The Artist's Planner

Today's guest post is by Sara Schnelle. She's very productive all week long as a data entry technician for a wage law firm. During the afternoons and weekends she keeps busy painting large canvases and small wooden boards with images about women's work, spirituality and perceptions. Her art has displayed in and around Portland, Oregon. She has lectured about women's art history at a local university. Sara's studio is in Vancouver, WA and you can view her online gallery at: Schnelle Studios.

Often an artist's journal serves one purpose: sketching. However, it can do so much more. The artist's journal can serve as a research notebook, idea log, and planner. Have you ever had a great idea for an artwork that you've never started on? Or had an idea and never wrote it down and when you went back to start on it, you found that you couldn't remember what it was? It's happened to all of us. What had a place to store those notes and sketches and ideas so when you had the time and inspiration, you also had a place to remind yourself what you want to do, the steps to do it in, and with what materials and accompanying research ideas? Would having such a place help you to not only organize your art but help you create a finished product that matched up with your goals? How about having a place to store pictures of your artwork to keep and admire even long after the art has sold or displayed in a gallery? Well, you can. The artist's planner tells a story. And it records each accomplishment from start to finish.

When I began my artist's planner, my creative partner, April and I had nothing more than an idea and two questions: Has anyone ever painted this concept before? And if not, can we? The concept, fresh and new, was committed to a small quotation journal I had been using for a few weeks. And it soon changed into a full fledged artist's planner. The day I started my Artist's planner, we were standing around in the university library, where April worked. They had a small gallery attached to the main room. And they had an opening, one year from that date. So, we signed up for a spot and started brainstorming artwork that we could paint throughout the next year.

I jotted down our idea in the little journal and then we began dreaming of our invitation list. The journal captured the original idea, our goals and wishes for completing it, paintings and sculptures that we looked to for ideas, research to answer our first question “has it ever been done before? No,” and the promotional post card documenting our show in that gallery a year later.

Creative people are often not linearly organized, and though the planner tells a story, it certainly does not have to tell it in order. My artist's planner contains all sorts of things from photographs, stickers, and ideas that I can use at any time for any painting; as well as all sorts of sketches and doodles scattered around on any page.

I consider the following list to be a good list of recommendations for an artist's planner:

  • Strong, thick paper. You're going to want paper thick enough to paint, glue, and erase on.
  • Removable pages. If you're like me and you glue a lot of things down on them, eventually you're notebook won't close. Being able to remove pages not only helps it close but you can also remove the things you don't want to be reminded of. Sometimes I don't want the constant reminder that I am a not always as good at drawing as I want to be. Such evidence is less than inspiring. Your planner is a journal of accomplishments: those you've finished and those yet to be completed. You may want to tear out pages that are not useful to your art and sense of accomplishment.
  • Study Cover and Closure. You may want to get a hard-bound journal, such as a Moleskine or some other journal that closes. The last thing you want your planner to do is fall apart in your bag or as you're writing in it and having all the pages fly out and litter the ground. You may also want to keep a few envelopes handy in between the pages to save those precious mementos from being crushed. I doubt you want see the pretty autumn leaf you saved in your journal last year fall out and scatter itself to the wind in tiny, crumbling bits.
  • Style and Substance. Find a journal or planner that not only fits your style but can be used. If you fear littering your journal with graffiti then you may want to buy something you feel you can write in. I have issues with writing in something when the cover of the journal is more beautiful than what I know will be created inside it. You want to be able to risk drawing, scribbling and jotting ideas in it. So find something you like but one you know you'll use. Mine has a simple pattern with an inspirational saying on the cover. And if you can't find something, make your own by using Innowen’s articles on bookbinding to make your own planner.

How to use an artist’s planner
Once you have picked out or made your planner, it's time to start filling it up. Grab a photograph of a painting you admire and start copying it in your book. Or glue that scrap of origami paper you want to copy for a background pattern for a portrait. Start a contact list of all the local arts and craft show connections you found and jotted down on a napkin, along with that great sketch. Glue it all in your new planner and write down any dates you've made to contact people for booking tables to display your art.

  • Capture your ideas. Anytime you have good ideas, immediately visualize what that project looks like at the end. Describe the idea and then start writing down each step you'll do to make that project happen. You can use your planner to capture ideas and goals in the following format:

    Idea: paint my nephew’s portrait through the view of a hallow log.
    Goal: give it to my sister for her birthday in three months.

