how do you use the Visual Arts Journal?

Your workbook should be a comprehensive document that illustrates your artistic development and research. The purpose of the workbook is to encourage and record personally driven research and discovery that function interactively with independent art work.

The current IB curriculum requests a digital submission with screens – which can be confusing on how to approach the Visual Arts Journal.  In my IB class, I suggest that at the very least, students use the Visual Art Journal as a sketchbook to collect brainstorming, idea development and compositional studies.  Documentation of Process, Art analysis and reflections can be added more easily (and with more space and depth) digitally. 

There is no right or wrong way to create these pages.  And they do not have to follow the specific categories – they can be a mesh of everything and anything.  The key is that they show your ideas and process visually.  Also, if you are going for a high score – then  you should take the time and energy to create visually stunning and technically impressive pages.  (Not all have to be amazing, of course – that is difficult – but at least enough to fill the IB requirements)

As we work, I have my students consider creating these KEY pages (either in their VAJ or digitally):

  • Initial Ideas and Intentions
  • Observations, Technical or Media Experimentations
  • Artist Explorations (or Critical Investigations)
  • Idea Development

Click here to see some examples of how these pages might look in your Visual Arts Journal

**Students should strive create a minimum of 3 pages per week with a least 5 per project. ***It is desirable to make every page count!  Use the pages to show not only your ideas but your technical art skills. **Try not to include too many copy and posted images as they can be easily added later digitally.  If you do use them, cite ALL sources properly, including EVERY image

To get started creating your VAJ pages, you will need a sketchbook. My students love to use a little larger sizes (A3) of sketchbook. At least A4. We also love hard covers with a spiral bound. And with watercolour paper. But you choose whatever works for you. At the end of the day, you will have to photograph to include it in your screens, so size really doesn’t matter.

As you create your pages, try to include on each page:

  • The date, title and page number
  • Writing in black ink
  • both your own sketches AND writing
  • deep analysis of what you’re learning about (think critically. Do you agree? Disagree? How can you connect this to other things you’ve learned in the past?)
  • your personal ideas about the topic

Remember, everything should be connected! Research, planning, studio work, media investigations, reflections are all part of a connected journey.


  • Artwork analysis and vocabulary Respond to and analyze critically and contextually the function, meaning and artistic qualities of past, present and emerging art, using the specialist vocabulary of visual arts (limited biographical information)
  • Cultural Analysis Analyze and compare art from different cultures and times, and consider it thoughtfully for its function and significance.
  • Depth and breadth of research Develop and present independent ideas. Demonstrate coherent, focused and individual investigative strategies into visual qualities, ideas and their contexts. Develop different approaches towards their study, and fresh connections between them.
  • Creative art making process Explore and develop ideas and techniques for studio work through integrated contextual study and first-hand observations. Produce personally relevant works of art that reveal evidence of exploration of ideas that reflect cultural and historical awareness. Present the work effectively and creatively and demonstrates critical observation, reflection and discrimination.
  • Integration between studio and investigations. Develop and maintain a close relationship between investigation and a purposeful, creative process in studio work.
  • Technique Demonstrate the development of an appropriate range of skills, techniques and processes when making and analyzing images and artifacts. Develop and demonstrate technical competence and artistic qualities that challenge and extend personal boundaries and technical competence and self-direction.
  • Source Citation Used appropriate sources which cited properly and thoroughly throughout the IWB

  Check out this great slide show explaining what your IWB should/could look like ……..    


RESEARCH A NEW ARTIST Pick a work of art that speaks to your heart, that you will use to influence your own studio work. Closely observe and analyze the artwork. Use the DAIJ technique to critique what you see (Describe, Analyze, Interpret, Judge). Re-create the image.  Sketch out different views of the artwork (close ups/fragments).  Use the artist’s ideas and style and create other images. As you go, comment on all your work/observations/thoughts as you work. Some leading questions:

  • How are the elements and principles used? (see list below)
  • How is this artist’s style different or similar to another artist you’ve studied? Compare and contrast.
  • What are the social/cultural contexts for this piece of art? (What is the artist trying to communicate about her culture, or another culture? Is she reacting to an event, a social practice, history, or something else?)
  • What is your personal connection to this piece?
  • How will it connect to your theme, or how will use use what you’ve learned from this artist to create something new?

RESEARCH NEW MEDIA OR EXPERIMENT WITH TECHNIQUES What do you want to learn how to do?  You may watch Youtube videos and follow along, or experiment on your own.  As you experiment note your observations/thoughts along your sketches. For example:

  • Sculpt with clay or found objects?
  • Learn to draw human faces?
  • Find better techniques for watercolor?
  • Crosshatch with pen and ink?
  • Draw realistic hair?

DRAW FROM OBSERVATION The most important way to improve in drawing and painting is to draw what you see.  IB loves figure studies.  You can find lots of timed life drawing videos on youtube to use for your studies.  As always, as you go, note your observations/thoughts along your sketches.

  • What observation drawings would be relevant to your study? A few examples: people, faces, hands, feet, trees, cars, buildings, chairs, plants…


  • Reflect on a piece you’ve just finished, or a work in-progress.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your piece? (How are you using the elements and principles?)
  • What techniques did you use?
  • How will you revise it to make it stronger?
  • How is this piece connected to your theme?
  • What does it reveal about your personal ideas?
  • What artists/other ideas influenced this piece?


  • Draw at least two sketches that show your plan for a new piece (it’s said that Leonardo DaVinci himself always started with at least three sketches for any new work of art.)
  • How will it show your theme?
  • What is your personal connection to this piece? How does it show your own ideas, experiences, emotions, history?
  • How will you show what you learned from other artists?
  • What media will you use?

HAVE FUN! PLAY WITH YOUR ART. Doodle. Daydream! Write down questions or ideas you have. Make idea clouds. Share the beautiful or messy processes in your head that lead you to create!


Elements of Art (EOA) & Principles of Design (POD) These should be part of every Art Journal entry you create – they are the foundation of the “underpinnings of artistic expression.” Understanding and using these in both your planning and your writing are ESSENTIAL to writing about art, and making successful studio work.  

Elements – line, shape, form, texture, value, color, space.

Principles – contrast, emphasis, unity, pattern, movement/rhythm, balance  

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