art journal reflections

When a new year rolls around, I definitely find myself reflecting back on my past work and what I should focus on in the future. This year, I decided to pull out all my old art journals from years past. I have more sketchbooks in my parents house back in Southern California, but here with me in Italy, I have journals from around 2009-2016. Wow, 7 years is a long time and suddenly I felt a bit disappointed in myself. I mean… one should be able to accomplish great things in that long span of time, right? A pile of sketchbooks suddenly didn’t seem like a great record of my achievements… but then again, there were definitely long periods when I barely touched a journal, especially when my son was born. I always say that motherhood kicks my butt every single day!

art journals

I thought it would be fun to share snapshots of my progression as I look through my own scribblings, from oldest sketchbook up to present day. I was able to put them roughly in order, although there is some overlap because I’m notorious for working in multiple journals, starting new ones and never finishing… but more on that later…

So this first journal is actually a compilation of random loose artwork that I created. I simply decided to bind them all together by sewing scrap pieces of leather together to create a full page size journal. With simple longstitch binding, I put it all together and here are some snapshots of the inside.

art journal1 cover

journal1 binding

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Looking at these older works, I realized that I used to experiment more with different mediums and color. It’s making me miss watercolor, even though I’m a total novice at it. I’m sort of infatuated with painting as well – but I’m not one who loves messy hands, so watercolor would probably suit me better – especially now with little kids. I suppose from this first journal I should take away the observation that creative experimentation is a good thing and I should do it more – the whole point of art journals, don’t you think?

journal2 cover

My next journal is the phase when I really concentrated on drawing and doodling. Lots of variations and cartoon drawing practice. I made this sort concertina-type journal and I don’t really love it because I wanted to bind it in a spine book format all together, so it just makes the pages not lie totally flat. The point of concertina is to open up the folds! Oops. Live and learn.

journal2 inside1

journal2 inside2

journal2 inside3

journal2 inside4

There is also a lot of watercolor in this journal, as well as markers and colored pencils. I suppose, the observation is that I used a lot of color, whereas nowadays it’s not a common thing in my journals. Weird, because I do love color… maybe I’ve gotten afraid to use it. I have always considered myself in need of help in the color department. I’ve never had formal color theory art school training, so it’s all sort of a mystery to me. But maybe I’m making it to be a bigger issue… I should just go for it. More color!

journal3 cover

My next journal is definitely a mixed media art journal style. I upcycled a clothing catalog booklet, so I had to gesso over each page. I used a lot of paint and got quite messy (tried to), so the pages are thick and sometimes stick together. I was following Crescendoh a lot and definitely attempted to let go and experiment more.

journal3 inside1

journal3 inside2

journal3 inside3

journal3 inside4

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I found that I liked collaging, so that part of mixed media really appealed to me. Paints still felt really messy, so it was this weird struggle of really loving the look and wanting to play, but then being bothered by the messiness. I obviously also incorporated just blank ink drawings and some watercolor still.


At this same time I also made myself a little A-Z art journal, which I have already blogged about showing each and every page – so you can check it out here. It’s definitely a mixed media art journal where I played around with paints and collage and illustration. Definitely a mix here as well.


My next journal is small one that I received from a handmade book swap and I really like the smaller size. It was also a period of my life that I didn’t have much time in general, so little doodles here and there was all I could pull off.






I started off with some collage, but this journal is definitely the point where I turned mostly to the black ink pen. Doodling was accessible and easier to do with limited time. Perhaps though, it has become a bit of a crutch for me, as I have really steered away from any other mediums and experimentation. Uh oh!


My next journal I might have started as I neared the end of the previous small one. I made this out of a shopping bag, because I loved that brown shiny material and use some leather to finish off the binding. I might have also wanted a slightly larger journal for some experimentations as well.






I still see collage here, so it’s definitely something that has stuck. I was obviously into old book paper and trying to figure out if I could incorporate it with my drawings as many other illustrators draw on vintage paper. But of course I was just going through the motions, I’m not sure the book paper adds a whole lot. In terms of the line drawings, I definitely starting using a lot of sharpies, so super thick lines. That meant more simplification of my drawings, rather than being tight or detailed. Not sure if it’s a good or not good thing?


The next journal might have been started in conjunction with the previous as well. It’s an art journal I made for myself but with super thick painting paper. So this was definitely my mixed media attempts to incorporate paint and messiness into my creative practice.






I actually had the honor of sharing a little tutorial of how I create some pages on Julie Fei-Fan Balzer’s blog here. Because the paper was so thick, I created and bound each page into the journal as I went along. I also drew a lot of loose leaf paper and just collaged it into this journal as well. You can see that I was finding it hard to just stick with one journal and work through it chronologically. It’s all a big mash up for sure.


My next journal is a leather bound journal I made for myself with a wraparound closure. I just really loved the metallic leather I salvaged, so had to make the journal immediately. I probably started this one while my other ones were in progress as well.







Looking inside, you’ll notice it was pretty much all black ink doodles. I was going through my first pregnancy at this point and was really tired most of the time. I also noticed that I was drawing little doodles here and there, but didn’t actually journal as much in words. Most everything was black and white, but I did find this one color image above. I messily smeared in the paint to add color and really like the loose look. Why don’t I do that more often, right?


My next journal is another leather bound journal I made, but no wraparound closure this time around. The wraparound was sort of annoying and in the way. Since I don’t travel with my journals, the extra protection was not necessary. At this point, I had my first son to take care of and there was definitely less time to get messy. It was about stealing some creative moments here and there when he was asleep and I wasn’t too tired to get some creative playtime in.





