Welcome to Bible Journaling!
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Join me in glad adoration.
What is Bible Journaling?
Bible Journaling is a creative and spiritually-uplifting process of journaling directly in a Bible.
When Did Bible Journaling Become a Thing?
Throughout time, people have recorded notes and events in their Bibles, but the current movement largely had its origins in a tiny spark: Shanna Noel, a creative scrapbooker with a blog thought to take her scrapbooking supplies to the margins of her Bible. The post received more attention that she could have ever imagined. Curiously the Bible entry had the words: “Allow God to surprise you.” SURPRISE! At first I think she was scared like a kid who got caught coloring in the Bible, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. She eventually formed a Facebook group called the Journaling Bible Community. I joined the group after it had been around for couple months; it already had 3,000 members. In two years the group grew to 35,000 members. Shanna Noel went on to found a company called Illustrated Faith to design products just for Bible Journaling, including stamps, stickers, and washi tape; now she’s partnered with DaySpring. What I love most about Shanna Noel’s story is hearing how her visual approach to processing sermons at church made the Bible approachable for her. She was a new Christian and married to a young pastor, but found the Bible difficult to read. God met her where she was in life, enjoying her creative pursuit and opened the Word in a new way, not just to her but to thousands. I’m reminded of the campfire song Pass It on: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going/and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing/That’s how it is with God’s love!”
Who Doodles in their Bibles?
Bible Journaling is something that everyone can embrace. The trick is to find a style and an approach that works for you. The movement spread like wildfire through circles of women who were already engaged in various papercrafts from planners to scrapbooks. Children and teens naturally embrace this form of Bible Study. Men respond with a more masculine style or simply use written notes. Below is artwork by James Presley. You can see more of his art here.
Any Bible becomes a children’s Bible once it is covered in their own illustrations! Here’s the first page my son completed:
How Did I Get Started?
A friend of mine from Facebook posted a link to a colorful Bible journal with stickers, and it just called to me. I saw how much fun and joy one lady was having with her Bible study and burst into tears. I knew what was missing in my spiritual life. I was at church every Sunday, but not making it to worship because I was with the preschoolers teaching Sunday school. Getting to play creatively in my Bible gave me my “want to” or my zeal for spending time in scripture! What speaks to me (as a lifelong Christian) about Bible Journaling is how old familiar passages come to life in a completely new way. Bringing a creative element to the pages of my Bible gets rid of the “I’ve heard that 10,000 times before” feeling. It’s like God is saying to me: “You’ve heard it, now live it!” When you make a verse your own in the margins of your Bible, you are reminded of that verse in your daily living when you need it most. Here’s the picture that inspired me to begin…
What about You?
People are drawn to Bible Journaling for all kinds of reasons:
- As an act of worship
- To leave as a gift to children or grandchildren
- To keep a record of your spiritual journey
- To connect the Word to your life
- To pray the scriptures
- To relieve anxiety or cope with loss
- To return to a childlike faith
- To memorize scripture
- To grow closer to God
This is the protest I hear most often: “What if I am not an artist?” Let me assure you, more than any other craft, Bible Journaling is all about the process! It’s about spending time in the Word with God, allowing God to meet you in the margins. Time spent in the Word is together time with God, and personally, I can testify that “our time” with God pays greater dividends than the “me time” we often feel that we need. God accepts what we create with joy and even hangs a copy on His giant refrigerator in heaven just as we do for our children. And God’s Word will be written on your heart in return.
The Grace to Create and Play in God’s Holy Word
It’s relatively common to have a visceral reaction to Bible journaling. Some have been taught that it just wrong to paint or color in the Bible. One friend looked at my Bible and told me a sad story of getting in big trouble for just using a highlighter in her Bible as a child. Many people in the Journaling Bible community have shared stories of feeling completely misunderstood or hurt by a relative or church member, taking offense upon seeing art in the Bible. Makoto Fujimua, a Christian artist from Japan makes the case that art is always transgressive, but he speaks of transgressing in love. He shares the example of the woman who anoints Jesus with costly perfume just before his death. Her act was not well-received by the disciples, but Jesus recognized it as an act of love. God sees the love we put into our art and His grace covers us!
Everyone finds their own comfort level with Bible Journaling. Personally, I have a natural tendency to stick to the margins and not cover the Words. (I am also the kind of person that doesn’t lift her hands in worship, too; they just sort of cling to my sides.) I force myself to push my comfort zone and let my art cover the whole page from time-to-time, but it’s just not me. Many people keep a Journaling Bible just for art, and maybe the whole page gets covered with art so that the original words can no longer be seen, but usually it’s almost always clear what verse first spoke to the artist. Everyone is different. There’s no right or wrong way. Some people start out with the idea of being artistic or creative, but ultimately decide they prefer to write prayers or reflections or notes instead. Check out Tia’s note-taking approach to Bible study…
Find what fills your soul! Keep in mind: If you aren’t enjoying yourself while Bible Journaling, you are probably doing it the wrong way for you.
