How-To: Sketchbook Journaling & Ideas

I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is; a sheer miracle. -Frederick Franck

My journey with sketchbook journaling began in 2007 with my beloved art professor, Jackie Knapp.  I had to go back to finish some requirements to get my teaching certificate so I had a class with her. One of the requirements was that we keep a sketchbook and write about our drawings. Then, we moved into sketch journaling. At the same time Moleskine had come out with their line of sketchbooks and so I decided to use one and really enjoyed it. Unknown to me, my journey had begun!


Why Keep a Sketchbook Journal Practice?

At first, I wrote about things I liked and was interested in, then memories and opinions. Gradually I started writing about my day-to-day and my family. I drew a lot and often wrote about what I drew. I also drew pictures of what I wrote!

My journals became a better baby book for my next child than I had had with the first. It was open and free, so I documented the day-to-day. I used prompts from my first baby book when I got stuck. Over the years my sketchbook journals have ended up meaning so much more to me than I ever thought. They are a wonderful record of my family and myself!

I started to notice: I was learning through my sketchbooks! I had been determined to learn to draw children and I succeeded! I practiced and looked carefully at my own children. I also copied the illustrations of children from some of my favorite book illustrators: Shirley Hughes and Tasha Tudor and learned from them.

If you have never tried journaling like this let me assure you, it is not a typical “Dear Diary” kind of boring thing. Sure, you can record the weather, the money you spent on groceries or that the neighbor’s dog was in your yard, but it can be a lot more. If you already journal hopefully you can at least get some good ideas here. Let’s go!


First, decide what kind of sketchbooks you want to use. I use the Moleskines because they are easy to find, good quality, and they have been around a while. My main ones are 5 x 8 sketchbooks.  (I also use all the sizes of the watercolor journals, but I will do a separate post on that.) I go through one every six months. It is very pleasing for me to see a shelf of them all lined up!

This is my messy art cabinet full of toys (of course). However, at the back is a row of my precious journals going back all the way to 2007.

Once you have your journal, set up a place to play. (If you don’t have a designated place to create then find a tote or basket- then you can take your play anywhere. This is how I did my journaling for years when we lived in a small house.) Now you can start gathering your goodies.


Art supplies are very personal. I will tell you what I use. Do what works for you and what you like! I use Bic 0.5 and sometimes 0.7 mechanical pencils. I’m not a pen girl (although I do use fountain pens in my watercolor journals). I am passionately in love with pencils and all the wonderful varied marks and tones I can get from them a-n-d you can erase them! For color I love colored pencils. My two favorites are Prismacolors and Caran d’ache Supracolor II. The Caran d’Aches don’t break as much as the Prismas so I take them on the go along with a few of my favorite Prismas. My FAVORITE color in the whole wide world is a Prismacolor Deco Aqua, a beautiful sea foam green. Unfortunately it is now discontinued, but I have a few extras! For fun I use a white Gelly Roll pen over dark colored pencils, but not often. Wet media doesn’t work too well in these journals, so when I’m itching to paint I use my watercolor journals.

My Moleskine sketchbooks are good for dry media. The wet media on the left is for my watercolor books. On the right is my metal tin of Caran D’ache Supracolor II pencils and my favorite Prismacolors in a baggie.

A Place For You

Now that you have everything together let’s make your space special. Remember, even if you don’t have a desk or a table you can put your supplies in a basket by your chair or the side of your bed. Put the kettle on to make yourself a cup of tea, put on some music, or a movie you have already seen (don’t watch a new movie- you will be too distracted!), light a favorite candle, give the kids something to do (or wait until they are asleep) and get cozy.

Here I am writing down all the wonderful Hygge things in my house for the winter. This is a good idea to figure out what makes a good sketch place/nook for your creativity.



One last thing before we start. For me, I need a place to be positive, a place where things are good. I do not like going back and re-reading sad things. Bad things happen, of course, and I need to write about them to work through them, but I try to do this in a separate place- loose paper I can store somewhere else, etc. Sometimes negative things do get inside of course, but for the most part I try really hard to focus on the good things. If I talk about bad things- like my health for instance I don’t go off. I just keep it simple. That makes my journals a lot more enjoyable.

Sometimes your journal pages can go on to have other lives. This spread became a blog entry rcently.

