Saving Ideas

Google image search ‘idea journaling’ and you get beautiful pages full of neat handwriting, perfect sketches, scrapbook paper and washi tape.

I keep an idea journal. Mine is not beautiful.

My journal (or should I say journals, because I constantly start new ones before old ones are full) is messy – scrawled script, scribbled pictures – complete nonsense to the onlooker. However, this process is a way for me to save things that I may not remember later, to brainstorm vague ideas for images and make those ideas fuller, to feel like I’m creating even when I don’t have a camera in my hand.

This process also makes me feel more sane. I’m a planner and a list maker and I think of ideas at inopportune times. So, rather than create right away, I write it down and hope that the little tidbit of an idea still inspires me later.

The featured image of this post is a final product of the bottom sketch in the top left image here.

I truly believe ideas can be found everywhere. 

Whenever you watch a movie, read a book, visit a new place, etc. and see something you love, something that draws you in – whether a place, color, person’s movement – that’s inspiration to you and thus something that influences your work, whether you actively recognize it or not at the time.

My solution? When you feel that passionate twinge, make note of it – whether a note on your phone or a physical piece of paper. Connect those ideas and draw patterns from them. The more you know yourself, the more personal work you create and personal work draws others in. Who knows, maybe your work will become a line in someone else’s idea journal.

Do you keep an idea journal? What do you do when you’re struck with a creative thought at just the wrong time? Let us know in a comment below.

~ Jennifer Nichole Wells

“In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”

 – Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland


  1. For a second I thought this post was about saving ideas, like when you are waiting for all of the elements to be just perfect to accomplish that idea in your head. But that’s another topic and I digress…

    I was already in the practice of jotting down ideas, as I do for my writing, so when I started toy photography and ideas started to pop into my head, I began to save them as well. More often than not, I get my best ideas during my work commute (engaged audience of 1) , which keeps me in my car for hours a day. So I talk to Siri and ask her to take a note as I drift on down the highway. Now I have a running list of photo ideas on my phone. 🙂

    • Another topic, but one that should definitely be delved into.

      Ahh, what would we do without Siri? Now you’ve reminded me that all my phone notes just got deleted. Also a different topic but I certainly hope I didn’t have any good forgotten photo ideas on there.

      Phone notes are a brilliant way to keep track of things. And the road is definitely a time where my brain drifts away to creative ideas as well.

  2. brett_wilson

    “I think of ideas at inopportune times.” Me too. My ideas are more inconvenient as I usually don’t have anything to jot them down on at the time, except my phone.
    I have random ideas punched into my phone, some of which I have no idea what they were! I’m sure they made sense at the time? Just scrolling through one of many notes, “dilly dally”, “sewer side note”, “spider-man bathtub”, “nincompoop” are some that I have no idea what they mean! Maybe I need a journal to remind me what my ideas were?!
    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your ideas. 🙂

    • Phones are the perfect idea journal. And if you ever find out what those mean I would love to see what image becomes of them! Especially dilly dally and nincompoop.
      I write out dreams sometimes, convinced I can make some completely sensible image out of them. But often when I read them a day or more later I have no idea what I was talking about.

  3. I have a journal but it’s not nearly as detailed as yours! My ideas list is more like what Brett described, just notes and scribbles often on post-it’s that I then stick into the journal 🙂 It’s very disorganized.

    I think I need to start a new journal though. The last idea that I wrote in my current journal says “Take a ‘Get Well’ themed photo for Carrie Fisher”. I wrote this after her heart attack but before she passed. Now every time I pick up the journal, I feel sad and I put it down and walk away. I think I need to retire that journal and start fresh…..

    • Mine isn’t always as detailed, those were just the most coherent pages to use as examples and from 3 different journals. If you’ll notice, one is just a mad person’s obsessive circles.

      But yes, I totally agree that any journal that makes you feel sad and walk away is one that deserves an early retirement. I retire journals often, far before their pages are filled. Sometimes it just feels good to start clean.

  4. priovit70

    I write down ideas all the time. I have a lot of ideas, but I’m constantly short of time and, as I already wrote, I found my lack of pieces (and, lately, also my lack of memory) irritating…
    Anyway, even if I love to write by hand, I found more practical to use my phone. Google Keep is my definitive choice, at least for the moment. But I love your journal, I really do! 😉

    • Phones are great idea journals. Always handy. My phone sometimes serves as mine as well. As a very visual person, I do prefer my paper and pen but I simply don’t always have those with me.
      Time is always the enemy. I’ve felt that way a lot lately too and I hope each of us find more of it.

  5. thereeljames

    I love this post! I have a hard time keeping track of my ideas. They seem to come to me at strange times (more often than not, right as I’m laying down to sleep and have put away my phone).

    I should try keeping a notebook, I love that you sketch out your ideas, and how they may look like scribbles to the outsider, but translate to beautiful photos for you!

  6. Ann

    Thank you for sharing such a personal shot of your sketches, Jennifer, it was very interesting to see them and read your post! It’s great that you find your ideas everywhere and note them in the journal – the Artist’s habit! 😉
    Enjoy your weekend!
    Kind Regards,

  7. Great post Jennifer! I also try to catch the idea before it vanish into nithingness. That’s why I always have some paper sheets and the pencil nearby. My notebook looks like a diary of a madman. And just like Brett, I write the sketch of an idea, for example “retro spaceman is shooting at dandelion”. And later I think: 🤔 what I wanted to say with this? Sometimes these mysterious na na sentences give me another ideas 🙂
    And just like Luigi I have many ideas that are waiting for their time and sometimes for right parts/figs.

  8. Derkleineweihnachtsmann

    Great post.
    I have an idea journal too, because I had often ideas but no time to realise them. When I am under the shower, on the way to work, when I watch a movie or when I lay in my bed the ideas pop out.
    I is necessary for me to write them down in a real notebook, because I can keep the ideas better in my head.

    I stick also pictures from newspapers or magazines in it, when they inspirate me.
    (Sorry for my grammatical issues)

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