In looking through this journal, I actually really love a lot of the drawings during this time. I sketched in pencil as well as black pen, and it seems like I took more care in creating each doodle. There are obviously huge gaps in timeline in this journal, meaning, it’s not like I created every day or even every week. I suspect there are giant gaps, but I’m not great at dating things either. But I think it was more about when I did find the time, I savored it and dove in. But if I didn’t have time or didn’t feel like it, I didn’t really force myself to do anything at all. Maybe that’s why it seems like the quality was a bit elevated, because I only put in something when I had a spark.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad thing. Journals are supposed to be a space to experiment and explore. It’s not just about creating a pretty collection. But it’s certainly nice to have a cute collection in an entire journal instead of pages you end up hating. Haha! At this point I also started to develop my little girl characters and made them a bit more realistic in terms of the eyes, rather than just dots. It’s all still cartoony, but I felt a bit more confident drawing them.


My next journals are definitely a mish mash of pages. I realized that after having a kid, I sort of fell off the bandwagon of journaling in any kind of consistent manner. I’m also a scrapbooker, but fell off that bandwagon as well, even though there were many attempts to restart. I know there were probably months at a time that I created nothing at all. I’m not sure if it was the time or the motivation… or a combination probably. I made the mistake (twice) to not really take a long maternity leave. I mean, I took some time off, but I quickly got back to work because as a freelancer designer, time is money. I couldn’t turn away client work for months – I just couldn’t afford to. But it meant that sometimes I had to work for deadlines that clashed greatly with my personal life… caring for kids, when they get sick and need you. It’s just so different than being adults in the household.





Anyway, looking at this particular journal put together with binding rings and loose leaf pages, I noticed that I started to draw a lot on loose leaf pages. This means there’s no good chronology because I don’t naturally date or label things all the time, except for when I would join challenges like #The100DayProject and other similar efforts on my instagram. I can see some little periods of consistency when I committed myself to a challenge. I suppose that is why challenges are so popular, to get you to create consistently!


So when I was able to slow down, I really like my pencil sketches and creative musings. But I also know that I was increasingly losing patience and often would sit down for 5 minutes to create something too quickly (wanting a good result) and ending up demoralized and throwing things away. Lots of loose leaf pages for sure. I suppose it was another weakness in working on cheap ‘ole copy paper. It meant I could create a lot, but it meant a lot of starting over and not accepting mistakes. If you work in a bound journal, you have to work with your mistakes, not rip the page apart. So I’m not sure if this was a growth time for me at all… I do feel as if I’ve stayed the same… a bit stagnant and stuck at times.

Be Mine LTieu drawing

I definitely went through a period of just drawing girl characters with a sharpie – and I still do this. I like these drawings a lot, although trust me there’s many many that I ripped apart, threw away, started over, etc. Again, I’m not sure if this is really a great thing, because it’s feeding my addiction to wanting things “perfect” or “right” and nothing having to deal with mistakes. I have also previously blogged about drawing these little girls here. It was at least a good thing for me to create something, even if it was very simple.


Again, during this time I have started many other journals, but just a page or two inside and I would get distracted and just never got back into it. In fact, the pile of incomplete journals is pretty much the same height as the pile of completed ones I have shared so far. See the photo, below? The pile on the left are the completed ones and on the right are various mish-mash attempts at something that I could never follow through with.

journals stacked

Here are a few snapshots of how I tried sort of scrapbooking, memory keeping type pages, I tried to get messy and paint again (that didn’t really go far because the messiness part just isn’t for me at this situation of my life with little kids) and doodling of course.


I also still draw my girls on loose leaf pages and you can see that on my instagram feed as well. So a review of so many years past and what I have done… hmm, not sure but perhaps I feel a bit deflated. I mean, there are definitely things I love and am proud of… but also a lot of neither here nor there feelings. Confusion and lack of focus, I suppose. And now… well, it’s 2017. How should I move forward? What should I create? Can I get myself back into a bound journal? Should I just stick with loose leaf pages?

Maybe, I should stop trying to define things and have so many rules? But that is my nature. I like to have structure and a sense of control, I suppose. Virgo! I went ahead and signed up for Life Book 2017 (that’s my affiliate link), so I suppose that is a sign that I want to get back into creating and experimenting. A big part is also about self-care. Taking better care of myself and not always just sacrificing for the kids, for the kids, for the kids. I hope I don’t sound selfish and a horrible parent to complain about the kids taking over my life… ugh… that is exactly the thoughts that pop into my head, whenever I want to take a little time for myself. It’s definitely a struggle. But I know that I will be a better mother, if I take care of myself and my needs as well.

I should also note that in the past couple of years, I might have been lacking in the creative sketchbooking habit, but it might be because I worked MANY more freelance hours. I also have an Etsy shop as well as jumping on Patreon recently. So… there are other things going on in my life. But I think that is where the uncertainty comes in. I wish there could be better balance. When I do something in one arena, I don’t want the other parts of life to crash and burn. I tend to do that… really focus on one thing because I’m super excited about it and then other stuff just falls to the waysides a bit too much. Live and learn. Perhaps it’s about paying more attention to what is going on as well.

That is why, reflecting on the past and trying to use the information to live better is a nice exercise. I highly recommend you do this for yourself!

I am definitely optimistic for 2017 and looking forward to many things and doing many things. This year I also recognized my need for better planning and that is why I started bullet journaling. Despite the difficulty in keeping up that as a habit as well, I’m determined to keep at it and definitely notice a difference. I’m also more aware of my situation and that helps reduce stress and anxiety. I will definitely share my new bullet journal that I made for the 2017 start as well (can’t help by add another journal to the pile, huh)!?

I wish you an amazing year and this is probably the longest blog post of all-time. If you stuck to it all the way to this point – WOW! Thank you so much for your attention and interest. I hope that sharing might have helped you in your creative journey as well. Please share below if you want to share your blog url or where you post your journaling!

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