Vital Visual Journal

Visual journals are vital because they are exceptional at helping dreams manifest. I know because I have seen it happen. I’m speaking from not only my own experience but also from witnessing kids paint, dream, draw and write what they want to see for their future. The results are miraculous.

When I first discovered visual journals I was a student at UBC in the teaching from the heART cohort. Helen Keller was one of my teacher mentors and she was the first person to introduce me to visual journals. So I began creating my own to chronicle my experience as a teacher in training. I soon discovered the joy of using image to process, reflect and imagine what was going on in my life at the time.

Around the same time I was gifted the book, “Journey is the destination.” Featuring the beautiful and stunning collection of the late Dan Eldon’s creative writing and art. He brilliantly documented his adventures in Africa in this visual way.

Eldon’s work alongside the direction from my mentor inspired me to create my own journal and I have been doing so ever since.

What I love about visual journals is there is no right way to do it! The art and writing is a freedom act. You can reflect, paint, draw, scribble your way to discovering more about your life. They offer a snapshot on reality at the time you create the images. They mix the visual and the visceral, the image and the word perfectly. That’s why they are so brilliant because they offer a space to write and to visualize. The combination is stunning. Visual Journals aid in the practice of visualization and creativity perfectly.

The quiet, free expression is rare and most kids really relish in the chance to express without restrictions. The only requirement for this art piece below was the word gratitude.


Visual journals allow kids to be curious and wonder about gratitude, joy, truth, nature, and many more words while also painting and drawing their process of understanding the complex world. I wonder if I was given the opportunity as a kid to create a visual journal if I would be further along in my journey to becoming a writer/ illustrator? I wonder if I was able to ponder the word grateful if I would have appreciated more as a young person and been more aware of my privilege and how I fit into the greater sphere of complexity that is earth and all its inhabitants? I wonder if I had learned about visual journals as a girl if I would be more fully in line with my authentic self?

These questions flood my mind because I am now a mother of three young boys. Two of which are entering school. They are energetic, creative souls and I want them to stay that way. I want them to express their curiosities in a fun and free ways. I want them to find success the way I have seen other kids find success.

I have been an elementary school teacher for over a decade and have used visual journals with most of my students, so I am beginning to see the impact that visual journals can have over time. I am not claiming that the success of a given student is boiled down to any one thing I have said or a lesson or even visual journals themselves. I believe true success is a result of perseverance and disciple. However, what I think visual journals offer on the road to success is a window. They open windows of opportunity to reflect and imagine, which in turn helps clarify inner purpose.


For example one of the kids I taught in Africa is now playing rugby for his national team. Another boy I taught in Vancouver wanted to be a rockstar at age 9 and is actually performing in front of live audiences at the age of 12. You can find him on instagram @hunterandthejets. Another kid is race horsing and another is an air cadet so he can become a pilot. I mean a kid flying a real airplane. Let’s be honest… that is amazing!

Not all of these kids come from privilege either. Some of them come from families that struggle to support their dreams because of financial restrictions. Yet the sheer determination from the kids are creating incredible results and opportunities. This makes me smile a lot and it brings me joy. I want my kids to discover their inner purpose and drive like some of my former students have and I hope this activity becomes more common in schools.

So I thought I might share the first five steps of creating visual journals with the hope you might be inspired to create your own, teach your kids or students.


Step one: Choose any vintage/hardcover book that catches your eye. It’s an added bonus if there are pictures inside or articles that you can interact with. Choose a book that you have a connection with. I love these Children’s encyclopedias published by The Grolier Society Limited in 1921. The rich colour and fascinating images inside makes for a wonderful visual journal canvas. Also I managed to snag four versions of this encyclopedia.

Step two PAINT. Just have fun painting messy art that is not controlled or uptight. Have happy accidents. Don’t worry about covering up pages of writing. You should not be attached to the content. It is a canvas to work with but not contrived. Paint over the words already there. This will become your space for writing later on.

Step three is all about words. Select a theme like your name for example. Write about the meaning of your name. Or you could reflect on the history of the name or its connection to your ancestor. You can create a poem based on your name or write words out of each letter. For example CHARLIE could be described as Courage+ Heartfelt+ Adorable+Radical + Lively + Interesting+ Energetic.

Step four is fill your painted pages with more writing. Use a thick black pen that will show up over heavy paint/colour. Sometimes I set a timer and just write without stopping. I have to keep my pen moving. This is a great activity for getting a flow of ideas out and kids like the pressure because it gets words on the page.

Step Five: Add new images of photographs and magazine clippings to fit a them or future vision of yourself. Pull in pictures that intrigue you or you connect with to create a vision board for your future. The clippings can be glued on the page with modge podge. You can also include old plane tickets, ticket stubs or maps. You can add stencils or stamps.

So there are the simple steps to creating your own visual journal or offering it to students in your classroom or your kids. I hope if you decide to create a visual journal you might share some of your artwork with me. You can tag me @emilyscale on instagram or use the #wordwarriorz. I hope to continue this process with my kids and help them discover more of their creativity hidden within.

Do you love visual journals? Have you ever created one before? If so what was your experience? Please share in the comments.

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