4.1 Top ten visual diaries

The purpose of this exercise was ‘to discover and review as many illustrators or other practitioners who have created artist journals or used sketchbooks as a visual diary’.

Key words from the brief:

  • Document these in your learning log, identifying your personal top ten choices
  • Identify the criteria by which you are making this selection

My top 10 choices

  1. Lynda Barry
  2. Lizzy Stewart
  3. Myfanwy Tristram
  4. Nicky Nargesian
  5. Adebanji Alade
  6. Marina Grechanik
  7. Joohee Yoon
  8. Pep Carrio
  9. Yelena Bryksenkova

  10. Julia Rothman

My criteria for selecting these illustrators/artists was mostly because they strike some kind of chord with how I can see my own work developing.

The majority of the artists use a combination of reportage observational drawing and written description in their images. Some but not all draw sequentially, and all express themselves strongly and clearly through their work.


What are the visual qualities of the journals?

The sketchbooks include:

  • Rapid and slow sketching
  • Collage
  • Written description
  • Written narrative
  • Raw and expressive mark making
  • Refined, considered and detailed drawing
  • Experimental and carefree sketching
  • Mixed media

This picture drawn by Marina Grechanik is a lovely example of a observational drawing that must have been drawn quite quickly, with collaged elements from the Tate cafe added along with the date and caption to provide additional context and meaning to the image. It really captures and communicates a couple having lunch at Tate Modern on a summer’s day overlooking the River Thames with the city in the background.

Marina Grechanik - Lunch in the Tate
Marina Grechanik – Lunch at the Tate

What kind of content and ideas are explored?

The sketchbooks are places to experiment, so the range of content and ideas is broad and difficult to categorise. They include:

  • Documenting everyday narrative
  • Exaggeration/characterisation
  • Observation/reportgage
  • Snippets of ideas, concepts, follies
  • Written narrative/storytelling; Pictures to support text and text to support pictures
  • Visual diary
  • Travel journal
  • Experimentation, mark making, patterns and textures
  • Conceptual, for example the visual diary of Julia Rothman that she updates every year on her birthday and has been going for many years.
  • Surreal connections

How does the visual quality and content help establish the creative identity of the maker?

I understand creative identity to mean a combination of the subjects and themes typically explored, method of execution, materials used, scale of the work and visual styles employed. In other words, how the visual diaries contribute to the personal voice of the artist.

An artist’s sketchbooks is the seedbed for visual and creative ‘playing’ and experimentation. It’s where experimentation with ideas and exploration of subjects and themes can happen in a ‘safe’ carefree space. So the visual quality and content explored and created in an artist’s sketchbooks will feed directly into their more finished work.


Do these journals help to make connections with these artists’ wider work?

Probably the clearest example of this is the connection between the visual diaries of Pep Carrio (I love the fact they are drawings made on top of the lined pages of a written diary), and his finished illustrative artwork. There’s a very direct connection between the two.

Pep Carrio visual diary
Pep Carrio visual diary

The simple bold shapes, pattern and colour with simple juxtaposition of ideas and images to illustrate a concept or idea that can be seen in the sketchbook above translates directly into the finished artwork below.

Pep Carrio poster
Pep Carrió: the force of art applied to design


Lynda Barry

Lizzy Stewart

Myfanwy Tristram

Nicky Nargesian

Adebanji Alade



Marina Grechanik

Joohee Yoon


Pep Carrio

Yelena Bryksenkova

Julia Rothman

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