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From Journaling to Visual Journey
by Dawn Espelage,
ATH Asst. of Writing & Poetry Therapy


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Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. ~George Bernard Shaw

Like many avid journal writers, I remember my first childhood diary vividly. It had a champagne cover, pink embossed letters, a golden lock and key and creamy pages inviting me to speak my truth. Somewhere in my early adult years I lost that youthful enthusiasm and began assaulting my journal with every hurt and pain that came my way. It is necessary at times to bleed on the page. However, it is also imperative that we learn to re-frame our experiences to prevent a downward spiral as negativity breeds negativity. Although varying the writing exercises can expand one’s view, for me breaking free of the negative written loop began with a colored marker. I grabbed the first thing I could find one day and realized that my entire outlook had altered with that one simple change. I had released the “inner child” and let her come out to play.

What I have learned since is that adding texture and images into our journals shifts our creativity to a different level as well as our insight. When creating, we are tapping into our right brain which allows subconscious thoughts to bubble to the surface. Do we need to be artists (as in gallery displays, art degrees etc.) to do this? Absolutely not. Julia Cameron says that we are all writers, and I agree. I also believe that we are all artists. We create ~ relationships, ideas, meals, life, gardens, ourselves and yes, works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art.

Change your writing habits in small ways and see where it leads. Play with different pens and markers. Write in circles, squares or upside down. Use bubble letters or block print instead of cursive or Times New Roman font. Here are three easy steps to integrate visual elements into your journey:



If adding art into your journal is new to you, doodle. Play in the margins, adding small drawings that provide a visual of what you are writing or feeling. For example, if you are having a light and airy day, doodle the sun and daisies along the side. Sketch shapes and spirals using colored pencils and pens or paint pens. Doodle your symbol of the day.



I have found that I prefer journals with pockets so that I can save small mementos such as ticket stubs, a kind note, a business card or a perfect leaf. Eventually, these items make their way onto my journal pages. Save images that resonate and reflect on why they call to you. Magazines are a great resource but many items in the course of a day find their way into my journals. I’ve used napkins, receipts, dried teabags and brochures as well as photos that I’ve taken.

Mixed Media Art


As you grow more comfortable with adding elements of art into your journaling, you may want full art journal pages to express a thought or emotion. This is where your words, art supplies, scrap-booking material, fabrics, ephemera and any other item/material that captures your imagination integrate into your visual journey.

Finally, allow yourself the freedom to play and silence your inner critic. Journal writing and visual journaling are about the process as the product of “self” remains a work in progress.



Have a comment or question? Visit our Writing & Poetry Therapy Forum to start or join a conversation.



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About the Author


Dawn Espelage, MA, ATH Asst. Editor of Writing & Poetry Therapy, describes herself as a truth seeker on a quest of self-discovery. She is a guide for women to find their voice, tell their story and celebrate their journey while empowering their daughters to do the same. She facilitates women’s circles utilizing journal writing and mixed media art for creative healing.

Dawn’s experience in child welfare social work has culminated in 14 years of group facilitation and workshops of varying topics such as stress management, self care, LifeBooks, parenting, adoption and journaling. Dawn has a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Radford University and a Master of Arts degree from Hollins University. She is a Certified Journal Instructor through
The Center of Journal Therapy, has presented at the Healing Through Creativity Festival and at the Stories from the Heart National Conference in Austin, TX. Dawn serves as a guest faculty member of Story Circle Network. Dawn has published Life Lines: Celebrate Your Journey and Celebrate Your Journey - A Monthly Planner and Journal Companion.

Dawn can also be found at her website, Life Lines Journaling, as well as her blog and at her site Girls Express which is dedicated to empowerment, enhanced self-esteem and healthy choices of girls age 7-11 through creative expression.




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