Journaling For Artists (Part 1) - Always Carry a Notebook [PDF]

I promise you that if you spend $2 today, it will make you twice the artist within a few weeks! Journaling is not only for journalists, everyone can gain loads from it.

My main reason for creating art is to invite people to change themselves in a big or small way. To challenge their perception of something, or to show a different view of a specific subject. Some artists set out to make people laugh, which will make their over-all life better. There are also artists that create solely for themselves. Whatever reason you have for creating art, is just as good as every other reason.

I’ve done my fair share of traveling around the world. Being a travel photographer and writer for the first decade of my career has put me on more planes than I can remember. I’ve always liked to travel light, and there’s probably only ONE thing that I would leave my home country (or even my apartment) without.

A nice, simple journal.

It is one of the cheapest pieces of equipment you can buy (even if I tend to buy the more fancy, hipster brands) but nothing has given me more in return. Find one that you like, and make sure it is small enough to carry everywhere!

Here are three things ways a notebook can help you create better art (together with as many how-tos!)!


It will help you open your senses

I believe there are two (main) states in the creative process. The most obvious would be when we actually make art, we sit down to write, paint or compose – we are creating. We gather material in from our brains and mix them with materials in the real world to create more or less tangible art. But even if you don’t spend too much time thinking about it, there’s an as big part that has to take place before you can start creating.

When we aren’t creating, we are consuming. Inspiration is all around you if you just care to look! Nothing ever just appear in our head from thin air – somewhere, sometime we encountered an impression that made that stick in our head. A piece of inspiration that we stitch together with other pieces of weird memories and use later on.

We have all the inspiration that we need around us, all the time. There are so many impressions in the world that we would never run out of inspiration. But even though that is the truth, we aren’t taking advantage of it. Why? For me, and probably for a big chunk of you guys out there, it’s because of two reasons.

First, we are not mindful enough to open up for it. We are so deathly afraid of doing nothing for just a single second, so we pick our phone up the minute our coffee date goes to the bathroom. Then we spend those minutes scrolling through endless Instagram pictures – maybe even to “find inspiration”! God dammit fool, inspiration is all around you!

There’s beautiful music playing from the speaker in the tiny café, there are a million books just laying about all over the world and every building you pass – as inconspicuous as it might seem – is the result of someones tireless work to create a piece of art that fits into that particular space in the world.

The second reason why we aren’t able to soak everything up like a sponge is that we are not using all our senses. You most certainly have one or a few senses that are more perceptive to impressions than the others. Great! Now, let’s kick the other ones up a notch!

Here’s how to do it!

At least once a day (if you are traveling, do it as often as possible), sit down without any distractions and open your notebook. This could be when you are waiting for someone in a restaurant (it will also make you look really cool, like complicated-artists-creating-great-art-while-drinking-red-wine-cool!) or while on a train. Whenever you have 5-10 minutes, dedicate them solely to your notebook.

Now go through each of your senses, one by one.

What you see is the most obvious and usually the easiest. But don’t just describe the big picture, also go into extreme details: The pieces of paint falling from the wall, the tiny bug hiking over the tablecloth or the police man’s crow’s feet.

When you’ve written down everything you see, spend a short while identifying what kind of smells you find around you. The trick is to be very specific. Don’t just note “grilled chicken”, that is too vague. And try not to write WHAT you smell, write HOW it smells. Maybe “the oily smell from the chicken mixed with the dense fumes from the cars and the smoke from the coal — from time to time the fruity cologne of the chef manage to break through the heavy smells”. Be THAT specific.

Imagine that someone that never smelled that particular smell will read your notes. How would you describe a sight for someone that has never seen it?

Then do the same for what you can touch. What you can hear. Go through all the senses, one after another.

Pretty soon, you will notice that it happens automatically. You’ll start to notice the colors of the walls and the sounds from the kitchen. You’ll start to smell the food in front of you before taking the first bite, just to be able to figure out a way to describe it in words. The details of the people around you, even the colors of their eyes. Everywhere you go, will turn out to be a frikking Netflix-series!

