collage, her drawings, and embellishments. Her early Youtube videos teaching how to make her style of art journals is partly why I got started making my own! πŸ˜€


Scrapbooks tend to focus on specific memories and mementos, and are more structured overall. They’re specifically curated for a particular subject, and tend to be more focused on preserving memories. Scrapbooks tend to be made with paper products and little to no wet mediums or handmade art designs.

Katie Pertiet Designs is a great example of a scrapbook designer who incorporates different styles into her pages. Some are heavy on text, some heavier on graphics or visual interest, but all of them are fun to look at.

Junk journals

A junk journal uses a wide variety of materials, usually found or repurposed. That might mean using things such as old book pages, postcards, vintage photographs, food labels or any number of paper ephemera alongside wet mediums like paints or markers.

The classic junk journal tends toward a textured, layered style– like the kind I make. πŸ˜‰

A different junk journal style has emerged in the last few years that’s more on the scrapbook side of things. These are made using “kits” which have coordinating paper, ephemera, and photos which were pre-selected by a designer, and have very few “found objects.” Nevertheless, these newer style junk journals have a eclectic, layered, and textured visual style similar to the older style junk journals.

A good example of this style is at Calico Collage, where artist Norella Bouchard creates vintage-inspired digital junk journal kits. The pages in the kits are distressed and aged, and the pre-made backgrounds have some textured layers already on them. All you need to do is put the kit together and add some of your own ephemera or photos, and the junk journal is done!


Gluebooks can also be a type of visual journal. These are notebooks filled with found paper ephemera gathered from the artist’s daily life, simply glued into place in a pleasing collage.

They’re the simplest kind of visual journal to make, as you really only need a notebook, some glue, and a collection of things from your house. Anyone can make one, even people totally new to visual journals!

Visual journals: materials list

Making a visual journal can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like! Here’s a list of suggested materials; pick a few things out and give it a try.

Journal or sketchbook. This will be the base for your visual journal and can be any size or type of book. If you’re just getting started, I recommend picking up a mixed media notebook. The paper is thicker and can handle wet mediums such as paint or liquid glue.

The Dylusions Creative Journal is my favorite; the paper is super smooth cardstock and can handle basically anything you throw at it.

Pens and markers. You’ll need something to write with, of course! If you’re going to use a lot of paint, you’ll want something that can write on top of it. Sharpies can be good for that, particularly the Sharpie oil-based paint markers.

Paint and brushes. Really anything will do, and you don’t need to spend $$$ on expensive paints to get started. A small collection of basic acrylic paints will do fine to start, as well as a beginner’s pack of paintbrushes.

That said, if you’d like to invest in some fun colors in a good-quality paint brand, there’s a few options. Dylusions paints are wonderfully bright and are really great for layering. Use a little bit with a one of these foam blending tools and they’ll last for a long time, too.

Scissors and glue. Really anything will do, but just consider what you’ll be gluing onto. If it’s onto dry paper, a standard Elmer’s Gluestick will be fine. If it’s paint or markers, then something stronger like Mod Podge might be better.

Ephemera. This can be either paper objects you have around your house, things you find online, or things you buy in a craft store. Many scrapbook and art journal companies have little packs of pre-cut ephemera ready to use, and that might be a good option if you really want a particular style.

I have tons of free downloadable vintage photos and ephemera here, by the way!

Stamps and archival ink. I prefer using rubber stamps as the image tends to be cleaner, but it’s totally up to you which kind to use. The important thing is to use archival inks, as they won’t be smudged or distressed when you put wet mediums on top of them. A basic set of 4 colors (gray, black, brown, dark brown) is enough to get started with.

Stencils. These are great for quickly creating patterns for backgrounds. You can use either paint or a pen to trace out the image you want. Something like this pack of nature-themed patterned stencils is a good one to start with.

Washi tape. This is Japanese paper tape! It’s quick way to decorate a chunk of paper; it’s not great for actually STICKING ephemera down to a page and won’t stick very well to a painted background, but it can be a fun option for a visual journal page. It’s also very easy to quickly collect a bunch of these tapes and never use them, so I recommend buying a set of solid colors and basic patterns and use that to begin with.

Shape punches. This is totally optional, but sometimes it’s nice to have a punch specifically to cut out shapes you use a lot but find painful to recreate yourself. For instance, I like punches for tabs, tags and circles.

Embellishments. This is stuff that adds a little extra jazz to your visual journal page. Stuff like glitter, sequins, ribbons, feathers, etc.

Ideas for visual journals

Now you’ve got your supplies and a journal to create in, and it’s time to make something! Here’s some ideas for what to journal about:

  • Daily gratitude: Create a page where you list things you are grateful for each day, along with a related illustration or collage.
  • Mood tracker: Use colors and illustrations to create a visual representation of your moods throughout the week or month.
  • Dream journal: Illustrate or describe your dreams, with an accompanying drawing or collage
  • Travel diary: Document your travels with sketches, watercolors, or photographs of the places you visit, along with notes and observations.
  • Mind map: Create a visual representation of your thoughts, ideas, and connections using drawings, illustrations, and written notes.
  • Inspiration board: Collect and paste in images, words, and phrases that inspire you, along with your own drawings and notes.
  • Artist studies: Study the work of your favorite artists by reproducing their works, or creating your own pieces inspired by their techniques or styles.
  • Nature journal: Sketch and document the plants, animals, and landscapes you observe while outdoors.
  • Personal growth: Reflect on your personal growth and development by creating pages that document your progress and milestones.
  • Quotes and affirmations: Collect and illustrate inspiring quotes or affirmations, along with your own reflections on their meaning and relevance to you.

Visual journals are a great way to explore your own art style and document your life at the same time. If you haven’t tried making a visual journal yet…what are you waiting for? πŸ˜›

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