Keeping a Studio Journal

How to Keep a Studio Journal

Last week I shared my very first video Studio Journal – and got a big old outpouring of love, well-wishes, and the request to do more.

Kathy posted a great question in the comments, asking what I write about in my studio journals.

Today’s video shows you what one of my studio journals looks like, and what in the heck goes inside.

Studio Journal, January 16, 2017

Why Keep a Studio Journal

A studio journal helps you document your creative process. Without documentation, it can seem like you’re lost in the woods when it comes to your creativity and your reasons for making art.

A studio journal can document any type of project and be used for any medium – it’s not just for visual artists.

Documenting your studio practice is practical. It helps you keep track of your supplies, methods, tools and process.

Think: step-by-step instructions, recipes, paint mixtures, outlines, timelines, project goals.

Take notes on how you made something, so you can make it again or re-create an effect.

Documenting your studio practice can also be therapeutic and spiritual, if you take notes on how you are feeling as you work. This is especially helpful for noting difficult feelings and how you work with them in your art.

How do you deal with resistance? Not wanting to work? What kind of patterns do you notice? When you take notes in your studio journal you are building a framework for how you are working at a particular time and place.

Having this framework helps you recognize the ways you do your best work, and what gets in the way of working.

Seeing this in black and white, in the pages of your notebook, can help you quickly get back on track, return to your center and continue working — whatever it is that you are facing.

These are just some of the benefits of keeping a studio journal. It’s a big subject!

How to Make a Studio Journal

The best thing is to keep it simple and use any old notebook you can find.

The minute you use a fancy or expensive journal to do your studio journaling, you might think things like:

OMG, this paper is too nice for just writing. I better paint the pages first.


My handwriting sucks. I hate the way I write. It’s too messy for this book.

You know what happens, then?

Not much.

Suddenly we’re off to find the perfect way to document our work, and then nothing gets written at all.

If I sound like I know what I’m talking about… yeah. I’ve so been there. Hashtag #perfectionism.

Start Your Studio Journal

  1. Grab any old notebook.
  2. Use it to take notes on your creative process.
  3. Date each entry so you can track it. Like you would in a journal or diary.
  4. Decorate the cover if you want. (Later. After you’ve already started taking studio notes.)
  5. Keep your notes private. Privacy will support you to say anything in your mind and heart. Honesty and truth-telling supports artists to do their best work. Having a private space to work is essential.

What to Write About in Your Studio Journal

Here are some of the things I write about and take notes on in my studio journal:

  • Notes about the project or body of work I’m creating – this includes what inspired the project, and where I envision the work going
  • Supply lists
  • Techniques used – think of these like recipes
  • Sacred Downloads – the inner wisdom that comes in as I’m working – I have to write it down or I’ll forget it later
  • Ideas
  • Random stuff – to-do list items, people to call… I just write it down because the studio journal is handy and then I’m not getting anxious over trying to remember to put something on the to-do list later
  • Research Notes – things I want to look up
  • Books related to the work
  • Artwork and artists that inspire me in that moment

Everyone will approach their studio journal differently, and that’s great. I recommend you experiment to see what sorts of things you want to document.

Your Turn

Do you keep a studio journal? What do you document and how do you use your journal?

Are you inspired to start keeping a studio journal? What questions do you have? What would you like to keep a studio journal for?

HUGE Gratitude

Thank you all so much for your feedback. I will keep the videos coming. It’s quite a fun new experiment. I’ve always loved documenting my process, and doing with video will open up whole new worlds.

Especially since you are out there watching. This really means a lot to me, so thank you again.

Feel free to ask questions, and let me know what you’d like to see in future videos.

35 Responses to Keeping a Studio Journal

  1. Sandra Busby March 14, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    This is such an inspiring blog post Lisa, thank you! I totally relate to what you say about using any old notebook, because the minute I buy a ‘special’ one, I am too scared to spoil the pages! Hopefully yo won’t mind if I add a link to this blog post to my own, which I’ll be publishing tomorrow afternoon? I’d love to share with my own followers :0)

    • Lisa Sonora March 15, 2017 at 10:57 am #

      Sandra – Yes, please do link to this post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Theresa Petermann February 2, 2017 at 4:27 am #

    I have kept a studio journal for years. With each new project I go through the same process and document it as I go along. Inspiration, Decisions, Construction, Finishing. Inspiration can be one line or a page full depending on what set me on the course for a particular work. Decisions can include mind mapping out an idea, or materials to use, or testing out a theory. Construction contains all the particulars so that if I ever want to recreate a step or process, I have it written down. This is particularly helpful. Finishing includes my thoughts/emotions after a piece is complete. Sometimes I am ready to jump right into the next thing. Sometimes I need some down time. Still creating but something completely different and for me, mindless. I also include a photo(s) of my finished project. Doing all this helps me to see the originality of my work and keeps the ideas flowing. I have several idea journals going all the time. When I get “stuck”, I just go to one of my journals and open a page. That’s where I start from. thanks so much for sharing.

    • Lisa Sonora February 2, 2017 at 9:57 am #

      Theresa – Thank you so much for detailing your own studio journal process. It’s so helpful for all of us!