Getting Started

Now open to your first page- AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! Just kidding. Don’t freak out! It can all the sudden be really daunting and it’s hard if you aren’t used to using up nice things. Don’t save it! Use it! If it’s too hard, skip ahead to a page you can do a regular entry in and just start there. You can always go back when inspiration strikes! One of the traditions is to fill out the address space and put in the amount of reward if it gets lost. (Say $20 US or so.) Then it feels like you are really starting.

Some ideas for your first page are: drawing and coloring your current art supplies or favorites (even your watercolor palette), copying an illustration you like (I’ve been doing some Beatrix Potter ones and I have learned so much from copying!), or making an “I am…” list; basically a list of things about you or that you like.

These are the first two pages of my 2019 “A” journal. That is the very first journal of the new year! On the left is a picture I copied from “The Flopsy Bunnies” by Beatrix Potter. (I learn a lot from copying!) On the right is my “I am..” list.

After that I just start writing! Always with the date at the top first, with the day of the week. That comes in very handy and I have been able to look up things and remember things better because of this simple habit. ( I will do a post very soon on how to index your journals.)

Draw what you love!

Building a Habit

I don’t write everyday. But I try to sit and be with my art things for a little bit each day. Sometimes I draw, or color, or add things to previous entries, or brainstorm a list. Sometimes it is hard to know what to write. At the beginning I keep a running list of books I have read, movies I want to watch, and things I need to do. One of my favorite lists is my “Count Your Blessings” one. Here I practice being grateful and list things I have been blessed with. ( I always enjoy looking back at this.) My children and pets usually keep me in good supply of ideas for entries, but of course I get writers’ and artists’ block just like anyone else. Here’s a few more ideas!

This spread turned out pretty awesome! There is a cookie design for the Martha By Mail Shield cutter, a quote, a list, and ideas from a book.

Research & Notes

Journals are great for keeping notes and doing research on anything you are interested in or learning. I find their ability to keep my thoughts organized invaluable along with my indexing system (post coming soon). When in doubt, write it down!


Research on the catalog numbers of MBM copper cookie cutters.




I do a lot of planning and idea illustrating in my journals. I plan for holidays and decorating, meals, and special occasions. It really makes a great memory afterwards of what you accomplished as well. Most of the time I forget to take pictures! “Ginger & Pickles” is just my little code for making it special. It is my dream to have my own little English shop one day and I try to infuse all that fun into my everyday life.



Some More Ideas

A fun way to figure out your favorite colors is to use the “Color Me Beautiful” system to figure out your “season” then look at the colors in your season and pick your favorite ones. Try to use these colors a lot. See if they match you. If not, try “Dressing Your Truth.”

If I’m stuck I will often do a color chart of what is in my bag. These were all my colored pencils in my bag at the time.

Quotes are always wonderful. Susan Branch thinks so too and I got inspiration from her! Just the act of writing down a favorite quote can really elevate your entries.

When I buy a new pretty for my collections I usually draw and color it in my journal- just a way of celebrating and being truly thankful!




My husband and I love to cook together, so if we find a recipe we really like I will write it in my FlyLady Home Journal binder and do a journal entry about it with a picture and why we chose the recipe, how much we liked it, etc.


Draw everything! I draw my studio, my pets, children, food, outfits, etc.


Here is my favorite dress. And below is me wearing it!
Favorite outfit- why not journal it?

When I’m done I try to embellish the entry and draw something for it. If my main entry was a drawing then I try to write something for it.


Fill Your Well with Inspiration!

Some of my favorite inspirational materials (other than art books written to help journalers) for my journals have been:
Drawn From New England: Tasha Tudor (by Bethany Tudor)- this book showed me that it was possible to be an artist and a wonderful mother and to use my children as inspiration for my art and to draw them in my sketchbooks!
A Fine Romance (by Susan Branch)- this is a travel journal filled with England and wonderful quotes- lots of ideas here!
Magnolia Journal always has lots of great ideas and inspiration as well as Joanna’s blog.
Older issues of Martha Stewart Living (Pre 2000)- are filled with lovely, executed ideas that look like you could make them all. The new issues are soul-less and the ideas not unique. There is lots of filler and way too many recipes.
Issues of Martha By Mail– I know it’s a catalog but wow- inspiration dripping from every page!


Just keep at it! It will add up, just like drops of water in a bucket. Stay tuned for more posts about journaling!

With love and rows of sketchbook journals to you from Kansas Street,





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