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How to Make your Journal Look Amazing Even if You Aren’t Artistic

by Jacki Andre 23 Aug 2020
How to Make your Journal Look Amazing Even if You Aren’t Artistic

 I'm one of those people who are just not artistic. Most anything I draw or paint looks like it was done by a preschooler. I’m crafty. I enjoy arranging bits of stuff into something that looks good. I rock at projects like shadow boxes, travel journals, and patchwork quilts.

But when it comes to anything remotely artistic, I'm kind of a big fat failure. I'm mostly okay with that. I have other talents. 

But then: bullet journals.

I belong to several bujo groups on Facebook. Posts from those groups litter my own feed. Many--and I mean MANY--of the photos that I scroll past are amazeballs. Months after joining these groups, my jaw still drops over some of the spreads that people share.

As gorgeous as those spreads are, here’s the thing: for people who aren’t artistic, those lush and beautiful spreads can be intimidating. You might think that since you can't make your own bujo look anything like that, you shouldn't even bother starting a bujo. If that's your line of thought: just stop it. 

Regardless of your artistic abilities, you should keep a bullet journal if you want to. And, if you want to, there are two ways you can go here. You can keep it minimalist. Or you can cheat.

The Bullet Journal® concept, as designed by Ryder Carroll, has a very simple design. There is no watercolor. No doodles. No washi. Just. Bullet. Notes. Carroll encourages bujoers to “Forget about what you see online … It's not about how it looks, it's about how it feels and most importantly, how it works for you." If you want to get back to the basics, go for a refresher at Carroll’s own Bullet Journal site.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping a minimalist bujo. But there’s also nothing wrong with a visually appealing one. What if you recognize your limitations, like I do, but still want to pretty it up? Then consider today your lucky day. I have some creative hacks that will make your bujo look amazing.

Bring on the Washi

Okay, so when I first learned about bullet journaling, I got all excited about the shopping potential. “Oooh! Markers! Stencils! Stamps! Gel pens! A new writing journal! And, oh, this stuff called ‘washi tape’! Bring it! Bring it ALL! I’m definitely gonna bullet journal! Imma be a Bullet Journal Goddess!”

*ahem*

So far, I’ve used washi to make a border on the top or bottom of my pages. That’s it. It’s pretty and all, but why is everyone wild over this stuff? Well, it turns out there’s a LOT that you can do with washi tape. Who knew?

Sylvia at Mommy over Work has all kinds of ideas:

  • Create a quick and easy visual side index by putting the same-patterned washi on the edges of same-topic pages (for example, one washi pattern on the edge of all tracker pages and another washi pattern on the edge of all weekly spreads).
  • Make page tabs.
  • Create little paperclip flags.
  • With trackers, instead of coloring, paste in different washi tapes.
  • Stick washi inside a page banner to make it pop.
  • Use it as a border embellishment for pages or for page elements.
  • Use it as tape. Heh. And tape stuff in.

For more ideas and a tutorial, take a look at The Modest Cat’s YouTube Video: How to Use Washi in Your Planner.

Fancy Lettering

If you don’t already know how to do calligraphy, it’s easy to be all “ain’t nobody got time for that” over it. And, really, why make time to learn when you can cheat?

  1. “Fauxligraphy” involves using brush pens or artistry to mimic the thick downstrokes and the thin upstrokes of calligraphy. Frankly, this is too much effort for me, but if you’re game to try it, there are lots of tutorials online. I like this one on YouTube by Ensign Insights.
  2. An easier solution: transfer computer-generated text with graphite.  Find a font that you like online; download it; use it to type up a word or phrase and then print that baby up. Once it’s printed, trim it closely. Flip it upside down and color over the backside with graphite (soft pencil). Then flip it right side up again and position it where you want the text to appear. As you trace the outline of the letters, the graphite on the back of the paper will transfer onto your journal page, creating a ghost image. That ghost image can be filled in any way you like.
  3. Easiest of all: labels as stickers. Hello! If the sheets in your writing journal are white, regular labels won’t be too noticeable. If the paper is off-white, clear labels (especially matte ones) will work nicely. Print whatever you like on the labels and trim them before pasting them into your journal. You're welcome.
Stickers

Why stop at text stickers? There are all kinds of cute printable graphics out there. Just print those up on labels and stick them into your journal. Of course, you can buy stickers, but this is much cheaper and more customizable.

Heck, if you use the same layout over and over in your journal (such as for weeklies), why not print those out on full label sheets? Easy peasy, amirite? If cost is an issue, though, what about *ahem* washi tape?  Print your page layouts on regular printer paper and tape them in with washi. Presto bingo. Pretty and easy. What’s not to love?

Stamps and Stencils

Stencils are a super easy way to make all those cute shapes in the Pinterest-worthy spreads. Banners, bunting, ornate labels, arrows, comic bubbles--and even simple shapes like boxes and circles--can all be stencilled in quickly and neatly.

Stamps are another option for creating shapes in your journal. They’re costlier, but they’re even faster and easier than tracing around a stencil. Pros and cons.

Ephemera and Photos

I’m a big fan of adding ephemera and photos to my travel journals. They add a colorful and creative punch, and most of all, they tell your own personal story in a way that nothing else can.

Choose a Visually-Appealing Journal

You know what they say about first impressions. So why not make your journal look amazing right from the front cover? Choose a journal with a cover that speaks to you. Maybe one with a graphic of a meaningful quote. Or maybe one with an embossed design on its cover, like SohoSpark's Tree Journal. Can't find a journal that speaks to you? Why not buy one with a plain cover and pretty it up with stickers or with a vinyl Cricut design? 2tinytreasures has a terrific YouTube video about how to use your Cricut to design a journal cover. Don't have a Cricut? Not to worry. There are lots of artisans on Etsy who can help you out.

Do you have any hacks for prettying up a journal? If so, drop me a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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