Indexing A Journal, Sketchbook, or Art Journal

Just wait until now becomes then. You’ll see how happy we were. -Susan Sontag


How and Why to Make an Index of Your Sketchbooks, Art Journals, and Journals



After journaling and arting for several years I found myself looking back fondly at my pages, After more years went by I would remember something and go to look it up in my journals and be so frustrated; going through 20 journals to find one thing. Instead of doing this over and over I went looking for a better way to find what I wanted.

I store my journals in this old computer cabinet that I turned into an art cabinet in my studio. It’s getting really full now I will have to re-organize soon!

There was almost nothing on-line about how to do this and nothing at all to be found in print. I did manage to scrape together a system and refined it until it works smoothly and easily. Now I pull out my card box index and quickly find what I am looking for on a card, go to the page in the journal and find the information or art I was looking for.



The system had to be cheap, easy, thorough, analog (I don’t trust computers for long-term storage), and quick to use. I used regular sized 3×5″ index cards and a plastic card box that was in a give-away pile at my school. It had alphabetized dividers and they sparked part of the idea for the index.

I laid everything out on my studio table. I wanted the index to be as traditional as possible so I numbered the pages in my journal like a published book would be numbered. Whatever I chose I knew it had to stay consistent through indexing all the journals. I even made a card that stays in the front of the box that reminds me how to number the pages.

I had already started a system of writing on the spines with a white grease pencil the year and A or B. “A” journals are the beginning of the year: January-June. “B” journals are the end of the year: July-December. I kept this system in place and used it for the index.


Once my journal spine had the year and the pages were numbered, I was ready to start entering things into categories. I didn’t start with categories on the cards, I added new card categories as I went through the first journal I ever indexed and built on from there. As I’ve now indexed about half my journals I rarely have to add new categories. However that was a lot of the work doing the first journal!

The categories you will make will of course be different than mine and very personal to you as I hope your journal is a place where you can be yourself. When I started this project the idea of coming up with all these categories seemed overwhelming so I let it happen organically. I indexed the last journal I had finished (it was still fresh in my mind after all!) and made a new category card when I needed to.

Here is how I organize a category card:



I fill up the back of the cards too.

Cross-referencing and having more than one category for an entry actually helps so don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time on a page. The index is to help you and years from now you might be really glad you did the extra work!

Typically when I index a journal I lay out all my category cards on the rug I am sitting on. They are then in very general piles such as: Art, Writing, Things I Like, Lists, House Stuff, Holidays, etc. In each pile are more detailed cards. For instance in the Art pile I have cards titled: Drawings Not Related to Entries, Art Thoughts & Ideas, and Art Supplies.


For me, using the cards in general categories is much easier and more efficient than putting them in ABC order and working through that. I would be lost for days flipping through trying to remember what I named the cards! I only put a card in the ABC files when it is completely full front and back. Immediately after filing it I get another blank card and write that category at the top to start a new one.

When I’m done with the whole journal I stack all the cards up and store them in the front of the card box for the next time. I check off the journal so I can keep track of what I have indexed.

It takes over an hour to do a journal so I don’t do a whole bunch at once. My brain starts getting very lazy after one journal and just wants to be done. I don’t want to miss something in the index so I typically don’t push myself to do a bunch.


It isn’t happy people who are thankful. It’s thankful people who are happy.


Thoughts and Thinks

As I have gone backwards in my indexing journal timeline the last year or so I have noticed the growth I have had as an artist. I know that wanting to be a better artist was the biggest driver in me getting better, but so too was practice, taking risks, and looking for inspiration. My biggest inspiration has been Sketchbook Skool. Me, an artist, learning from other artists was such a powerful inspiration for my journeys.


Over the years, especially within the last 5 years my journals have bloomed into works of colorful art. They are full of things I would have been afraid to draw in college, things I have drawn out of my head. I could not do this for years, but my journals broke me free, I now draw tons of stuff out of my head- in fact I recently finished an entire children’s book from out of my head! (I am working on publishing it now.)

The illustrations for my new children’s book hot off the scanner!

My journals are me. I have lived them and I have chosen to learn from them and reflect. They have been the mirror for my happiness, and the vehicle for pouring out of emotions in time of trouble.


There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. -Albert Einstein

Unexpected Gifts

The gifts have been many, lots of them natural extensions of doing more art, taking chances, or just writing. But there were some surprises too. Something that makes my heart so happy is looking back at all of the wonderful things I have to be thankful for, from material things to family to creativity to my spiritual life, to my country.

I am convinced that my journals have helped me get ideas and go on to dream big dreams (like owning my own little shoppe one day a-la Ginger & Pickles) and making my dreams come true (like living in a Victorian house, writing and publishing books, and becoming a better artist).

Reading back I was reminded of all the times God took care of me, helped me with something, or a miracle happened.

The best gift, is the gift of memory. I have all these wonderful journal entries to look at over the years and to re-live how happy we’ve been. I can look back at when my kids were little and the things they did. I can write down the things they accomplish as they grow.


As always my studio “assistant” Abbey was with me! She is such an amazing dog and just wants to be by her people, always. What a blessing dogs are!

If you have any ideas on indexing please leave them in the comments! I am always looking for ways to make this a better system. Also stay tuned- I am working on a “Journal Party” post all about starting a journal in the New Year!

Wishing you a more organized life of great memories,


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