Visual Journal, Sketchbook, Art Journal or Studies?

Visual Journal, Sketchbook,  Art Journal or Studies?

Very few of us know consider the different functions of each. If we did, we would probably make better use of our resources and clarify our practice.

This is my classification of these different “containers” as I understand them, but by no means you have to keep them all!


A sketchbook isn’t supposed to be beautiful, as much as all those YouTube artists with spectacular sketchbooks want to make us believe.

Practicing figures using the eight-head method

A sketchbook is for practice. Its’ where we will draw the same thing a million times to learn and find the ONE drawing that speaks to us. It’s for gathering ideas. To loosen up. We use page after page, and it doesn’t look pleasant. It’s the confidant of our clumsy lines, our proportion-less figures, our six-fingered hands. A sketchbook is our gym. Think about the simplest and most straightforward book to carry around.

Visual Journals

A visual journal is where we develop our vision; we explore our style, think and translate those thoughts, go deeper into our self-reflection, and develop our visual vocabulary. We might try different techniques, test materials. Make copies of masterworks, Create a compendium of elements that interest us and inspire us. We write in it. We bring it into a museum. Paste things into it, make lists, add to-do’s, copy, scribble, make composition experiments. Work towards an idea.

It’s the library of visual elements that we wish to develop. Think a mixed-media book.

Art Journals

The Art Journal is personal. It’s a sort of diary where we create to express ourselves. It’s an intimate place where we get to have fun (or not, maybe it’s a therapeutic activity). We document our words, memories, and ideas, though the goal is not to make it for others. Of course, you can share it, but the intention is to make these pages for yourself. It’s where you exercise maximum freedom. It’s a personal artifact. Think about a mixed media or altered book.



Studies, are preliminary drawings that will take you to a finished painting. They come after you’ve settled on an idea; maybe you’re working on the composition that you created in your sketchbook or visual journal, and now you have to work on it and find the perfect fit for your bigger piece. These small pieces will guide you to the whole. These are usually kept close by when you’re working on a collection or project.

I’ve been keeping only a sketchbook and making lots of little studies. I’m more deliberate and less precious about it. My visual journal is my iPad and Notion. But I can see how I could also use a physical book where I could print small versions of my iPad drawings, clippings, inspiration, vocabulary, etc.

You don’t have to use all of these. I wanted to write about the differences because sometimes it’s so hard to let ourselves go and really dig and explore. We are too preoccupied sharing stuff that we work too hard in the sketchbook and not enough in our visual vocabulary that will help us create our most personal work.

Here are other examples of things I’ve discovered since I’ve been using my sketchbook:

Figures. How I finally settled on an illustrative style


Wax pastel sketchbook drawing of a landscape

Learn different ways to exploit your sketchbook

Much of the freedom I found in my sketchbooks was a result of a few Domestika classes I took. Here are my top three picks.

I hope you find this useful and it encourages you to plunge into your sketchbooks with freedom.

Don’t forget to join The Studio Chronicles for essays, thoughtful inspirational resources, and surprise discounts for some of the classes I’ve shared here.
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