Creative Journaling Toolkit – Journaling Supplies: Choosing your journal

Before we begin: A note about the supplies

There are many different possible supplies to use in your creative journal – it would be nearly impossible to list them all. In the interest of not overwhelming you and getting you into your journaling practice as soon as possible, I’ve only included a few of my absolute favourite supplies.

You can have a powerful journaling practice using only the most basic supplies (I do), but later if you feel inspired to explore different art supplies and techniques then you should do so.

Don’t use the excuse of needing the ‘right’ supplies to allow you not to start!

You should use whatever you have, whatever you love to use. This should be fun and not an exercise in frustration and overwhelm!

The first thing I want to do is introduce you to some basic supplies. Once you’ve gathered the things you need, we will explore some of the basic techniques.

Choosing your journal

Choosing your journal is both really important and not at all important, depending on what type of person you are. I’ve known people who journal in any old notebook – simple lined school exercise books that are only a dollar each.

But that’s not me. I love nice stationery, beautiful books, luxurious covers and papers. I want to be able to line my journals up nicely when I’m finished with them; a gorgeous volume of my life.

My favourite notebooks

Having a journal that feels a bit more special than any old notebook makes my journaling practice feel like a sacred act.

Having said that, I don’t spend a fortune on my fancy notebooks or journals. I used to buy lovely Paperchase and Paperblanks notebooks for about $40 each, but that was when I was only journaling occasionally and they would last me several years. As I now journal almost every day, I go through a journal every few months, and I don’t want to feel like the journal is too expensive to use too quickly. It needs to be something that feels lovely to write in, but that I can happily fill knowing I can get another one easily and cheaply enough.

For me, that’s a Moleskine. Initially I thought they were really expensive (my first one cost me $42 from a boutique art supply store – don’t forget I live in New Zealand where everything is twice the price!) but then I started buying them from Book Depository. It takes a few weeks for them to be delivered, but the price is so reasonable (and shipping is free). I just make sure I order my next one early enough.

A Moleskine is actually reasonably plain, compared to the Paperchase journals I used to buy, but it feels quite nice, and I use a lot of paint, washi tape, stickers and stamps in my journal entries to brighten it up (we will cover this a bit later).

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Softcover Moleskine journals – XL and L – bursting with journaling goodness!

How to choose your journal

When it comes to choosing a notebook for your own journaling practice, here are some things to keep in mind:

Paper thickness

Something to consider is how thick you want the paper, depending on what type of supplies you will use. Moleskines are pretty thin so my stamps often bleed through the paper, which is annoying. I’ve also heard from other people that they can be a bit thin for pens like Sharpies or ink/fountain pens. They work fine for my gelly pens, and the way I use paint in them is usually fine (you’ll learn this technique soon).

Just think about how much wet media you want to use – the more wet media, the more likely you will want thicker paper (or, you will need to gesso the pages first, which we will explore later).

Hard or soft cover

I like the soft covered Moleskine because I love the way they feel in my hands – almost buttery. Also, a soft cover means the journal can expand a lot when I cram it full of collage, paint, etc. I found that the hard cover journal was nearly bursting when full and didn’t hold it all as nicely.

Types of binding

There are many types of binding but the main thing to consider is whether or not you want to work on individual pages or across a two page spread. A spiral bound notebook is good for individual pages and it can be handy being able to fold the page around and sit flat, but a perfect bound book is better for doing two page spreads because you don’t have the spiral dividing the spread in half.

Lined or unlined pages

Another thing to consider is if you want your journal lined or unlined. This really comes down to personal preference. I used lined journals for years, but now since I have expanded my journaling practice I tend to choose unlined journals because I feel like there is a bit more freedom. It means that I can paint without worrying about the lines, and I can do mindmaps and lists, as well as writing standard journal entries. I still manage to write straight enough without the lines, so I’m happy.

I like having the freedom to write however I’m feeling that day – messy and big, or small and neat, maybe making some words bigger, practising handwritten typography with quotes I want to record, or just doing a mindmap of something that’s bothering me. It also means that I can put washi tape wherever I like – to create a heading or a border, for example – and put my stamps wherever I want to decorate my pages.

Having an unlined journal means there is a little more artistic freedom for me to explore and get creative.

Alternatively, you might like to have a lined journal for your writing and a plain one for doing visual spreads. The techniques I will show you lend themselves well to unlined pages, and combine written and visual approaches. Of course, these could just as easily be done over lined pages. It’s personal preference, really.

Other options

At the end of the day, you can really journal in pretty much anything you like. A composition book will work just fine. I’ve seen people use magazines and paint over the pages.

Another thing you can do is alter a book – get a decent book at a thrift store (make sure it has good paper and a proper sewn binding), gesso each page and paint in there. I like to do this too.

You could also work on loose pages of paper and put them in a binder, use rings or string to attach them, or bind them together when you have enough pages.

Think about how much you are prepared to spend, and if you are happy to spend that much again when you fill your journal – which, with regular practice, will be soon!

Whatever you do, don’t let the act of choosing your journal become an act in procrastination. It doesn’t have to be the perfect notebook, so don’t spend hours in bookstores and browsing online (I’m prone to over-researching and then being paralysed by indecision). Choose a notebook so we can get on with it!