[I’ve created a small cheat-sheet for you to print and put in your notebook, download that and other awesome things from The Cardboard Toolbox]


It will help you be more creative (because you’ll be happier)!

It’s pretty common knowledge that when put in a dangerous situation, your mind will limit your actions. If you’re out picking mushrooms and you look up and stand face to face (face to nose?) with a brown bear, you most certainly won’t reflect on whether or not a happy song would make him cheer up. Your brain will offer you very few options, usually fight or flight.

The interesting thing is that negative feelings and thoughts (fear, uncertainty, sadness etc) will limit your brain functions. You just won’t have as many options. This has been well-known for quite some time.

Up until a few decades ago, scientist thought that having positive feelings (joy, interest, gratitude etc) only made us feel happy. But after more than 20 years of research in positive psychology, they’ve been able to prove that just as negative feelings will narrow your mind, the positive ones will open it up! Yes! Being happy will make you more creative!

For some reason, it’s much easier to find and take note of the negative feeling and events around us. This is probably a leftover from our era in the caves where pretty much everything would be a possible cause of death (that sounds very much like an accurate description of Australia today, doesn’t it?).

But we can train our brain to focus less on the negatives, and more on the positive thus making us happier and more creative in the long run.

This is how you do it!

Scientists have found out that one of the main traits in happy personalities is gratitude. Feeling grateful for what you and others have.

A while back, I started to write down 3 things that I was grateful for every day. It has great impact on my life and the way I feel. It is extremely simple, but it makes you start actively looking for the good in the world and your life.

First, decide on when you want to do this exercise every day. You can do it early or late, whatever fits you, but it is important that there’s a very concise trigger for you. You could keep your journal next to your bed and promise yourself that you will not get out of bed before you’ve finished (this could be disastrous if you don’t actually have something to do that will make you have to get out of bed). Or it could be when commuting to work. Or at a specific time every day.

If you have a family or spouse, decide to share three things every day when having supper!

The trigger could be anything, as long as it occurs every day and is very specific.

When the trigger occurs, open your notebook (no distractions) and write down three positive things that happened during the last 24 hours. It shouldn’t be grand events, as long as they are specific. A great meal, the fresh bed sheets or a nurturing chat with a friend that left you feeling more creative than ever.

Before you close the book, spend a minute to meditate on those things. Allow yourself to feel grateful for what you have.

[Download the PDF if you want a small reminder to do this every day – You’ll find it here!]


It will make you share more of your art!

Another trait of happy people is that they always share and help others. It’s been proven that not only does it make the people receiving happier, it also makes the person giving feeling better!

This is one of my favorite ways of using my notebook. The book I use has a number of perforated pages at the end which makes it possible to tear them out and share.

When I work in a café or other public place, I sometimes write down something that helped me on one of the last pages in my notebook, something that might help someone else. Then I tear it out, fold it and write something like “This is for you!” or draw a heart on the outside. Then I leave it on the table or a bench. Wherever I think someone might find it.

This is how you do it!

I guess this is pretty self-explanatory. But remind yourself to actually DO this from time to time. It doesn’t matter if you usual art is something that can be translated to a piece of paper. That is the beauty of a notebook page, it doesn’t have to be a grand piece of work, it’s a kind of a sketch!

Ask yourself “How can I make someone’s day a little better”? If you feel stuck, imagine yourself finding a folded note. What would you like it to contain? A few words of wisdom? A funny comic? Don’t overthink it. Make it.

What if you are a singer? You can’t really make the paper play a song, right? Well, maybe a short part of your favorite song?

The important thing is to just do it. It is beautiful because there’s no pressure in it. If you want to you could write your name at the bottom, but I prefer to leave it anonymously. There’s a kind of beauty in creating something without expecting anything in return.


Good luck my friend, let me know how it goes!


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Jens Lennartsson
Written by
Jens Lennartsson

I want more people to create and become more fulfilled persons. I’m an artist and storyteller, living in Sweden. Most comfortable in my 1973 Mercedes camper van.

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