Journaling is a highly personal practice, and you will likely have to test drive a few different tools before you discover which work best for you. Here are some options to simplify the process and help you decide:
Get a journal.
Anything can become your visual journal notebook, a three ring binder, a spiral, a blank book… But there are companies that make blank books just for the purpose of journaling. They can run from $12 to over $100 depending on the features you choose such as specialty covers, pockets, the type and weight of the paper…
Here is a look at some of the most popular brands of notebooks for visual journalers.
The Moleskine brand has been around since before Henry David Thoreau. There are five sizes from pocket to A4 and you can choose hardcover or soft, and lined, gridded or blank paper, writing or sketch paper. Some of the features that make the Moleskine particularly nice are the elastic band that holds the notebook shut, the ribbon page marker and that some versions come with a pocket to allow you to stash smaller pieces of paper. They are nice while being affordable (under $20) and depending on how prolific you are that can be a really good thing if you are purchasing multiple journals a year. They are also widely available at major bookstore chains.
The Leuchtterm1917 is comparable to the Moleskine but offers some nice additional amenities such as page numbers, a preprinted index, double bookmarks and stickers for archiving. The version with dotted pages offers guidelines without being distracting.
Midori Traveler’s Notebook.
The Midori notebooks are designed to be carried with your passport or in a pocket. With the Midori notebook you choose a cover and then put customized inserts into them. The paper is luxurious and comes in blank, grid or lined. There are also preprinted planner inserts and sketch weight paper available along with bands or ties to hold the notebooks closed.
The Field Notes brand journals are designed to be pocket sized: 3.5 x 5.5 inches. Though simple in design, the notebooks are quality construction and come in a variety of colors and specialty cover designs. They also come in three packs.
If you want some European flair, Calepino is like the French Field Notes. The simple notebooks have a heavy cover, distinctive branding and cleanly cut corners. Also made to be pocket sized, the Calepinos are easy to carry and often purchased in multi-packs.
Another European brand is the Italian-made, Ciak. The Ciak has different “models” like the Classic, Diary, Duo, Golf, Pitti, and Travel. They come in a variety of cover colors and feature quality handmade construction.
Palomino Blackwing Slate.
While Palomino makes journals in a wide variety of styles and sizes—some with deluxe leather covers—the Blackwing Slate is the companion to the Blackwing pencil and the paper is optimized for pencil writing or sketching. The 8.5 x 5 notebook features a loop to hold the pencil against the journal along the spine.
Oberon journals are deluxe embossed leather covers into which you insert thick, diary-style, hardcover journal inserts. Of all of the brands listed here, these have the most personality in terms of cover design and while the initial journal purchase with a cover is expensive (between $50 to $100), the inserts run only $10.
Miquelrius has leather-look journals in two sizes and the price is less than $10 each. The bendable covers make this notebook a workhorse and it has a small grid patter making it perfect for writing and drawing.
Strathmore’s Visual Journal.
The Visual Journal is a simple spiral notebook of art paper with a thick cardboard cover. The wildly printed sales cover tears off revealing a plain, hard brown cardboard cover underneath. At less than $8, it is an incredibly affordable option for beginners.
Find your favorite pen.
Having a nice black pen that is easy to write with can really enhance your journaling experience.
Most permanent markers—like the Sharpie—will bleed through all but the thickest of journal paper. Here are some other pens you might consider:
- Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens come in different sizes including fine, medium and big brush.
- Precise Rolling Ball Pen comes in fine and extra fine and is popular for its dark ink and even flow. (Note that as wonderful as they are to write with, they often leak after being on an airplane.)
- Sakura’s Pigma Sensei Pens are sized by the millimeter of the nib. They feature dark, wet, black ink that makes text pop.
- Yasumoto’s Liquid Stylist has a dense, smooth flowing ink that is easy to write with.
- Pentel Sign Pens are popular for signatures because of their big, sweeping strokes.
You may have to try multiple pens to find the one that is right for you.
Have tools to add color.
While you are welcome to keep a monochromatic visual journals, adding color can really help engage the right side of your brain. Try some of these tools
Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Once you’ve used them you know why they are worth the extra money. The pencils lay down a lot of color on the paper and unlike markers, won’t bleed through the page.
Paper Mate’s Ink Joy Pens. These colored ink pens write thin colored lines effortlessly and are simply fun to play with. The best part? They are really affordable!
Crayola Crayons. Remember the joy of a new box of crayons? You can experience it again. They are cheap and lay color on paper just as well as you remember.
Tombow Brush Markers. If you are working with sketch weight paper in your journal, you may want to try Tombow brush markers. There are tons of YouTube videos demonstrating techniques and people love them for the way the inks blend and that the brush marker allows you to paint on the color or vary your stroke.
Bonus: Two Handy carrying cases
The Kokuyo NeoCritz Transformer Pencil Case works like a standard zipper pencil case, except that you can stand it on its end and fold the sides down so that it fans out all of your pencils making them easy to get to.
When I first started carrying crayons in my purse, the cardboard box they came in didn’t hold up, resulting in a lot of broken crayon sadness. Then, I discovered cigarette cases. They come in a variety of styles and are the perfect size for carrying crayons.
Over time, as you practice, you will find the tools that are exactly right for you. But in the meantime, experiment. It’s fun to test drive things.