Debbie is a sexual and reproductive health nurse practitioner in Berkeley, California. She began art journaling in 2016 with no prior art experience. Debbie lives with her partner and their two teen boys and is pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at the University of California, San Francisco.

I’ve never been a writing journaler. I’ve never done scrapbooking. But life has been full of ups and downs over the past few years, and sometimes my art journaling documents that journey.

I started art journaling three years ago, on the invitation of a friend who was taking a class online with a teacher in Michigan. I loved it. A lot of my art journaling expresses feelings and things that are going on in my life. Most of the time, what I’m processing isn’t obvious to the viewer of my pages. Sometimes, though, my pages are a more direct documentation of events in my life.

I have a lot going on. I’m a women’s health nurse practitioner, and I’ve been providing sexual and reproductive health for 25 years. I am also an abortion provider. I take care of my patients’ most intimate concerns and issues. I have been in a relationship with my partner for 22 years, and we have two teen boys. There are a lot of life circumstances and emotions to process. All the time. I’ve never found another practice that gives me the kind of container for my feelings that art journaling does.

Looking at my images, you will see that when I’m documenting something in my life, I don’t usually use actual items from my day or my life, like tickets, maps, business cards, or menus. I’m not a scrapbooker. I do sometimes use photos, and I frequently put myself in my pages with hand carved stencils, photocopied photos, or drawn self-portraits. I will often use words to document my mental state, either my own written words—legible, or not–or quotes or poems that speak to where I am emotionally.

I get a lot of pleasure from looking back at my completed journals and knowing where I was when I made certain pages. I like to see references to trips I took, or to conversations I had, or food I ate. The journals I’ve made and used for Get Messy seasons often contain pages showing where I was when I was participating in that season.

I recently went through several life events that have caused a lot of upheaval in my life: I lost my job, I started a doctoral program, and we sent our older son away to a therapeutic wilderness program for ten weeks. If ever I needed to art journal, it is now. I have been working on a series of art journals called my F**king A**hole Journals, to use when someone is being one. Actually, it started out as one journal and now I’m on volume III. I made these journals out of cardboard boxes, like cereal boxes and La Croix boxes. They are my place to art journal when someone irritates, annoys, hurts, or angers me, and they are very cathartic. I think things are starting to look up, though, because I filled up the first two volumes very quickly, and now I’m not feeling as drawn to make pages in volume III. I am eager to look back on this series, recognize where I was emotionally at the time I made them, and see that I’m in a much better place. I know it’s going to happen.

Action Steps


Don’t feel you need to be literal to document your day or your life. You can use found images to represent yourself or people in your life. You can use quotes or poetry instead of your own words. Photocopy photos you love to use in your art journal, either as they are, or make transfers with them.