Organizing & Indexing Sketchbooks & Journals

Oh, hello 2022! I feel like the last 2-3 years has all mooshed together in my memory like one weird year. One way I can deal with that is to journal, index, and review.

You know how to whistle don’t you? When you want me, just put your lips together and blow.

I wish memory was that easy, just whistle. Journals really help though!

At the half-way point and end of the year I always lay my journals out and go through them, numbering pages and indexing. I typically use 2 journals, 2 sketchbooks, 1 school journal, and 2 watercolor books per year. I am so proud of this output. I used to struggle to get through just 1 sketchbook!

These LUSCIOUS colors are from Caran d’ Ache and the greens are from Prismacolor (nobody does green colored pencils as good as they do)

Seeing them all lined up makes me very happy. A life I chose purposefully is in those pages: memories I want to remember and good times I want to re-live.

I haven’t always indexed my journals. I started about 3 years ago looking for a way to look things up in old volumes. It had become increasingly difficult to remember where and when I have written or drawn certain things. I had over 20 journals at the time and found lots of frustration in looking things up!

Trips like the one I took last year to an art workshop must be remembered!
My go-to sketchbooks and journals.

So, I went in the search for the best way to make a sort of index that could be cross-checked and easily kept. I imagined the libraries of my childhood with their huge cabinets of card files, with the pull-out drawers of cards. I thought of computer programs and wasted money on obsolete tech. I scoured the internets trying to find anyone who had run into this dilemma before. All I came up with was Roz Stendal, but her system was difficult for me to implement and ornery to work through.

I found myself going back to those card files. What if it really could be that simple? Absolutely no computer tech would be used. I wasn’t going to work for hours to lose it all or have the program become outdated and stop working. Nope, I like the old-fashioned way.

This file is a little less impressive than the one above.

So I settled on using a card system, but I still had research to do and decisions to make. How did I want to name each individual journal, how did I want to number the pages? What would the index cards look like?

When I was writing my children’s chapter book The Secret of Sterling House and I didn’t know how to format something I would just look at a book! So I did the same thing to inform my decisions on the index. This is how I learned to paginate my journals.

The next business was the index cards. I struggled to figure out categories and then finally, let them come naturally, which meant the first few journals I indexed took longer because I was making a lot of new cards. But that persistence paid off because I rarely have to make a new card category these days.

An index card with it’s journal entry.

Then I struggled with too many cards! I finally gathered them into larger categories and kept them in stacks while working. The current cards are never filed. They stay in the category stacks until full. Then a new card is made with the same title/category and the full card is put in the file box in alphabetical order.

I will probably change the alphabetical order thing one day. I feel that when I have indexed all my old journals (I have about 3 years left to do), I will have to change my index card box a bit to make it easier to retrieve cards I need.

The cards are now in stacks according to the larger category they fit under. I feel a bit like Dewey with his decimal system!

The cards live in an old metal card file for now. They outgrew the original plastic one. A wood one was outrageously priced. But one day I will have to get something bigger. I started this one out last year at 1/4 full, now it is almost half!

My studio helper Abbey
And our newest helper Spooky

I hope I’ve helped someone out there who needs this! I sure would have liked to find things like this during my initial search. My best advice is to do what works for you. Tweak things until they are easy, natural, and right!

Before I go I will give you a peak inside my art cabinet that holds my journals. It’s lots of fun with toys and books and supplies!

Its a good thing the doors can be shut!
Lots of favorite childhood toys here like the Barbie horse and collie dog, Maple Town rabbit family (in strawberry container), Cean Little Ballerina doll, Fisher-Price Splash the dolphin, Scout the collie dog, Little People yellow stairs and dragon.

With Journaling organization luck to you from Kansas Street,


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