I’ve been keeping journals for as long as I can remember. At one point, I had forty or so all covering different topics or moods or vacations. These days, I’m down to just two: one for writing notes and one for journaling my life.
My life journal has been a real joy so I’m hoping this post might inspire someone to take one up. You would think that my life is pretty well journaled since I blog and Instagram daily, but the life journal captures the more personal bits and the fact that it’s not really for anyone else keeps it special.
So, do you want to start a life journal? Let me break it down:
What should I write about?
Obviously, you can write about whatever you want, but I find that it’s easiest if I just take one or two events from the day and record them. Sometimes it’s a funny conversation or an observation and sometimes it’s just reflections on life. I will say that I recommend you don’t treat your life journal as a diary. I think pouring your heart out on paper is very healing, but I’ve also come to believe that it’s not necessary to keep those words once they’re out. How often are you really going to sit down and re-read long paragraphs on how stressed or annoyed or tired you were? The nice thing about a journal like this is that you get to filter your own story so you only capture the good bits.
How should I illustrate it?
This is the fun part! I illustrate my life journal with sketches, photos, and ephemera. To keep myself organized, I have a small photo storage box (a few dollars at a craft store) and it holds the black Sharpie I like to write with, a pencil and eraser for sketching, my gel pens, one grey brush marker, and some different decorative tapes.
Line sketching is my favorite way to illustrate because I’ve been doing it for a while now. I feel like people get intimidated by ink sketches but most people (including myself) sketch in pencil first. I freehand every now and then but usually I sketch in pencil, trace in ink, and erase to clean it up.
Insider secret: perspective and correct proportions are key in ink drawings. I freehand a lot of the time because I’m lazy, but when I’m sketching people I will often pull a photo up on my iPad, put the paper over the photo, and do a quick pencil sketch of the outlines in the image. This gives me guidelines to finish the sketch.
Every now and then, I’m in the mood to add a little color to my ink sketches and that’s where the gel pens come in. I use gel pens because (A) they don’t bleed through the paper and (B) they remind me of passing notes in jr. high. I only keep a few colors on hand because I just use the color as accents but you can get gel pens in pretty much any shade these days.
I also use that grey brush marker sometimes when I just want a little more color or some interesting shading. I love the look of brush markers with ink, but I don’t use them often because brush markers will bleed through the paper and are therefore a terrible choice for journaling (just like chalk, pastels, etc.) if you aren’t using an art journal. I use standard blank Moleskin journals so when I want to use a brush marker I’ll just be sure to put a photo or something like it on the other side.
Photos used to be my favorite part of journaling, but now I use them less than half the time because I don’t like my journals to get too bulky. I’m not a huge fan of full size 4×6 photos in journals because they take up the whole page, but I love a good photo strip.
To put the photos in the journal, I use my washi tape most of the time. Kyle spoiled me at Christmas with some glitter tape so it’s been making an appearance lately but good old washi tape is usually fine for me. It’s nice to have at least two different patterns, too, since you never know what mood you’ll be in when you’re journaling.
My new favorite way to get photos for journaling is to use the awesomesauce Instax mini printer I recently picked up. It uses the same film that my Instax camera uses, but you can print from your phone which means you can edit the photo before it gets printed out. This is life changing because I’m terrible at using my Instax camera and I was wasting film at $1 a pop. Now I’m not sure if I’ll be using my Instax camera ever again.
Finally, I use ephemera every now and then when I have something little that I want to save. As with photos, I don’t always love the bulk so I still prefer sketching but occasionally I’ll sketch something randomly on a scrap of paper or the kids will create something cute and it ends up being a good illustration for the day. I’ve also journaled tickets, hospital bracelets, etc. this way. The only thing I will say is that receipts don’t always hold up and you want stuff to be as flat as possible so it doesn’t mess up your writing for the rest of the journal.
Easy, right? And so cherished when I’m bored and flipping through to remember little moments I would have otherwise lost. Even social media can’t quite get all the little bursts that make up day to day life so I hope this gets at least one of you to start documenting your world. And you can sketch even if you think you can’t draw! Just have fun with it!!