How to create and use a studio journal

Do you have a studio journal?

Despite being someone who has written a journal in some form for most of my life since the age of eleven, I’ve never kept one specifically for my studio practice.

I write about my art in my daily journal, but the insights get lost and diluted amongst the rest of the experiences, thoughts, and feelings I record.

I’ve made sporadic notes in sketchbooks over the years too, but nothing that really stuck.

Then, during a conversation in the Happy Artist Studio, in which one of our members talked about keeping a studio journal last year and how helpful it was for her, something finally clicked.

I decided to try it for myself, and it’s already proving significantly useful!

Two tips if you’re thinking of starting your own studio journal:

  1. Get an inexpensive notebook {to avoid fancy-sketchbook-that-never-gets-used syndrome} – spiral bound is good so it will lie flat.
  2. Spend a little time upfront thinking about how you’d like to use it, and what kind of things you might like to record in it. See below for ideas.

As you can see , I also wrote on the front of mine to make it official. 😉

I’ve used it for all my painting sessions so far this year, and I’m loving it!

My natural inclination is towards rambling prose, but in my Studio Journal I’m exploring different ways of recording my thoughts.

{Because I want most of my limited studio time to be focused on painting!}

☀️ I draw a sunshine if it’s a sunny day, because of how much the sun impacts not just my mood, but my ability to think and see clearly.

⏰ I write the time when I start and the time when I finish, so I can track how much painting time I’m getting in.

Here are some other things I’ve been jotting down that might give you some ideas if you’re thinking of starting or developing your own studio journal:

  • painting title ideas
  • adjectives for how I want the paintings to feel to help me stay on track
  • colour mixes I’m using
  • questions to provoke deeper thought about my ideas so I can take them further
  • notes on what’s working and how I’m getting myself out of pickles
  • little thumbnail sketches to try out shape and composition ideas
  • notes on how each session went {it can be helpful to see what mood I’m in and how that impacts the session}
  • reminders to future me about what I want to do next time

… and anything else I feel like committing to paper.

Already, it’s proving to be a bit of a game changer:

If I go in and feel unsure about where to begin, I can check my Studio Journal.

When I have a painting lull and feel my mind wandering, I can leaf through the journal or make some notes.

{I’m finding this helps me stay in the creative zone – and the studio – in a different way, when the painting energy ebbs for a bit. Then I’m ready to dive back in, where before I might have ‘just’ run up to the house to do something.}

It’s a lovely way to bookend a session – a few notes before I start, and some thoughts and a time check at the end to round it off.

I know lots of artists keep studio journals, and am so curious about how and why we use them, since they’re all likely to be the-same-but-different.

So I asked my Artnotes readers if they keep their own, and if so how, why, and all that good stuff.

There were some great responses, full of ideas and possibilities we can all play with, and a couple of artists kindly allowed me to share theirs below.

“I kept a studio journal when I was working on a series/body of work. Since then I haven’t kept up with a studio journal but have been contemplating it recently and to use it not for a body of work but just a keepsake of what I’m learning this year. You have inspired me to give this thought the green light! Lol!

Here’s a collage of my studio journal I did that one time. I used a thermal printer on sticker paper to keep pics of sketches and pics that related to my series.

Jennifer Perry Studio Journal

I also used a small picture printer (4×6 inches photos) to keep progress of art pieces in this journal. So no matter where I was sketching or painting, I could have it all in one place and make notes.

I kept color palettes I was working with, thoughts, and even pics of card pulls (Oracle/tarot) I did while working on this series.”

Jennifer Perry @karmasjourney

“I love the ideas of journaling but for some reason, I can never be consistent with it. Lately I’ve been keeping a notebook in my studio and just write down the total amount of time a piece takes. Out of curiosity and may help with pricing and with the dreaded question “how long does it take you to do this?”.

I keep a semi-regular personal journal in my computer that synchs with my phone and I can add photos of my day.

Probably the closest thing to the Studio Journal I keep is the blog on my site. I know it is public but I don’t think very many people read it and it kind of keeps me accountable. If I wrote in my blog that I’m going to do or want to do something, I probably should do it. I’m going to go right now and add an entry 🙂

This year I created a mini journal with my art that people can print out at home for free. The original idea was to be a gratitude journal and everyday, write down the one thing that you are grateful for. Then I realized that it can be used to write down that one thing you want to track this year.

– Aynex Mercado, Journaling One Thing a Day

The key to making a Studio Journal work for you is to create it to serve and support you and your unique approach and needs.

One artist might want to write a lot of details, or track specifics over time, while another might find that stifling and prefer a few scribbled notes or diagrams as and when.

Judging by the responses to the original Artnote, a common issue is starting a journal, notebook, or sketchbook, and then finding it peters out, or that you lose track and sort of give up and feel vaguely annoyed about it. 😊

For me, the ‘solution’ to that is to create a studio journal that contains only what is useful or interesting to you, knowing that you may change your mind about that tomorrow.

We can let our Studio Journals evolve with us, and that includes deciding that we no longer want to continue with them, or want to take a break, or use them in a different way.

It’s your practice, you get to decide!

Do you keep a studio journal? How do you use it? Let us know your tips and experiences in the comments!