Seeing the Diviners

The 5 Cycles of Visual Journaling

Someone once asked me if I work in my visual journal every day. This got me thinking about my process and caused me to step back and notice how I approach the page. I discovered that I create using five different cycles: Setting the Space, Turning Inward, Responding with Art Materials, Gazing and Noticing, and Actualizing.

Perhaps this may seem too simple or even too complex. But by identifying these separate cycles I realized that each one brings a different kind of energy, technique and approach. Some are reflective while others are busy doing. 

I go into my journal almost every day, regardless of how I feel. But when I sit at my journal, I start by noticing how I feel and choose an activity that supports that feeling.  I’ll take out my journal book, and touch the pages – noticing texture, imagery, and color combinations.  Sit with the stories that have been told.   This settling in allows the dialogue of my soul to begin.

Freedom In Matching With My Mood

Creature Records Lineup (3)
  • Sometimes I want to play and experiment with new materials.  I am so lucky to have a dedicated room for my art and have lots of books and materials for those days I just want to play.
  • Sometimes, I’ll have an image that has been calling me and I’ll want to lay it in but have no idea of where it may be going. 
  • I may jump to an in-progress spread and add some text, or go to a blank page and journal. 
  • Recently, I woke up thinking about eagles and let this metaphor guide me into a new spread. 
  • I may be in the energy of “searching” and use this time to pull for my collage stash.
  • The energy of a season can also be a guide.  The winter we’re entering in North America is a season to turning inward and incubating.  This energy helps me to quiet my mind and supports turning inward. 
  • Other times my energy may be heavier, like something is emerging and more meditative.  At these times, I’ll do an inner journey or creative visualization to connect with what’s trying to emerge. 
  • The starting point may be just a color, or a kind of image, or something that touches my heart.  

Giving myself permission to begin with my own energy and then match that to one of the cycles releives the pressure of always starting from a blank page.

Even though my cycles seem linear, I flow in and around them with different pages. 

Layering Pyramids

art journal page

Responding with art materials can come slow or fast.  I have adopted a technique I call layering pyramids and I work in three layers:  bottom, middle, and top.  When in the bottom, I have total freedom to write, shout, splash as I know this layer will get mostly covered.  When working in the middle I try to stay out of my thinking mind and tell myself:  add two collage pieces, add a new color, stamp 3 things…work without planning.

I create layering pyramids for my classes to support students in this part of the process.

This approach keeps me out of my head and from trying to create a product.

Gazing and Noticing


Then I’ll step back.  Usually the stepping back synchs up with having to get dinner ready, or meeting with a client.  During this time, my spread is drying and when I approach it again, it’s often with new eyes.  I may see a spot that needs a thing!  Or, as most often happens, it begins to talk back to me – telling me it’s story.

Knowing When a Spread is Finished


Making meaning with my spreads has become the most profound aspect of visual journaling.  It’s a different kind of energy and inquiry.  Often, I journal in a companion journal or “hold” questions.  I’ll google a symbol that may be repeating or has come up in other spreads.  I’ll explore the meanings of the colors through a variety of lenses like the chakra system or the MARI. 

I stay with my process until I’ve discovered something I didn’t know about myself or the collective consciousness.  There can even be sense of sadness as a spread finishes.


Each spread has a certain element that I add back to mark the ending, actualizing, or healing.  It can be a symbol, an image, or even a color.  I name and date the spread and I release my energy from it.

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