Keeping a Painting Creativity Journal

By Marion Boddy-Evans

A painting creativity journal is a collection of the ideas you have and things that inspire you. It’s a place to record ideas that you can’t use immediately — you may think you’ll remember them, but one can’t remember everything, so it’s better to make a quick note and put it into your painting creativity journal. Don’t think it’s for only finished ideas or well-planned projects, it’s definitely not! It’s the place to record those quick thoughts before you get distracted, those images lurking in your brain, and for building up a personal image library.

Why Should I Create a Painting Creativity Journal, Won’t I be Better Off Spending the Time Painting?
A painting creativity journal helps you organize your ideas, inspiration, and experiments, as you’re keeping them in one spot. It’s ideal for pulling out on those days when you’re feeling uninspired, haven’t got an idea for a painting that appeals to you, when you begin to worry you might be losing your creativity. There’s nothing like looking through ideas, photographs, etc. that inspired you before to give you a fresh boost. If you date your entries, it’s a way of keeping track of your artistic development, of seeing how your ideas have evolved and expanded. If you’re mixing colors, make a record of what you’ve done so you can repeat it. (Start your journal with these Printable Art Journal Pages.)

How is a Painting Creativity Journal Different from a Sketchbook?
There’s no reason a journal cannot also contain sketches, but some artists prefer to keep their sketchbooks ‘pristine’, without the other elements a painting creativity journal will have, such as thoughts you’ve written down, pages you’ve torn out of magazines, postcards, newspaper articles, notes you make about color mixing, etc. (See also: Best Painting Sketchbooks.)

What’s the Best Format for a Painting Creativity Journal?
There is no right or wrong format or rules about how to make a painting creativity journal, it’s a totally personal choice. You might like to use an elegant, handbound journal or you may want to use a cheap ringbound notebook because then you won’t feel inhibited about putting lots of stuff into it. You may want something small you can carry with you at all times. Think about what art materials you might use in your journal if you’re going to sketch directly into it — will it be pencil, pen, or watercolor — and get a journal with paper that’s suitable for this. Keep it by the side of the bed so you can jot down those creativity ideas that seem to like coming up when one’s dozing in bed.

Personally I like to use a file (ringbinder) as then I can reorganize the pages easily, using file dividers to separate out different categories of material, and add in new material into the relevant section. If I’m collecting references for a painting that’s still in the idea form, it’s easy to keep it all together and to add any thumbnail sketches or preliminary drawings I might do. I use plastic sleeves for material that I can’t easily stick onto a sheet of paper (e.g. feathers). A file also enables me to throw away material easily if, at some stage, I’ve either used the idea up or now think it’s a terrible idea, as I find it very hard to tear out pages from a bound journal.

What Should I Put into a Painting Creativity Journal?
In short, everything and anything that inspires you:

  • Quotes you enjoy. Possibly adding your thoughts about how you might turn this into a painting. (SeeQuotes from Artists for ideas.)
  • Ideas for painting titles. The titles of paintings by other artists that you enjoyed.
  • Sketches of interesting possible compositions.
  • Postcards of paintings you loved when you visited a gallery. Any postcards you find inspiring.
  • Articles or photographs you’ve torn from the newspaper or magazines.
  • Write down the essence of any ‘flashes of inspiration’.
  • Quick sketches of an idea, with annotations or notes if you find this easier than sketching.
  • A list of the paintings you’ve done, with an analysis or critique of what you think of it. Whether you were satisfied with the results or not, what you feel really works in it (or not), anything you feel you learned while creating it, what you want to try to achieve in your next painting.
  • Notes on the technical aspects of your paintings. What palette you used in a particular painting; the results of colour mixing (including notes on how much of each color you used, not just which colors), how you achieved a particular effect.


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