    Idea: a collage of independent soda pop labels.
    Goal: sell it to a store owner in my neighborhood next weekend.

    Idea: draw a picture of a Robin with a worm.
    Goal: have it framed for my bedroom by winter.

  • Keep track of project materials. Use your planner to keep a list of what things you need to complete it. Keep a log of how much time you spent making the art or what you needed to keep your space clean and organized. Include swatches of color and what their brands are. Write down new art techniques (like how to remove wine labels off bottles), or keep sample pictures of point-of-views or models you'll eventually use in making your art.
  • Let your planner inspire you. Fill the pages of your journal with printouts of other's art or designs. Glue or tape them to your journal. Find inspiring quotes and write them in colorful, flowery prose. Make sketches or layouts in your pages.
  • Include pictures of your finished art in your planner. Once you have completed a project, tape or glue in a photograph of your finished project. Many times artists regret not take a picture of a painting before it was sold. If you're keeping a complete history of your art accomplishments from conception to finish, then you'll want to take a few pictures of it and stick them into your planner or scan them for your website. You'll want to look back on these photos with pride and see how far you've grown in creating art.

My Planner, My Muse
My planner has become my muse and a great motivational tool. In keeping a planner, you can watch your own improvement. It also becomes a tool to share how you go about making art with others who share your passion for art. It is such a reward to be able to look through your own process. Imagine if someone asked you, “what sort of art do you make?” and you could pull out your planner and show your new fan exactly what artwork you make and how you went about getting the inspiration for it. You will also get to look at the pages privately and think, "I completed that project. I can complete another."

Between my messes of sketches and colorful pictures, I also put quotes and sayings in my artist's planner. My favorite is by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "One must have chaos within to give rise to a dancing star." This statement works for me because my planner is so chaotic, with its pictures, jokes, and sketches, photos and stickers pasted in on any old page with no thought to the consecutive order. Despite all its chaos, my planner is an effective tool for productivity, organization and success.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Wine Labels

"(like how to remove wine labels off bottles)"

So how do you do that? I've recently wondered how to go about it.

There are 2 ways, depending

There are 2 ways, depending on what adhesive is on the label. Sticker and glued. gives good ideas on how to remove each type and test which one is on yer bottle.

I will attest however, it's harder than it looks and I have ended up ruining a lot of labels this way.

I recommend going an easier route... if you want wine labels, email the company. Many have un-used labels that you can purchase for use. This way is easier and you're guaranteed to get the whole label in mint condition.



I especially love the picture that you took of your journal on the splattered dropcloth. :)

drop cloths

I use leftover strips of canvas that are too small to be put on stretcher bars and painted on as dropcloths.

For awhile I just used big pieces of canvas. Then I got really really poor, and I had to take the larger splattered pieces and discarded stretcher bars and used the stained canvas and prime it for use. The starving artist has to be resourceful and not waste. I will never use good pieces of canvas for dropcloths again!

Sketchbook - next generation

Wow, thanks for this inspiring article. That's a real SNG (Sketchbook Next Generation)! Or should I say: pimp my sketchbook? I'm absolutely motivated to use my sketchbook this way and not just for drawing anymore.


Imagination is intelligence having fun!

A home for my muse(s)

Thank you for the inspiration! My planner and I have been having a love-hate relationship for a while now, and reading your post led me to that "a-ha!" moment I desperately needed.

I'd made the mistake of excluding facets of my world from my planner because they didn't fit my idea of what a planner should contain. (Silly Rabbit!)

Now I feel free to indulge and add in all the things that make me 'me', and I suspect I'll be much more productive now.

Thank you!

me planner

Anything that makes you more inspired to be productive is a valuable tool. I like having pretty things around and inspirational quotes. I just discovered another one: "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." Thomas Merton.

Visual journals and artists

One book you might want to look at is "Drawings From Life: The Journal as Art," by Jennifer New (published by Princeton Architectural Press 2005.)

Mike Roberts' painting journals start on page 158 and show the evolution of one painting in addition to his notes that deconstruct the symbolism in his planned painting.

The book is wonderful, cannot recommend it enough. (Everyone at work is trying to steal it from me, the evil ninjas!)