Follow the Wandering Line: Visual Journals as Quiet Reflection for Health and Wellness

Professional Development Day Workshop for SD#23 Teachers

Sketchbooks in the Classroom and for Ourselves

Mindful, reflective, and playful ways to approach visual journals and sketchbook processes.

Detail section of a “wandering line” sketchbook page by a grade 10 student Megan H. 

Topics for Consideration at this Workshop

  1. Icebreakers and warm-up activities! Ideas to help us all experience creative art explorations without fear or self-consciousness.
  2. Opportunities for Quiet Reflection: Routines  that reward us with mindful focus in daily or weekly art practice.
  3. What Goes into a Journal?: How sketchbooks or art folders can include drawing, writing, collecting inspirations, or exploring ideas related to topics that make you curious to learn more.
  4. Themes:  Approaches that connect to personal interests or other learning. Sources for ideas. Thinking, experimenting and even researching like an artist!
  5. Resources, Materials and Sources for Inspiration! Lots of examples showing what other people have done to support and encourage personal journal practices for themselves, for other adults and for children.
  6. Trying and Trusting Your Own Choices/Asking Your Own Questions (AND allowing students to do the same)See how one thing can lead to another when you find ways to trust the process, starting with play or “curiosity prompts.”

Physical Preparations

Before we start!

INK BLOTS! We will need these to dry for later ?

BlotCroc – by Laurie

Theme Choices

Connections to personal experiences and other learning


But it does not need to be complicated

For the classroom, or for an artist, consider themes following topics of curiosity and learning,  contributing to meaningful growth

Consider a theme for the week or even just for the day –  a topic that provokes interest related to current experiences .

Image sources over the course of a week might ideally balance a mix of explorations starting with

  • perceptions (including observational drawing, but also other senses)
  • emotions
  • intellect
  • memory
  • imagination

Quick sample plan for a week on the theme of kindness, from former UBC Elementary Ed candidate (now teacher) Laurie J.


Arouse Curiosity and Give Ideas Time to Percolate

  • Experiences/motivators, games, walks, stories, experiments, etc,
  • Encourage habits of collecting curiosities, just keeping a folder or box of materials, objects, ideas, to use in your art another day

When it is time to Start

Set the Tone – Focus

The wonderful cartoonist and teacher Lynda Barry had an idea to start her classes with two-minute timed drawings on index cards. For one class, she asked students to do a very simple self-portrait each day to show how they were feeling that morning. This was done as attendance and students were very motivated to arrive on time and sit right down ready to start. This, and other similar exercises, can create lovely quiet opening routines that helps to set the tone and begin each day. In the beginning when first starting this, Barry’s idea of drawing a slow careful spiral was a particular favourite with my students. They were encouraged to keep the lines as close together as possible, but never to touch for fear of being zapped!

Observe with Empathy, Play with Interest

Noticing  – Not judging, Not good, Not bad

Themes from Experience – Motivators may need time to gather creative momentum

All Ideas are Valued – Create opportunities for idea exchange and coaching

Interpret, Look Again,  Reflect but without overthinking . . . Make Connections and Continue the Journey

Creative Play


These images show fingerprint characters made as a little warm-up exercise by Teacher Education candidates.  (It is o.k. to keep it simple for this type of little comic! Consider examples by Ivan Brunetti!)  You could also do other texture or leaf prints, then draw or collage with these.

Learning begins when personal free play is open to possibility, open to discovery, and open to unconscious connections.
Initial inspirations, access to materials, triggers for curious questioning, encouragement, positive self-talk,  build confidence to try something new.

What if?

There are many ways to start art activities, but the key is the playful surrender.

Random possibilities, freedom and lack of judgement encourage possibilities.
  • What kind of mark can I make with this tool, or with too much water in this paint?
  • What if I try looking very closely at an object and draw the contour without ever lifting the pen?
  • How can I fold or cut this page to lead to the next one?
  • What happens if I just listen to music or to a story while I paint a colourful background?
  • What happens if I just hold brushes, pens or other tools loosely and follow the wandering line, letting it twist turn and play across the page? Then what happens if I start adding patterns, colours or shading?
  • What happens if I cover part of a dry first layer with masking tape, paint another layer and then remove tape to reveal colours below?

Christopher Niemann’s designs inspired some of our student experiments with creative combinations

Opportunities to give (and receive) specific encouraging feedback as you go.

Conversations, Questions and Follow-up – What makes this interesting? What new question does it raise?

TAG (Tell Ask Give)- Sticky Note Peer Reviews


Looking closely and noticing – shapes, spaces, balance, connections


. . . and places where you might like to look for inspiration later

Time permitting, we will look at some examples together at the workshop, and over the next week I will add specific links. You are welcome to check back anytime!

  • Instagram and Current Local Artists’ Network Treasure Hunts – Artists supporting Artists

Examples of artists on Instagram with beautiful journals, but  completely different approaches.

Patti, a teacher from Manitoba 

Carin Gerard, classical realist painter from California

  • Teaching Resource Networks like ACCESS ART U.K.
  • Pinterest for bookmarking, but a bit of caution about wading through diverse unfiltered content quality, some cookie cutter recipe approaches, copyright issues, and complications to search engine priority listings
  • Some Amazing Books, including some by Lynda Barry, from the founders of Access Art, by Bob Steele from UBC, and more!
  • Awesome sources for Materials . . . some free, some not!

Don’t forget about NATURE as a principle source for inspiration . . . ?Sometimes it is really important to disconnect, and put the phone away . . .

HANDS – The Original Digital Device

MARK MAKING – is a physical activity. It can be learned and practice builds fluency

* The banner image on this page, shows a grade 11 student at Forest House Studio, drawing a shaded study of a feather in her a sketchbook

We cannot cover all of the considerations for teaching with sketch journals in this one workshop, but hopefully we can start a snowball rolling . . .

Have fun with the process!

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