The 10 Best Supplies for Visual Journaling

envelope to carry stuff for visual journal

Who doesn’t love working in a visual journal? It’s a great place to experiment, take notes, and find inspiration. I honestly don’t know many art teachers who don’t love working in one, myself included. But, over the years, I’ve heard many questions about what kinds of materials are best.

Today I’m going to share the list I share with my students. These are the materials I’ve found the most versatile. And, they even work well when you’re traveling!

So here we go! Grab your visual journal and start taking notes because this stuff is just FUN!

10 Materials Essential for Successful Visual Journals

visual journal with watercolor set

1. A Journal

It may go without saying, but a good journal is the best place to start. In my experience, 8″ x 10″ journals with metal spiral bindings are the way to go. They last a long time, the pages don’t fall out, and they can withstand daily trips to and from school.

However, that may not be in your budget. So, I have also had students make their own journals. They just have to be a bit more careful with them. Or, watch for sales and have your friends clip coupons so you can get them at a discount!

I remind my students that having more than one working journal is what most artists do. So I recommend they keep more than one and vary the size, paper quality, and cover. This way, students can enjoy working small or large and on a variety of paper.

visual journals

2. Drawing Pens

Next on my list is a great set of drawing pens. I’m not sure I’d put them above things like graphite, but the permanence and line quality is great for journaling.

I generally give my students Ultra Fine Sharpies to use at the beginning of the semester, but with so many students using them, they don’t last long. Soon enough, students are generally buying their own sets when they realize they really can’t live without them.

Here are 5 good choices:

There are so many out there, so check them out and get what works best for you.

This list is an amazing resource to make sure your students are set up for success. If you’re looking for ideas about how to teach specific journaling skills and get your students excited to create, check out these stellar resources.

3. Graphite and an Eraser

Graphite is another fantastic mark-making tool, so it’s essential to have several pencils when working in your visual journal. I recommend a 6B, 4B, 2B, and a good eraser. This way, you can create light and dark marks, incorporate direct observation images, add contour line drawings, and shade in negative space.

4. Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are another fun and versatile material to have on hand. You can color with them, create tints and shades, and layer them on top of one another or other materials. Don’t forget to add a small pencil sharpener to your supplies!

5. Crayons

I love crayons! Often these are considered a kid’s art tool, but I have found them to be an important part of my journaling. They also create tints, shades, and make for awesome layering and mark making. Not to mention the color selection is beyond exciting!

6. A Watercolor Set

watercolors and visual journal

Did you know you can buy a mini watercolor set to carry with you at all times? I highly recommend carrying one to add to the mixed media work in your journal. I love to do a quick wash over a page or play with resist with my crayons or oil pastels. To me, there is something beautiful about watercolor, and using it to enhance a drawing is exciting!

7. Collage Materials

I love to collage, and I think it’s important to consider all of the visual images and items we come across on a daily basis. I have found an envelope glued onto the inside back cover is a great way to keep everything organized. I have even found stapling small clear bags of items onto a page can make for a fun journal entry as well.

envelope to carry stuff for visual journal

If you’re going to make collage a part of your visual journal, don’t forget to bring a glue stick. Glue sticks are perfect for when I want to glue down a memory such as a movie ticket, a gum wrapper, a photo, a leaf or something found in a magazine. You can even get creative by adding things like string or repurposed previous artwork.

8. Sewing Kit

That’s right! Mini sewing kits that you can get from your local hotels or drug stores are a wonderful tool to add. I often have a small needle and thread and will sew around a drawing or a collaged image, and that takes my art to the next level. My students love sewing into their art as well.

9. Markers and Rubber Stamps

markers and rubber stamps

I always have a few Mr. Sketch markers in my bag as well for quick fingerprinting or stamping. I have found that using old rubber stamps works well to enhance an entry, but so does the bottom of your shoe, found leaves, or any textural object you can color with marker and print onto your paper.

10. Oil Pastels

drawing and oil pastel

I think perhaps one of my all-time favorite art mediums is oil pastel! I love these because when you add them to your art and then smudge it, it can create a beautiful glow to your work. My students also embellish their final works with a touch of oil pastel, and I believe this addition is often what takes their art to the next level.

Your visual journal is the perfect place to experiment, learn, create, take risks, and make a visual storybook full of your creative ideas! So grab your journal and materials, throw them into a bag, and make art all summer long to take back and share with your students this fall!

What visual journal materials are your favorite? 

Do you have any specific journals to recommend? 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Debi West

Debi West is one of AOEU’s adjunct instructors and a former AOEU Writer and NBCT art educator. She loves sharing with others and enthusiastically stands behind her motto, “Together we ART better!”

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