  3. Sherry-Lynn January 24, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    I love these videos! Please keep them coming.

    I did not have a studio journal until after watching this video. I picked up an unlined notebook that I had in my stash of notebooks. As suggested, it is not a precious journal or notebook. I plan to record my recipes for creating my art and some reflective thoughts about the process of creating the art piece. Up until now, I have just added post-it notes to my art with notes, which is not an efficient way to record anything. Thanks for the tips on creating a studio journal! And thanks for sharing!

  4. Cody Doll January 20, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    I keep one to write down all my notes in for ideas. I can’t always be in my studio creating so I love having a place to keep up with my ideas. I love the idea of writing notes as or after you create.

  5. Simply Sumaiyah January 18, 2017 at 8:28 pm #

    What an awesome idea. I usually grab whatever scrap of paper is in my work space. Months later I don’t know what artwork the cryptic notes are referring to. This solves that! Thanks for sharing the idea and your studio and process.

    • Lisa Sonora January 19, 2017 at 8:37 am #

      Exactly! I still end up writing notes on my studio table or on whatever paper is at hand when I’m working. Especially when my hands are full of paint. But then I go back at try to record everything in the Studio Journal.

  6. Emma-joan January 18, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Thank you Lisa
    I always enjoy your videos so much.
    Different things help me at different times.
    Recently it’s been scrubbing paint out of the floor of my rented flat as anxiety reducing therapy.
    I almost threw out all my old visual journals and although I did though some pages out, I stopped and consider it a major step forward in damage control. I’m getting rid of other kinds of clutter like clothes I don’t wear instead. It is easier to face making art again with clean floors. I was wondering if you ever struggle when feeling a bit down with messy studio and wanting to get rid of old journals and what helps you. Is it just giving the floors a good scrub and maybe putting things in order or do you have other tips for coping with this sense of wanting to purge. I feel like being intense and authentic and committed to growth can get exhausting because what felt so true two months ago does not feel true today. I am constantly in a process of rebuilding myself and my life from the inside out. It is painful and often makes me seem inconsistent and insecure and I seem to embody all that is unwelcome and does not conform or comfort. I long to conform, to be appropriate and less……less everything really. I know that sounds strange and that I will never be any of the things I sometimes with I was. Not to bleat on or moan but being an artist, seeking truth and interpreting the world around me can feel painful and isolating. I love your videos because they remind me that others like you manage to continue living authentic and courageous lives.
    Thank you x

    • Lisa Sonora January 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

      Emma-Joan – thank you so much for being brave and sharing so much of yourself. I just LOVE your questions, and so this will definitely inspire a future studio journal video.

      Organizing and purging stuff is something that really grounds me, and is necessary for my creative practice. It is part of the creative cycle to let go, as much as it is to gather and accumulate.

      One of my favorite books for getting organized and deciding what to keep, is Spark Joy by Marie Kondo.

      This has been a life-changing book for me. She doesn’t cover art materials specifically, but once you go through her process with your clothing and books, for example, you can take the lessons into your creative studio.

      More on the rest of your questions in a future edition of Studio Journal! Thanks so much for sharing today.

    • Nela Dunato January 18, 2017 at 5:33 pm #

      Hey Emma-Joan,
      I think that the urge to throw out old stuff is sometimes healthy, especially if you feel like it’s dragging you down.

      Last year when I took Lisa’s “Creative + Practice” course, I got the urge to throw out some of my old drawings, paintings and sketches that I’ve been accumulating for a decade. Ideas for art that I never got to creating. Old anatomy and figure drawing studies. It reminded me of my ambitions to be a “proper artist”, and how I never lived up to it. So it went in the trash. I don’t feel sorry for it.

      I felt so much better after admitting to myself that my days of trying to be a certain kind of artist were over, and that I will paint whatever the heck I want, with my crooked, “unprofessional” anatomy.

      I cannot claim that I know in any way how you feel, but I hope this bit regarding throwing things out helps…

      I wish you all the best 🙂

  7. Anne Dexter January 18, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks again Lisa,

    It’s lovely to see you working away on the other side of the world, inspirational as always. Interestingly keeping a studio journal was one of the most useful concepts I took away from art college, but I don’t keep it up as much as I should. I will be doing it now though, thanks to you. Love seeing the dogs too.

  8. Anne DeMarsay January 17, 2017 at 7:52 pm #

    Lisa, I’m just catching up with your first two videos. Thank you for showing us around your studio and introducing us to the idea of a studio journal. I need one for my fiction writing! I have places to put revision notes about the MS. I’m working on at the moment, but nowhere to capture those random thoughts about insights into characters, future work, and so forth. My sketchbook didn’t seem like quite right place, and now I remember your talking about project notebooks several years ago. Going to dig out an old notebook right now . . .

    • Lisa Sonora January 18, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      Great idea, Anne, to you for your fiction writing! Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s nice to see you here.

