5 Factors To Consider When Choosing A Journal

What makes for a positive journaling experience? Most people would connect this to outcome. That having 'good art' to show for it, makes for enjoyable time making it.

Not in my experience. 

So you've decided to start journaling and you're really determined. You see how much joy and meaning it gives to others. You see how they fall in love with their practice, the depth of joy and self connection it adds to their lives and you want in. 

You go out, buy yourself a gorgeous journal, you treat yourself, it's something special.

And then you find yourself sitting in front of blank pages, looking for inspiration for god knows how long, then you come to the end of your time and walk away discouraged, with nothing to show for it. 

You tell yourself you can't do this, you're just not creative enough, as you try to suppress the disappointment and envy bubbling up inside. 

Some people might try to combat this with a 'try harder' approach. ie, they will keep trying to make it happen with this gorgeous journal they're so invested in, dammit.

More supplies.
More online classes.
More Pinterest. 

But nothing comes and now your gorgeous journal is like creative Kryptonite. 

But what if it's not you?
What if it's the journal that has you defeated?
What if it's just the wrong size, shape, paper weight for you? 

Maybe it's not that you're failing to connect with your creativity but more that you're just not connected to your journal. 

It matters what journal you chose to immerse yourself in. 

So let's start there with 5 things to consider when choosing your journal. 

1. Size

My first journal was an old scrapbook about A3 in size. It was a lot of ground to cover.

It didn't stop me but in hindsight, it did mean I was way more 'involved' and invested in the pages. I felt I had to 'fill them' and that meant spending more time on pages than is exciting for me.

Also, I don't like using a whole lot of supplies. And it was too big for my bag so it never left the house.

Hello, creative house arrest. 

I scaled down to A4. Then to A5, which is my current preferred size. I've just started using A6 now and it is so completely different again. It's a little more challenging for me than A5 and I like that.

I still have my A5 for when I just want to express without the added challenge of learning how to do it in new terrain. 

Every size is a different experience so I suggest trying on different sizes to see where you feel most at home. And also, work in more than one size at a time. 

Have a comfort zone size and a challenge zone size, that will keep you on your toes.

2. Shape 

Two words.

Again, try both. What do you like? I went through a phase of only wanting to create on square pages.

Square journals are not as easy to come by so all of my square journals, with the exception of this one, are hand made. I bought artist papers and had them cut so that I could make square journals at home. 

I experimented with sizes here too, from 12x12 inch to 5x5 inch journals and my comfort zone fell right in the middle at 8x8. Again, it gives me enough room to express but not so much that I can't throw it in my bag and journal on the go with a few supplies.

3. Paper

Type. Quality. Texture. Weight. So much to consider. 

Generally, I like thinner papers. 90-120g or so. I'm not a fan of heavy, thick or textured paper, especially that really fibrous handmade paper. I just discovered 'canvas paper' and I love that. 

I make messy art. I'm into layers. I don't mind if paper bleeds through, I usually have enough collage on the pages anyway to counteract the bleed. I also like that crinkly paper sound when turning pages. ASMR anyone?

Brown paper. Hello you beauty. Amazon are my main supplier for this. I love the varying brown papers they send in packages. I've made journals and also art papers with it for use it in my collage stash. 

4. Relationship

Oh come on, really?
I have to have a relationship with my journal?
Can this just not be more 'work'?

Well actually, no it can't. If you want your journal to love you, then you have to love your journal. 

One word. JOY.

Does your journal [when you are journaling in it, not just starting at it 'wishing you were journaling in it], bring you JOY? 

It might be the most beautiful journal in the world, but if it's not a joyful experience, it's not going to bring out the greatness in you.

I was gifted the most beautiful journal by a friend once. It was stunning. I kept in on a shelf, near my other journals and it was the most unloved book in my bunch.

I could not create in it. Every time I tried, I felt blocked.

It was too precious and all it did was make me feel bad and stuck and my messy, reckless art, unworthy of it's finery. 


Handmade journals.

I've had a lot of fun in these. They are distinctly 'mine' and I love that. This one journal I made in my friend 'Orly Avineri's class 'Passport to Journal' is especially joyful because of the experience I had at her workshop, constructing it.

Orly travelled to Ireland and I hosted her in my Sligo studio. It was a special occasion for me and a memory I will always cherish. 

To learn how to make your own easy handmade journal, see my mini tutorial at the end of this post or on IGTV, here

Altered Books

A few years ago I scored a stash of old teenage annuals from a friend and to my delight, I discovered they were the exact annuals I had read as a young teenager in 1987. I LOVE playing in these journals. I feel so connected to them.

I cut them in half because I didn't like the A4 size and shape. And voila! Instant Joy. 


5. Function

It doesn't have to be a journal from an art supply shop. I've used comic books, children's illustrated books, composition books, moleskin cahirs, old anatomy books, old used ledgers and school homework books.

You can get all of these in used / thrift / charity stores. A little money, a lot of joy.

What would feel like fun? Try it. 

Quick note on spiral bound journals 

No. Just, no. You want your book to open flat.

Visual journaling is about making 'spreads'. A spread is where 2 open pages are unified as one 'spread' and it is a surprisingly satisfactory experience to bring two pages together as one.

Maybe it's a manifesting expression of our desire for oneness but we won't get into that here. Anyhoo, having a spiral separating your pages, ruins that experience.

It's a spread blocker and ain't nobody got time for that.

I hope you find this helpful in informing your decision when looking for journals to play in. Remember, there is no such thing as a 'perfect' journal but if you do find one, just smile and wave as you pass it by. 

Got anything to add? Let us know in the comments!





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