Monday, January 4, 2021

Scribble Journal Update


11/14/20 Early pages include more white space.

A couple of months ago I started a trial daily “scribble journal.” In the past, I’ve tried various versions of a daily sketch journal sporadically, but I never sustained the habit for more than a few days. I think one big reason the habit didn’t stick was that the format was redundant of some other habit I already had. If I sketched something from observation in the journal, then how was that different from my “regular” daily-carry sketchbook? If I sketched something merely to record what I did that day, then it was redundant of the text-only log book I’ve kept for years. (The latter is a simple bulleted list of places and things I’ve sketched, books, movies and TV shows I’ve consumed, fitness or health achievements, natural or current events, major purchases, and new foods or beverages I’ve tried.) Those sketch journal attempts didn’t feel like they served a unique purpose.

After a successful sketch journal page created for the Sketchbook Techniques and Expressions class I was taking through Gage, I was encouraged to focus a daily sketch journal practice on sketching from memory and imagination rather than from observation. This would eliminate redundancy with my ongoing sketch practice.

The trial I began in November was to find out if I enjoyed the process enough to sustain it and whether it served a unique purpose. For the remainder of 2020, I continued with my usual log book, which confirmed that the two books recorded mostly redundant information. If the scribble journal were enjoyable and sustainable, however, it could replace the log book in 2021.

That’s where I am now: On Dec. 31, I completed the trial book (an amazing coincidence to have exactly the number of pages I needed to finish it on Dec. 31! How often does that happen?!). On Jan. 1, I stopped keeping my formerly text-only log book and replaced it with a fresh book for my daily scribble journal.

12/4/20 The blow-up Santa and reindeer was an attempt at drawing from memory something I saw during my morning walk.

Keeping my scribble journal has become more enjoyable over time while also being more challenging to keep than a written log book/journal. I’ve been a writer my whole life, professionally and on my own time. Although I won’t say writing is effortless, describing or explaining something with words is probably the one skill I have that is as close to “second nature” as any. But when it comes to describing something visually, that’s a skill I’ve been working on for less than a decade. Drawing from observation has become easier over time, yet it’s never without challenge. And now my scribble journal is pushing me to think more visually and describe things visually.

Bonus: Its already more fun to look through the journal as reference, which is one of its purposes. The way all our pandemic days seem to blend together or repeat like an extended Ground Hogs Day, I find myself using it to answer questions like, Was it two weeks ago that we had that fantastic crab from Fish Guys? Or has it already been three weeks? 

12/10/20 I'm filling up more of the page lately with both sketches and writing.

With more page space than the vertical inch or so of text space I used to devote to each day, I can write more commentary when I want to. When I compare the early pages to the later ones, I see that I’m filling in the page space more effectively with both words and sketches. The drawings are often nothing more than rudimentary stick figures and symbols made from imagination (or lack thereof). But sometimes they are conscious efforts to study something visual during the day and then draw from memory that evening (more on that process in an upcoming post). I enjoy making the crude, cartoon-like sketches with no attempt at shading or modeling in any way (which is something I practice regularly with nearly everything I sketch from life). I’m pushed to think about things in a different way than I’m used to.

Representing my yoga practice has been especially challenging and often humorous! I try to visualize what I look like while I’m doing a pose, but it’s not easy. I can study my instructor’s pose on the screen and try to draw from my memory of that, but I’m not nearly as flexible as she is, so my body doesn’t always form the same shapes!

12/28/20 When I sketch my own little red car, it's a symbol to myself that I made a sketch from inside my car.

Fresh Leuchtturm journal in optimistic yellow.
The materials I use for scribble journaling are intentionally simple: I don’t want to be stymied by having too many art supply choices or being annoyed by having inappropriate paper for the media. I also want to be able to finish a daily page in 15 or 20 minutes. That’s another important aspect that keeps a habit sustainable for me. With that little time commitment, I could maintain the habit even when I travel (thinking optimistically into 2021).

For the trial, I used a spiralbound Stillman & Birn Zeta that I happened to have available. Although I love the heavy paper and surface, I don’t need that level of paper quality for something I call a scribble journal. I also prefer a volume with more pages. Since using wet media wasn’t important to me for this purpose, I decided to use an A5-size, hardcover, unruled Leuchtturm 1917 journal, which was my favorite format for my log books. I like the familiar feel of the book, which reminds me that I haven’t stopped keeping a daily log; it has simply morphed into a more visual form. 

Simple materials close at hand.
So far, my favorite drawing and writing pen is a Uni Pin pen with a brush tip because I like the thick-and-thin line it produces for both. For spot color, I selected a limited number of Prismacolor pencils – only what would fit comfortably in one coffee mug. This limit keeps me away from the distraction of looking for just the right color. 

The mug as art supply holder is also practical: It compactly sits on the side table next to my recliner where I relax in the evening. If I had to go upstairs to my studio to keep this journal, I would be more likely to skip it or, if I did go upstairs, I might get distracted by other projects or art materials. I’ve set myself up for success, not failure.

Edited Jan. 2022: I published an update on my scribble journaling tactics and the tools I am using at the Well-Appointed Desk.


  1. Looks like you found a way to make this work for you! Having materials close at hand is a good idea!

    1. I'm having fun with it! We'll see how long it lasts!

  2. I appreciate the tips on what made the habit stick for you. Very helpful!

    1. Glad you found the tips useful, Martha! Thanks for reading!


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