I'm not sure how you discovered BuJos, but I guess it was through a beautiful decorated spread you saw on Instagram or Pinterest. That was the case with me. It was a picture of a decorated BuJo that made me google “what’s a BuJo” a little over two years ago. The whole decoration thing is what inspired me to start, and it's what keeps me coming back to my BuJo. So, let’s talk about that, how we can balance the artistic with the functional.
Is the visual appeal really important? Well, considering that decorating my bullet journal was what made me start and kept me coming back, it is for me. But it's not the most important thing and it might not matter at all for you. If you want to start but feel intimidated by the beautiful pictures all over Instagram, remember that the point is to organize your life, not set up an art exhibition inside a notebook. The focus of any BuJo should be bringing order and peace to our lives. For me that came from adding art to my organization, and it really changed my life.
Keeping a decorated BuJo helped me with my self-development in many ways. Its helped me become less stressed, more organized, and develop new skills! I have made new friends while looking for advice, and even started a new business. Sitting down to decorate my BuJo is time I use to relax, and because of that I don't see the little extra time I spend with it as wasted. I'm not losing focus of what's important (the organization method) or trying to make my notebook “Instagram worthy”. I'm doing it because it keeps me motivated.
Why am I telling you all that? Well, a while back I got frustrated with a few posts I read on Bullet Journal groups. Some people kept saying that artistic BuJos were not really BuJos, but functional art journals. While that might be true in some isolated cases, it's not true for all people with decorated notebooks. When someone posts the question “I want to start a bullet journal, but I don’t have any artistic skills. What can I do?” the usual answer was “it doesn’t have to be artistic”. That's true, but it seems that people who ask that question want a decorated BuJo. Not having artistic skills shouldn't be a reason to give up on your Bullet Journaling dreams. So, let’s tackle some common misconceptions about decorated BuJo's, and answer that question: "what can I do?"
Problem 1. “Decorating a BuJo takes too long or they don’t really use the method”
Make no mistake, a decorated notebook takes more time than a minimalist one. If you want a fancy BuJo you will have to invest a little more time on it. If it keeps you motivated, it's time well spent, and you don't have to lose a whole day to get a spread done.
People who have been using the method and decorating their notebook for a while usually have a nice grasp of their skills, so they can make those set ups in little time. They know their needs, how much space they will need to write and the time they can dedicate to decoration. Plus, it's fun! Let’s talk about me specifically.
Because I have a pretty strict schedule that rarely changes, I always know how much space to leave. Now, two years into Bullet Journaling, I know my schedule and needs enough to set up a whole month in one sitting. It's all about knowing how to use the method and how much space you will need per day, while leaving enough room for those unpredictable things that always seem to sneak up on our perfectly organized schedules. My skills and layouts have changed over time. You can see the evolution below.
Problem 2. “My handwriting is terrible.”
Your Bullet Journal must please you, and only you. If only you can understand your handwriting, that's not a problem. It's a nice security system. I had very small handwriting, and I knew that would help me to get a lot of info in a small space. However, I didn’t like it. I changed my handwriting a couple of months before starting my first BuJo just because I wanted a better handwriting. I did that the old fashion way: tracing calligraphy worksheets. It was boring and hard, but it was what I wanted, so it was worth it. So if you do not like your handwriting, know that if a little bit of work, you can change it.
Problem 3. “I'm not a calligrapher.”
Another problem I needed to overcome was I didn’t know how to make those beautiful headings and titles I spent so much time drooling over on Instagram and Pinterest. On this, I made no progress at all, but I admit it was because I bought all I needed to start (brush pens and worksheets) but never practiced. And this was a serious problem because I needed a clear way to mark my days on my weekly spreads.
While it was a serious problem, the solution was simple. I wrote the days of the week on a Word document and printed on sticker paper. I even used different fonts to make it nicer and to have some fun. I will eventually learn brush lettering. As a teacher, I honestly believe we can learn anything if we practice often. Until then, stickers combined with washi tape and craft paper will work just fine.
Problem 4. "I don’t know how to draw."
I couldn't draw to save my life. Really, any plant I tried looked like weed and any animal looked like it came out of Pet Cemetery. I knew going in that I was not an artist, so I adjusted my expectations. I knew from the start that there would be no work of art in my BuJo’s near future. Accepting my limitations, I thought about what I could do. I can't draw, but I can print drawings and cut them. I started using collage. I got some pictures on Pinterest or Freepik, some pieces of paper I got ripping a craft envelope and sat on my chair to have some fun. I was always very clear on the fact that I would stop decorating my BuJo the moment it stopped being relaxing and fun. Over time I got better and developed little tricks to make the process easier. Today, I don't print and cut anymore. I use beautiful stickers I buy from Etsy or make myself.
I'm still not an artist, but my drawing skills greatly improved over time. I can draw plants now. You can find a lot of inspiration on Pinterest. It also helps if you have all your supplies ready (print and cut before) and in one place. It is easier to see how the elements work together when you have all of them in front of you.
Practice does make perfect. Your skills will improve, and you will want to try new things, maybe even an art journal or just a page on your BuJo just dedicated to artistic things. For example, I use the month covers to do nothing but have fun mixing collage, drawing, adding quotes etc as a monthly celebration of my new skills.
By taking the time to practice your skills and the method, you can have a Bullet Journal that's both fun and functional. By finding your fun, you'll find your style, and the motivation to keep going. Maybe you'll even find yourself sharing your layouts to inspire other people. On that note, I'll leave you with a few covers and a picture of Fangs with a monthly log for inspiration.
Here are some Instagram accounts to look for inspiration. All of them use collage to decorate their BuJo. Of all the things I have tried, collage was easier.
About the Author:
Camila is a Brazilian private tutor, dog mom to Fangs (a golden retriever who has a nice career as a Bullet Journal model) and stationery shop owner. She is addicted to notebooks, stickers and stamps and loves spending her time planning and executing new projects.