Keeping a Trip Book- Our Approach to Visual Journaling

We do a lot of travelling during the warmer months, much of it as a family. On every trip we take along an empty journal- a book to be filled by all of us. We have been keeping “trip books” for years now and have a shelf full of them. The advantage of a trip book over a regular photo album is in the additional content- you have written journal entries explaining the photos, drawings and paintings to go along with them, other “artifacts” glued in (maps, receipts, parts of museum brochures, and so on), all in the context of one single journey. One book becomes a group journal, travelogue, sketch book, water color canvas, scrap book, and photo album.

Choosing a Book Style and Format
We make our own journals; we have a format worked out that fits our journaling style well. Over the years we have used many different styles of books: Medieval leather journals, basic Coptic style journals, codex style, pamphlet stitch, Japanese stab, and accordion fold. Our current favorite is the Medieval leather longstitch journal. Our covers are soft leather and inside we use a variety of papers including Mohawk, Arches, and Stonehenge, each having different qualities and thickness. Differing the pages throughout allows us to use pastels, watercolors, gouache, pencil, or glue in artifacts or photos from our trips. Our page size allows for two photos vertically or one horizontal. We also use accordion fold journals on some trips. Both of these styles allow for glueing in lots of photos. Since most of our trips are at least a couple of weeks in length, we often end up with 60 or 80 photos to go in the book, so it is important to have a book style that will accept a stack of photos 3/4 of an inch thick!

Another style of book we use specifically for backpacking is what I call a Backpack Journal. It is essentially a single signature from a codex style journal covered in Tyvek. (A signature is simply a number of sheets of paper folded in half.) The signature and its cover are held together by a simple stitch pattern. When enough of these are filled they are then stitched into a leather cover, along with empty signatures in between each one for photos relating to the backpack trips. A detailed explanation of the Backpack Journal can be found in a Desert Explorer blog post from April, 2009.

Various travel journals in different formats and book styles.

Keeping a trip book requires discipline. On our trips, each of us writes or sketches or paints in the book every day. If this doesn’t happen, the book eventually has “gaps” in it that detract from the story of our journey. We add to the book whenever one of us feels like it, but usually it is in the mornings and evenings. On river trips, sitting on the river’s edge with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise over the desert is a very motivating scene, and always easy to capture in words, sketches, or paintings. Evenings on the river, at a campsite, or in a hotel are another time we work on our books, and then often as a family.

Just as important as adding content to the book daily is finishing the book once you get home. Choosing photos and having them printed needs to be done as soon as possible. We dug out an unfinished book recently from a river trip two years back. The photos were missing. The book is nearly done now, but it took much longer to finish after the fact.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

What We Record
We write, draw, paint, glue and otherwise add to the journal in whatever way strikes us along our journey. We all write notes nearly every day, sometimes just a page, sometimes many pages each day. Our son Nicolai likes to draw; he fills many pages of our books with his sketches and paintings, often in panoramic views across multiple pages. We all make lists: we keep track of our campsites and travel times on river trips or drives, the weather, plants or birds or animals we have spotted, and even meals we have made. Each of these can include photos as well. Often we add decorative borders to a page as a highlight. There is a series of books carried at Two Hands Paperie called Zentangle, introducing various forms of “doodling” that can make a page jump out.

As we fill a book we leave empty pages for photographs. We always note in pencil “photo”, so no one else will use our page. Others pages will have more specific notes: “photo of cairn on top of Bowknot Ridge” for example.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip to Utah.

Art Materials We Carry
Depending on the trip and how we get to where we are going- driving, flying, floating, or walking, we might take along a sampling of every different medium available in our travel kit, or nothing more than a pencil, eraser, and a single .5 black Micron pen. On most trips other than a backpack we carry at least a selection of Faber Pitt Pens, a set of watercolor pencils, a set of Micron pens- colors, and all five sizes in black, a set of graphite pencils, and a set of gouache half pans. Those are our basic tools, and along with them goes brushes, eraser, pencil sharpener, glue stick, a roll or two of Washi tape, small pair of scissors, and stamp pad with date stamp. We also have a new addition: a Polaroid POGO printer. It makes small, sticker-backed prints that are great for sticking in amongst the pages. A full review of the POGO will be in an upcoming post. Even on days when we are feeling not-too-artisitc, with a kit like that at our disposal, it’s easy to add something to the book.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

More Information
There are many books available these days on visual journaling and related journaling techniques. Our favorite is called The Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory. If you are wondering exactly what a visual journal looks like, take a look at Gregory’s book. You’ll be ready to start your own on the spot. For basic book structures and bookbinding techniques, we recommend Cover to Cover by Shereen LaPlantz. It discusses and has directions for all of the book styles mentioned in this post. Both of these titles, along with the Zentangle series and many other motivating works, are available at Two Hands Paperie. For those in the Boulder area, we still have classes on many of the book styles, as well as classes on visual journaling, scheduled over the next couple of months. Visit the Two Hands Paperie website for more information.

Part two is forthcoming: more about art materials and techniques.


2 Responses to Keeping a Trip Book- Our Approach to Visual Journaling

  1. P Flooers says:

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful. And inspirational. Thanks for posting.

  2. Rockin' says:

    This is a great idea, not only for adults but for kids. I like how writing, scrap booking, and a photo album is combined into one. Thanks for the inspiration.

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