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What is Creative Energy Journaling?

Creative Energy Journaling is a series of activities to stimulate creativity, relieve stress and help you think more flexibly. A friend of mine called it “yoga for your brain”—what a great description!

I developed Creative Energy Journaling for myself and my students to give us the benefits of a creative practice without having to devote a lot of time, energy, space or money.

Anyone can do it! You can do it anywhere, in whatever little pockets of time you have, in whatever space is available—even when you are traveling. (Maybe especially when you are traveling!) You can even do most of these activities with your kids or grandkids.

And, instead of being one more chore to drain your energy, Creative Energy Journaling is designed to restore your energy and balance by providing the open-ended “mind-wandering” type of activities that research has shown to boost creative problem-solving and restore emotional balance.

And when you’re totally wiped out—so wiped out that you can’t find an ounce of any sort of energy—Creative Energy Journaling activities are soothing and restorative. I designed it to be something I could do even when life is kicking me in the butt!

Arm in cast, working in journal.
I can do this, even when life bites!

Creative Energy Journaling is—

  • a fun, free and spontaneous practice to enhance your creativity and access your intuitive wisdom
  • a collection of activities using a mix of images, stories, color, myths, pattern, conversations, poetry, doodles, free-writing, drawing, imagination and dreaming
  • non-chronological and spiralling back—you can start anywhere, work on any page, return to a page many times—no need to “finish” before starting a new page
  • intuitive, open-ended, adventurous—you can begin without any idea of where you’re going and find your way a little at a time
  • inexpensive, portable and easy to do in small chunks of time
  • a place for self-exploration and creative problem-solving
  • transformative—a way to discover and become your best and truest self
  • soothing and restorative—a way to recharge your creative energy and reconnect with your dreams


The best way to get a feel for Creative Energy Journaling is to just jump in and try a few of the many activities that can be done as “stand-alones”.

Here are a few good ones to play with:

Recommendations for suitable sketchbooks or journals for Creative Energy Journaling:

hardbound and spiral bound sketchbooks and a portfolio
Some possible journal/sketchbook options, including a portfolio rather than a bound book.

First, I should say that you don’t have to  keep an actual journal.  If you find a journal confining, feel free to use a folder, portfolio, scrapbook, drawer or box to save your work.

Or, feel free to just use these activities as stand-alone activities.

If you do want to use a journal or sketchbook, I recommend a spiral or hardbound journal with paper suitable for mixed media. There is a trade-off between having lovely, large pages and having a book portable enough to carry around. Something in the 9×12 range would be a good place to start, but see what appeals to you as far as size. Some of the ones mentioned below come in some interesting square formats (e.g. 9×9, 12×12), too.

If you choose a hardbound book, look for one that will lay flat (Smyth bound) when open. All of the hardbound ones mentioned here are like that.

Note: Because I’ve been getting a lot of “where to buy” inquiries, I’ve added links to a few of these at Wet Paint’s website.  There are other places you can buy, and I don’t get any sort of kick-back from Wet Paint :), but I do know and trust them enough to recommend them. If you prefer to buy elsewhere, a quick Google search will find all of these.

 Some good ones to try:

(Please put the name into your favorite search engine for buying info in your corner of the world.)

  •  Bee Super Deluxe (Aquabee) sketchbook (spiral bound)
  •  Stillman & Birn mixed media journals (I like the Beta series)
  • Kunst & Papier hardbound or binderboard journals (lighter paper, but I’ve had good luck with them, even using wet media); they also make a watercolor journal
  • Handbook hardbound watercolor journal
  • Stonehenge Spiral-Bound pad (they call it a pad, but it’s got enough pages to seem like a mixed media sketchbook)
  • Strathmore Visual Journal Mixed-Media (there are several types, be sure you get the mixed media or watercolor paper; the others are too lightweight)
  • Cheap Joe’s American Journey sketchbook

And two with 100% cotton watercolor paper, if you want something that responds more like other 100% cotton paper you might use for paintings:

  • Cheap Joe’s Kilimanjaro sketchbook
  • Etchr Labs watercolor journals (both their regular journals and their “special edition” have 100% cotton paper; I actually like the regular ones better, although the paper is just a smidge light weight).

