Photo Journal ReFrame

The Book of Days: An Art Journal Approach to Planning and Documenting Life

I think it’s because I am a teacher and learned a long time ago that I needed to “plan.” I have to admit, though, that linear planning and step-by-step planning is not easy for me. I know what I need to do to accomplish a task, whether it’s writing a lesson plan for myself or for the substitute, or making a grocery list or organizing my “to-do” list for the day. But somehow, I get stuck. It doesn’t always work to my advantage. Yet, I know I need some kind of way to keep up with those things as well as to keep up with appointments and other events. There are times when I call my planners my “brain.”


I turned into a scrapbooker some seven or eight years ago. Since my boys are grown, I have not kept up with it, and in fact, I have to admit that I have not scrapbooked a layout for a couple of years I miss being creative that way. But one kind of project I’ve tried off and on is the “Book of Days,” a kind of informal scrapbook of snips and snaps and bits and bobs of everyday. Then I sort of dropped out of that project; life got in the way.

This year, I have returned to the idea of the book of days, but I also discovered a different way of planning and recording day-to-day life: art journals and creative planners. First, I discovered the “No Excuses Art” website and the daily approach to art journaling. I thought, “I can do that.” The idea is to take ten minutes or so a day and create a daily entry, using some sort of day planner. I bought an inexpensive week-at-a-glance planner from WalMart and jumped right in. Each day, I do these things: choose a color of the day and a word to describe my mood or feeling or motivation, and draw the weather. Once I get these ideas down, then I bring out the paints, either watercolor or acrylic, and I add color to the day. If there are any “events” or “marching orders,” I write those in, too. That’s the absolute minimum. It’s not much, bur it’s a little bit of art.


Another way I am using my planner is to keep my word of the year/month and the theme for the month in the forefront. My word this year is “abide.” I am still feeling my way around that word, and my word for January is “emerge.” The theme of the Documented Life Project for January is “Going Out on a Limb: Trying Something New,” and this art-journal approach to planning is certainly something new for me.


I’ve added things to my planner, too, such as envelopes to hold ephemera of all sorts, including feathers that I may find while walking outside, photographs I want to hold on to, things I’ve cut out from magazines, postcards—you name it, it goes in an envelope. I taped these envelopes into the planner with washi tape. I add tip-in pages taped to the edge of the page. I may print out a photobooth strip of photographs that I’ve taken that week and tape it as a tip in. I’ve also added additional pages for notes, drawings, doodles, and other attempts at “art.” It’s only January, and already my planner is thick and bulky, and I love it.


Now, the question is: is this making planning any easier? Not really. I think I will always resist the linear aspect of planning. However, this approach to keeping a planner is a little like keeping a diary of day-to-day activities. At some point, I can go back to my book of days and see what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what was important to me at the time. When I return to more formal scrapbooking, I will have some kind of “record” that I can use to find material for the scrapbook layouts.


In a way, the book of days becomes a kind of scrapbook on its own. There are many scrappers who believe that everything should be acid-free and archival quality. For this project, I am not at all concerned about those things. I don’t anticipate this project “lasting” for very long, historically speaking. And if it does last, I’ll let my posterity worry about conserving it! This project is solely for me. And for now, I am enjoying it.


  • some kind of day planner (I’m using the PlanAhead planner with the really big print!)
  • watercolor and/or acrylic paints
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • journaling pens
  • glue sticks (I like the giant sized Elmer’s Craft Glue stick)
  • images, photographs, words cut from magazines, old books, newspapers, etc.
  • ephemera (ticket stubs, receipts, napkins, the sleeve from a disposal coffee cup from the coffee shop, etc.)
  • photographs
  • scotch tape
  • envelopes
  • tags
  • tabs to mark pages
  • scrapbook patterned paper and card stock
  • embellishments of all sorts
  • stamps and stamp pads
  • washi tape
  • stickers

Some useful websites and other resources:

No Excuses Art This was the first art journal planner I saw. I bought the book No Excuses Art Journaling for my Kindle, and I have been using it as a source for ideas for my book of days. Gina offers a class, but it is pricey at $97.00, but her videos are interesting, and she demonstrates a lot of techniques. I am not sure I would buy the class again (although I believe that I have benefited from it greatly). Some of the classes and websites listed below have similar content for MUCH less or for free.

The Documented Life Project In order to take advantage of this resource, you have to buy the class, but it is very reasonable ($12.00 for the year). You get fifty-two weekly prompts, plus free downloads for materials to use, admission to a private Facebook group for inspiration, and access to the Art to the 5th resources. That’s pretty cheap, compared to some other classes I’ve signed up for!

The Right-Brain Planner– Teresa’s materials are for sale only, but she does have a Facebook group that you can join for inspiration and ideas. She posts frequently on her blog so that you can see how she plans. I have subscribed to her monthly pages (about $8.00 for the booklet of materials), and I get some really good ideas from her.

The Reset Girl– Again, this is another online class, but it’s also fairly reasonable in price at $34.95. You get access to tons of videos of instructors who suggest and teach a variety of techniques as well as a list of resources to get supplies or to make your own. The only drawback to the classes and videos offered is that they are tied to a particular style and size of planner. However, I am finding that, as is the case in most things, you can adapt to use your own materials and re-create some of them using what you have without buying more stuff.

Pinterest: Don’t we all love Pinterest! Actually, I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. I look at what others have created, and let the ugly comparison bug get me. But there are numerous boards for creative planners. Just do a search for creative planners or art journal planners or some other variation, and you will have more inspiration that you can stand!–I have only skimmed this page, which I found through Pinterest. I’m going to take another, closer look and maybe incorporate some of these ideas into my “book of days” as well. It is a Faith planner of sorts with sections for Bible study, prayers, sermon notes, and the like. I think this is another board I will have to check out.

Levenger– I love the Arc notebook system, and I use their products for my school stuff. I even bought TWO of the special hole punchers so that I have one at home and one at school. You can add pages, rearrange pages, and insert “stuff” as needed. You can order from the Levenger website, or you can buy the materials from Staples (that’s where I get mine). Sometimes, as I work on my planner, I wish I had begun with the Arc system, and I may have to go to that if my planner does not hold up to use. (See how stuffed it is?)

By Olivia Fulmer

I am the OliviaIrene of OliviaIrene Photography. I am a photographer, a teacher, a story teller. I use this space to tell stories of life, family, and faith through words and images. I'd love to share your stories as well. Join me in this journey.

I love conversation, the close, intimate kind amongst friends. Won't you join me? I look forward to a good coze.

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