      • Anne DeMarsay January 20, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

        Lisa, I found an old biology lab notebook and made it my studio journal/book project notebook, because I like writing on graph paper. It inspires me to sketch and doodle along with writing. I just pasted a picture I liked on the front to cover the printed label, and voila! Thanks again for the idea.

  9. Jeanne-Sylvie January 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    What a brilliant idea!! The studio journal is definitely something i will do , i particularly like the “sacred downloads” this talks to me! Thanks for sharing, you are lovely in your video!
    I wish you a beautiful year filled with joy, inner peace and many great creative moments.

  10. Briana January 17, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    This is such a great post! I love every part, from the paint on your nose, to the glimpse of that gorgeous stencil, and especially this Studio Journal concept. Thanks so much for sharing! You’re awesome!

  11. Rene January 17, 2017 at 4:35 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    I am really inspired to do this! It never occurred to me before but it’s a great way to stay on track all in the same place. I am going to start keeping one. It’s the creative person’s answer to the “to do list” which I suck at as I don’t think in a linear fashion. Thanks for the useful tip.


  12. Nela Dunato January 17, 2017 at 4:21 am #

    Thank you for sharing this, I didn’t even realize I needed it! And I do. My notes are spread around my sketchbooks, and these sketchbooks are also filled with different stuff so finding studio notes is a pain.

    I’m having a difficult time finding the right notebook for writing + sketching, though. The thick sketchbooks are too heavy to carry along with my other general purpose sketchbook, and the school notebooks with blank pages have only 16-20 pages to them. Maybe those 3-pack thin Moleskines would do the trick, though I don’t like that brand. I don’t like spiral bound notebooks much, but that may be the only remaining option…
    (I live in Croatia and don’t want to spend too much $$$ on shipping, so I’m stuck with what I can get in local stores.)

    • Nela Dunato January 18, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

      I’m happy to report that I’ve found a blank page, hardcover notebook that isn’t too thick or too heavy. The paper is very thin – almost translucent, the notebook is made in China so it was pretty cheap, and for this purpose it will do.


      • Lisa Sonora January 19, 2017 at 8:37 am #

        Fantastic, Nela! Keep us posted on your studio journal progress.

  13. Colleen Mulrooney January 17, 2017 at 3:24 am #

    I love this! Especially the #perfectionism tips #beenthere
    This is a great idea, because also forget what I did or how I got an effect I want to replicate.

    And I love how your doggle didn’t seem to be affected by the firecrackers!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 <3

  14. Aura January 16, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

    Thank you Lisa! Love your videos! You are such an inspiration ❤️

  15. Rena January 16, 2017 at 8:36 pm #


    Thanks for posting the studio journal and explaining what goes in your process notebook.
    I like the idea and it makes sense. Your correct in that sometimes you create and do not remember how it came about exactly. Thanks for all the inspiration. Since taking your classes I now feel like I have a “tribe” of folks that I can relate to that inspire me. Keep the videos coming!!

  16. Paula January 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Lisa. I appreciate you taking a small risk by letting us come into your process and studio more. It helps me know you better and I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable with us all!

  17. Shauna January 16, 2017 at 7:57 pm #

    what a great idea! I am always making notes in my creative practice books (which I call my medicine books) because it is the paper I have handy but then I can’t always find what I want, especially about color palettes or other notes about paintings. this is genius! say hello to Connie, I love that you two are there together working and playing. makes me so happy!

  18. Cynthia January 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    Thank you for a wonderful idea, the studio journal. I am inspired by the simplicity and meaningfulness that this process can offer. Love your video and thanks for sharing.

  19. Janet January 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    I’m thinking this idea could also work as I work on music…particularly in noting the resistances and inner critic ramblings and seeing the patterns of their emergences.
    Thank you for sharing your process with the videos!

  20. Cindy January 16, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    So helpful Lisa, I have wanted to do this for sometime, but keep getting in my own way… Second guessing what to write about, how to write etc… Luv the video

  21. Patricia January 16, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    Fabulous video, Lisa! I love this series! Funny, just the other day I got the idea to make some notes while I paint but then let the idea slide by me. Thank you for the motivation I needed to keep that “studio journal”!

  22. joanne January 16, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    love this idea — so simple, but I never thought of it — I too look back at some paintings and say I wonder what steps I used to create that lol — will definitely try out your technique — am enjoying your videos — I noticed your apron — I purchased one last year when you were selling them, but don’t want to get paint on it lol — maybe one day I can come to a workshop at your beautiful studio —

  23. Barbara January 16, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    I just love your idea of a studio journal and these new videos you are doing! I usually work on a large piece of paper under my working area and would write the things that would come to me there as I am creating. The downfall of this is when it comes time to change the paper. I hate the thought of just tossing it out so I have just folded them up and kept them and never really looked at them again because of the inconvenience of looking through them. So now I am excited to keep it in a journal. Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea.

  24. Rossana January 16, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

    Hi Lisa, thank you so much for this beautiful idea. I always thought about a little book to take my art projects, schedule and so on…and now after your videoi want to do it. Thank you again! Love your videos!

    • Lisa Sonora January 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

      Do it, Rossana! And keep me posted on how it goes. Thanks so much for your kind words, too!

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