Art Materials for Getting Started

You don’t need to start with a lot of artist-quality art materials (although you certainly can).  Kids’ materials and supplies made for office use and scrapbooking are fine for journaling.

They may not have the same intensity of color or lovely handling as artist-quality materials and the colors may fade over time if exposed to light, but journal pages are not exposed to light for years at a time the way art on your wall would be.

So start simple with your materials. There’s something liberating about working with kid’s art materials, anyway. I’m a working artist will all sorts of pricey artist-grade materials, but I still get jazzed about a new box of crayons!

Tap into that adventurous, free, creative spirit you were in kindergarten, before the schedules, carpools, and to-do lists squashed your creative self into a corner. What better way to coax some creative energy back into your life than to give yourself a little taste of kindergarten again?

Of course, you may choose to buy some lovely artist-quality materials as an affirmation of your decision to value and live a more creative life! Or just because you’re worth it! If something is calling to you, go for it!

Supplies you might want to try:

Some watercolors

A kids’ set (e.g. Crayola) is just fine to start with. You can find these at discount stores (Target, Walmart) as well as hobby and craft stores (Michael’s, JoAnn). Often, art supply stores will have them, too. They are very inexpensive ($1-$5) and portable.

A decent watercolor brush.

The ones in the kids’ sets are usually too small and don’t come to a decent point.  Look for a #10 or #12 round white or gold synthetic watercolor brush. You can usually find these in hobby stores or art supply stores for under $5.

Or, for portability, try a waterbrush. These have a reservoir you can fill with water, so you don’t even need to take a water container along.

Some crayons, colored pencils, markers or gel pens.

Again, feel free to start with kids’ materials or stuff intended for office use or scrapbooking. You can find multicolor sets in discount stores in the school supplies, office supplies or scrapbooking areas.  You don’t need all of them. Choose whichever you enjoy working with.

A permanent black pen.

Some to try: Pigma Micron, Staedtler, ultrafine Sharpie. This is useful when you want to draw something and then brush some watercolor over it without smearing.

Some acrylic paints and/or inks

You can buy relatively inexpensive tubes or sets in hobby and craft stores. The craft fluid acrylics in the little bottles actually work pretty well and handle comparably to professional fluid acrylics. The difference is in less-expensive pigments and less pigment overall, but if you’re not worried about archival quality, they are a great place to start out. I use them myself when I’m experimenting with things like pouring or making acrylic skins that use a lot of paint.

Tube acrylics are one place where the artist-quality stuff really is much nicer to work with. If you want to see the difference, consider buying just one tube of a favorite color in a professional brand to see if you like their handling properties and finished look better. Holbein, Golden and Nova Color are three I like. (Nova Color is only available online, which allows them to sell high-quality paint at a lower price.)

If you don’t like the super-fast drying of acrylics, or live in a dry climate, consider one of the ones formulated for a longer working time, such as Golden’s OPEN Acrylic line or Atelier Interactive.

If you’re trying to get started with minimal expense, or if you expect you’ll mostly be journaling where you don’t want to make a mess, skip these until you run across an activity where you really want to use them.

Pencils, a sharpener, a kneaded eraser, and (maybe) fixative.

The main thing I use pencil for is making my own transfer paper. (See the post about transferring images.  For that, you’ll want either a soft art pencil (4B, 6B or 8B) or a jar of powdered graphite.

For actually drawing or writing in your journal, you might be perfectly happy with a #2 office pencil or a mechanical pencil.  I don’t like the way pencil smears, so I don’t use it much in journaling, except for making some light guidelines occasionally, so any old pencil works for me.

But some people really love the feel of graphite on paper, and really love the soft, silvery look. If that’s you, then consider buying a few art pencils in different hardnesses. A good selection would be a 2H (for light, fine lines), an HB or B, and a 4B (soft enough to get nice darks).

If you work in pencil, a kneaded eraser will help you lift out graphite to lighten areas, and doesn’t leave a whole lot of eraser bits all over your work surface and floor.

Art pencils are often slightly thicker than an office pencil, so you may need to buy a sharpener.

Pencil smears, so you may want to buy fixative to spray on your drawings to keep the graphite from smearing or transferring to adjacent pages. Or, misting the page with water will also help (not quite as much, but no smelly solvents!)

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