I reckon we’ve all got a bit of arty somewhere inside us. But if, like me, you don’t find it particularly easy to get the pen, pencil or paintbrush to do exactly what it should, these 6 tips should help to make your planner look great.
1. Highlighting & Colour
A bit of zing can really help your journal stand out. It’s practical too, as you can theme months or topics within your planner to make them really easy to find. Health topics for me are always green, for example, and finance pink.
I finally got sucked into the Zebra Mildliner craze a few months back, and I have to say that their reputation is deserved. They have a subtle but interesting palette, and they don’t bleed in my Moleskine which makes me happy. For bullet journaling, I’ll normally choose a couple of colours for each month and build a theme up from there. In July, as we’re off to the beach, my BuJo is wearing sunny yellow and turquoise sea. To help me find the section in One Book July – which I set up here – I’ve coloured my finance pages so they are in the pink (healthy) and certainly not in the red.
I can’t say that I feel the sticker love quite as much as some of my planner friends. But I do find them really useful. My travel journals have a scattering of the pretty ones, helping to add vibrancy to the pages. In my bullet journal, I mainly use banners: either coloured, or a selection of plain white headings to which I can then add my own lettering.
Also, never ever forget the potential of a sticker to cover up a mistake you can’t live with, and which will irritate you every time you hit that page.
3. Hand Lettering
But I can’t draw…. My handwriting is awful…
I’m definitely yes to the first. Not so bad as far as the second is concerned; it’s fairly neat, but nothing to make a calligrapher jealous.
There are lots of easy ways you can tinker with letters to create a bit of impact, without having to spend ages practicing fonts or using special lined paper. Below is a page from my travel journal talking about the little town of Brownsville in Mississippi. You may gather that I loved that place. And the bolder lettering I’ve used makes the spot in the journal easy to find.
4. Washi Tape
There are people with washi collections so vast they require their own cabinet.
I’m not quite in that league. My collection fills a medium size perspex box. But I’m sold on the use of washi for all kinds of logical reasons. When I’m searching for something in my planner, the use of patterned washi makes it much easier to find different sections. I’ve got:
- a typewriter font print for my word count totals (I am *so* finishing that novel I started in NaNoWriMo last year)
- a book print for – surprisingly – books I’ve read that month
- maps, planes and boats for travel sections
- cases and travel bags for packing (probably my favourite washi ever – it makes me feel excited to be going somewhere soon)
- planners and stationery for blog planning sections
I use plainer (spotty normally) washi wrapped around the outside edges of my pages to mark the boundaries of sections in my Moleskine bullet journal. This means that I don’t need tabs, which can get messed up in my bag. July’s monthly pages are in zingy sunshine yellow spots to match the colours for that month.
By ephemera, I mean any sort of item that you can stick in to a journal or planner. You can actually buy two different sorts of ephemera online. The first is vintage ephemera: old journals, notebooks, cards and the like. This can work brilliantly in travel journals or to illustrate memories. More recently, shops stocking planner accessories have begun to offer modern ephemera: normally cutout illustrations. There are all kinds of themes, and you should be able to find something that fits your style.
Don’t forget to make your own collection of ephemera too. When you go on a trip, save your tickets, the leaflets you picked up from the tourist centre, receipts, wrapping from interesting items and anything else that might fit in your journal. Even the strangest things hold memories. I have a wrapping with beautiful scrolled calligraphy in navy blue on white tissue. It’s from a pharmacy where I bought paracetamol in Cagliari. Looking at it brings back that day.. 42 degrees in the shade, the walk up tree lined narrow streets, sitting in a cafe drinking citrus punch, the saltiness of the hand cooked crisps they gave us there, and the blessed relief of painkillers so I could enjoy it fully. A fabulous memory from a tiny scrap.
These create a surprising amount of impact for their size. I bought mine from eBay, and they’ve been a real bonus in creating a sense of order in all my journals.
Stencils are great in the weekly log for bullet journaling, enabling you to pick related tasks or appointments out of your list. Volunteering gets a star in my journal, and there’s a cute little shopping trolley for lists. I find I spot symbols more quickly than text when I’m in a hurry, and this helps me get the best use out of my planner.
Don’t forget that planners and journals exist for you. Don’t compare your work with that of other people and find it lacking because it’s messy, less colourful or has less elegant handwriting. Planners and journals exist to help you navigate your life, to capture your memories and ideas, or to plan your future. There is no right way to do things, nor a standard you have to meet. It’s about what is useful to you, and what makes you happy. So chill, create and enjoy.