Illuminating My World

(This is a recovered post from 2013~It has been edited to take out broken links. I have tried to replace the pics as well!~S)

Great artists have sketchbooks and great writers have journals. But you don’t need to be or have a desire to be great to enjoy journaling. There are so many benefits to journaling: health benefits, personal growth, memory keeping, skills exercises for creatives, planning, organization…And I have used my journal for all of those things.

You can tell this is an old drawing because it has a device called a “calculator” in it…

But one of the most unique things about working in an illuminated journal is that it is what I think meditation is supposed to be…I don’t know any other way to describe it. I understand there are huge benefits to meditation along the same lines as those for journaling in general. And I have tried meditation many times. But when I sit there trying to blank out my mind and be “relaxed” and “in the moment”…I feel like a complete idiot. But when I am opening up my senses to what is around me, documenting the sights and sounds and focusing on the minute details of something directly in front of me, I TOTALLY GET IT! I am one hundred percent IN THAT MOMENT. My mind is ONLY on the right here and right now…what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling. If I choose to, I can write about what I think of those things, but that comes later….afterward. For a few moments, your brain SHUTS UP and you can BREATHE!

To paraphrase Hannah Hinchman, author of A Life in Hand, Creating the Illuminated Journal, you become a doorway when you open the journal. Images and events pass through you and settle on the page in front of you. This is the illuminated part of your journal. This is imagery of the world you live in. This is what you draw. What you can’t draw, you record in notes off to the side. Open up. Draw the first thing that catches your eye. Make a note to the side about what is unique about it. Also note what you are hearing. If the wind is blowing, note that too.. draw it, write it, show it, tell it.

The journaling part is the writing…Though sometimes you need to illustrate what you are feeling, that counts too! This is where you pour out your feelings and thoughts and plans. I have pages filled with rage and love and nitpicky irritations and hero worship. I have designed a secret bedroom filled with books, a pool for the backyard, and made a list of the foods I think are icky. I drew a cartoon villain character to represent my doubts and hero character to represent me at my best. On good day, I draw a cartoon where the hero me wins. On a bad day, I draw one where the villain wins. Then I write about what happened that day. This is my least favorite part of the journal as I often put things that I would die of embarrassment if anyone read. But it really does help me and when I look back, I can see the ebb and flow of events a little more objectively. This truly helps me be a better person today.

BE FREE! Grammar and wordsmithing are not important. You are not trying to impress anyone. Accurate drawing is not important either, so no “but I can’t draw!” types of comments. This isn’t about the finished product. It isn’t even about deep thoughts, unless you want it to be. It’s about the doing. The act of documentation of your life at a specific moment. If this helps you create something, then GREAT! But I hope that the doing of it will be the goal.  I hope the doing of your illuminated journal becomes a pleasurable investment in your well-being.

My first titled journal that I can remember was called “Volume One: Leftover Candy Canes”… I had a basket which had Christmas candy canes still in it on my end table. I drew the basket and the candy canes on my cover page.


You will need a hard backed sketchbook and pen. I prefer a sketchbook small enough to carry around with you, but any will do. I like the ones bound like books, but those spiral ones are great to start off. Just look for ones with unlined paper.

There are many ways to start an illuminated journal. Since I started with A Life In Hand, I thought I’d use that as a guide for all of you. Let’s start with a title page. If you are using sketchbook that you have already begun drawing in, no problem. Just make a title page out of the very next blank page. Something as simple as “My Journal, Vol. 1” … maybe include a quote that has been rolling around in your brain lately, a song lyric. And just doodle around the page. Color it if you want to. Example: My first titled journal that I can remember was called “Volume One: Leftover Candy Canes”… I had a basket which had Christmas candy canes still in it on my end table. I drew the basket and the candy canes on my cover page.

If you have a brand new book and are a bit intimidated by all the brand spanking newness, go back about 4 or 5 pages from the front and make an entry there. Set a timer and draw as fast as you can for one minute the very first thing you see after you find the page. It’s not supposed to be good.. it was a timed drawing! But you have broken the pristine newness of your sketchbook. Perhaps you could do that title page now?

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