25 ideas: stuff to put in your visual journal

I could create a list of all the ways the little editorial voice in my head tells me not to work… there’s not time, you’ve got laundry to do, my sketchbook is just too small (or large), I think I’ll just catch up on emails first, there’s nothing interesting to draw… and if I listen to it, I stay stuck and my pages remain untouched and blank. It’s a sad state to be in, and quite common. There are countless books and articles which address the subject. The answer most all of them give can be boiled down into one word: activity.

Draw, paint, write… go! The more you do it, the more the editor fades into the background. Pages fill. Ideas start to flow. Life is good.

Feeling stuck? Here is a list. Pick one, crack open your sketch diary, and get to work. It’s the easiest way to get un-stuck.

1. Draw your wallet or purse.
2. Draw concentric forms like Witold Riedel.
3. Cut and tear up pages from a phone book and/or newspaper and make a collage with the interesting pieces.
4. Lightly draw a checkerboard pattern on your page. Fill each square with hatch marks, dots, scribbles, color, or interesting lines.
5. Draw the inside of your junk drawer before you organize it.
6. Make a self portrait.
7. Stick your cooking utensils (spoons, spatulas, ladles, whisks, etc.) in a big canister or jar and draw or paint them.
8. An idea from a class I took from Wendell Arneson: think of a season, or a time of day that resonates with you. Go through old magazines and tear out pictures with colors that represent that season or time. Then make a collage with those colors.
9. Draw a page full of very small things (no bigger than an inch).
10. Create a still life from the goody bag you get at the dentist’s office. Then draw or paint the still life. Then go brush your teeth (you’ll be thinking about it the whole time you’re drawing).
11. Draw or paint a garden tool at an interesting angle on the page.
12. Draw a power strip with cords plugged into it.
13. Make a viewfinder: cut a small rectangle or square from the center of an index card or a piece of stiff paper. Draw what you see through the viewfinder.
14. At a restaurant, draw the stuff on your table before your food arrives.
15. Make really fast gesture drawings of people in a crowd or at the beach.
16. An idea from a visual journaling class with Jane Fasse: pop a bowl of popcorn. Draw interesting pieces of the popcorn, from different angles, or larger or smaller on your page. Then eat the popcorn!
17. Draw or paint to music… move with the music and make marks and lines all over your page.
18. Make a color record: select a favorite object, or book cover, or greeting card, or photo, or package, or advertisement, and record (with paint or colored pencils or chalk or pastels) the colors used to create the thing (don’t draw the actual thing, just the colors). Use that color palette to create a picture of your own.
19. Find an interesting pattern, like floor tiles or on fabric, and draw the pattern.
20. Draw your jacket, or a towel, hanging on a hook.
21. Make an intricate drawing of a leaf.
22. Draw or paint the ingredients of your favorite recipe.
23. Paint an emotion using only color and line.
24. Make a memory map of a place from your childhood: the rooms of your house or apartment, the neighborhood where you lived, or your route to school.
25. On a separate, large piece of paper, make big lines and shapes with ink. After it’s dry, cut it into interesting pieces. Glue some onto your journal page in a new arrangement.

Happy journaling!

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