1.2 Start a visual diary

The purpose of this exercise was to get me to think about and start more actively to collect and organise visual and other reference materials as part of my OCA projects and image development.

Key words from the brief:


  • You may have already developed ways of recording and reflecting on your own visual language and the work of others through sketchbooks, blogs or scrapbooks
  • If you haven’t already done so, start a visual diary and get into the habit of collecting visual material that might be useful as reference material or act as a stimulus
  • If you’ve already got a visual diary, then spend some time collecting new material

Throughout Illustration 1 I collected a lot of reference material in support of exercises and assignments. What I feel I need to improve is the way this is organised and catalogued to allow for easy reference, cross-reference and use/reuse.

The beginning of Illustration 2 is a good time to rethink and improve my approach.

Reflection on my current practice

I use the following methods/approaches to capture and reference visual reference materials:


An essential tool that (thanks to Illustration Sketchbooks) is always with me. I use them to sketch, doodle, generate ideas, practice, plan and experiment. I have one day-to-day sketchbook diary that is usually A5 Moleskine that I carry everywhere and several others of different sizes, formats and paper for project based work.

I collect scraps of paper, pages from magazines and other ephemera in the paper pocket of the sketchbooks. This has a disadvantage that it’s easy to forget what’s there.

My sketchbooks are stored in different places around my house and are currently not marked up with dates/location information.

Digital photographs

Either captured on my iPhone (the vast majority), or using a Canon EOS.

I use these mostly as reference to support observational sketches and/or to capture subjects that are of interest.

This is becoming a very large repository that is not easy to search or manage.

Photographs taken with the Canon tend to more specifically relate to projects. They are sometimes captured as RAW files but always as JPEGs.  They are stored in a folder structure on an external hard drive along with other project related files. Because they are not in one place it’s not possible to search or find them easily.

Learning log

The Learning log collects all of my OCA project work together in an easily accessible and logical format. I use this as a reference to access previous work.

I’ll continue to develop and grow this resource over the duration of the course so that by the end it becomes a full record of work in one place.


For collecting and grouping images from around the Internet. These almost all relate to OCA projects and research tasks. I find Pinterest particularly useful for referencing the work of other illustrators and artists.

Reference library

I have a small but growing library of reference books relating to my illustration practice and interests. This does contain some periodicals but these could easily by supplemented with other OCA recommended reading.

Postcard/image wall

I have a collection of postcards and images tacked to the wall above my desk. these are mostly from exhibitions visited and this slowly changes over time.

Postcard wall
Postcard wall

Improvements to current practice

On reflection, there are a number of things I’ll do to improve the quality and access of this ever growing resource.

Changes I will make

  • Be more conscious about noticing and collecting visual materials and reference that I find interesting in some way.
  • Incorporate ‘found’ reference directly into sketchbook pages rather than ‘hiding’ them away.
  • Start to add date/time/location information to this found material (as well as sketchbooks and loose drawings) to provide better context when accessing this in the future.
  • Keep all sketchbooks in one place. These should be arranged in logical sequence (if this is possible).
  • Start to use Adobe Lightbox to catalogue and centralise all photographic reference.
  • Create an Illustrator reference index in my Learning log to make it easy to access this research from one central place.
  • Subscribe to more OCA recommended periodicals.

Changes I should make

  • Learn how to use the Cannon camera more effectively to improve the quality of photographs taken of work.


Reflect on your choices. Are there common threads emerging? For example, are you drawn to particular visual cultures, contexts or styles?

  • My first observation is that I don’t make this type of visual research explicit enough in my sketchbooks and therefore in my ideas development. I think starting to do this more consciously will allow me to take more direct inspiration from these visual inputs and make me more aware of the cultural context/connections with my own work.
  • The subjects I seem to be interested in tend to be figurative images with strong narrative and use of colour and abstract imagery with interesting composition, text, pattern and colour.

What do you think this says about who you are as a developing illustrator?

I think this says a number of things about me as a developing illustrator:

  • I’m still developing.
  • I’m starting to get a growing sense of how and where my own work fits into a broader context of contemporary practice.
  • I have a growing body of work that could be better organised/made more accessible.





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