The biggest challenge that most people have with Bible Journaling is overcoming perfectionism. Even people who aren’t generally perfectionists will start to panic when it comes to putting art in their Bible. I think there’s two reasons: 1) It’s the Bible. 2) It’s not like you can tear a page out if you don’t like it. And I get it! This is my biggest struggle. I often make a photocopy of the page I am working on and practice three or four times before I put it in the Bible. I want each page to at least be my best. I fret about spelling errors or getting my lettering spacing wrong. I almost always do my lettering in pencil first.
My best advice is just get started and keep going. Eventually you will make a mistake, spell something wrong or have terrible bleedthrough or completely mess up a page. And by the time this finally happens, you will have spent so much time in your Bible and you will have so many treasured memories of time spent with God that it won’t bother you as much as you feared and you’ll start to loosen up and ultimately, this will be good for your art! Honestly, something that helped me overcome perfectionism was to do a few entries using only kid art supplies. There’s something freeing about using supplies where perfection is unobtainable anyway.
One of the best ideas I’ve seen for overcoming perfectionism is to make permission pages on the front cover of your Bible. Lauren from thinkingcloset.com has these words written on the first page of her Journaling Bible.
Lauren’s permission list definitely speaks to my own experience, too. Bible Journaling is mostly about creating time and space to meet up with God, who marks us as we mark in our Bible!
How Do I Find Time?
I get asked this question so often. Bible Journaling is just something I do as I have a moment or feel inspired. I find that it encourages me in all my other endeavors. It’s also restorative and enjoyable for me. It’s not something I spend hours doing, just a few minutes, sometimes just once or twice a week. I see it as a reasonably efficient use of time since it combines a creative outlet with spitual growth—it’s a two-for-one! God makes it clear throughout the Bible that we are expected to take time to rest, play, and enjoy life. Bible Journaling is part of my margin time. My first post speaks to the need that Bible Journaling fills in my life..
Original Art vs Borrowing Ideas
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”-Ecclesiastes 1:9
There’s a wonderful TED talk called “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. He argues that all great artists “steal” inspiration from others and this is freeing: “Nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what has come before. Every new idea is just a remix or remash of one or two previous ideas.” But the goal of an artist is not to copy exactly or imitate the style of another, but to take what you see and transform it into your own rendition. Austin says that transformation is the highest form of flattery.
I find inspiration in all kinds of places: Sometimes I will Google a verse and just see how others have set the verse into type or what images have been paired with the verse in the past. Sometimes I’ll search for a specific image. I get all kinds of ideas from looking at posts in the Journaling Bible Community. Sometimes I take inspiration from Pinterest. And once in a while the ideas for a page just flow freely. On rare occasions, I’ll see something I love so much, I just print it out and tape it into my Bible or hang it on my own refrigerator. When I tell this to the artists, they usually respond: “that means a lot to me.”
As you look for inspiration, I would encourage you to not limit yourself. You can do word art, a drawing, a doodle, or a painting, but you can also write a prayer, sermon notes, thoughts from a devotional, quotes, song lyrics, a list of key takeaways, or a paraphrase.
Where to Begin
This questions comes up often, and it doesn’t have an obvious answer. I would caution against unrealistic expectations: I don’t think many people start at Genesis and journal all the way through Revelation. It’s much more common to begin with Bible verses that speak to you. One of the best places to begin is with the verse that was preached on Sunday. Just come home from church and journal the verse while the message is still fresh in your mind.
When I bought my Journaling Bible, Amazon.com informed me that people who bought my Journaling Bible also bought the book Writing in the Margins by Lisa Nichols Hickman. Since I did not have a plan for reading the Bible and I wasn’t going to worship at the time, I decided to do all the prompts at the end of each chapter. Working through these prompts proved to be an enormous blessing to me as began illustrating my faith. Lisa provided many ideas for responding to the text (most of which don’t necessarily involve an artistic response) and her book helped me understand better the transforming power of writing in the margins. She shared many examples of how this practice has enriched lives, changing them for the better, creating ripple effects that last through time. I loved reading about Rich’s Bible, which inspired the book, and how he used his Bible as a journal to record everything from notes about a run to his deep life questions.
Another good place to begin is with a devotional kit from Illustrated Faith. They come out with a new one each month and I have a total weakness for these kits, which come with journaling prompts, stamps, ink, and washi tape. They are really fun. Illustrated Faith also has online workshops. (I am not affiliated in any way with Illustrated Faith—just a fan!)
Once you get rolling, you will discover endless inspiration and find countless reasons to break open your Bible. One of the things that inspired me to begin a blog about Bible Journaling was just knowing that I would never run of inspiration with the Bible as the subject.
Share your Art
I would encourage you to post a picture in the Journaling Bible Community or on Instagram. Maybe the verse that you needed is what somebody else needs to hear, too. Even if your inner-critic protests, maybe what you create will help someone else see that he or she can do this, too.
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see you progress.”
–1 Timothy 4:13-15
All that you really need to begin Bible Journaling is a Bible and pen. You don’t need a special Bible. That being said, Journaling Bibles with wide margins are now widely available, and there are so many more options for Journaling Bibles now then when I began. I don’t think I could begin to cover all the choices. I love how Anneka Korfker Bible journals in miniature to adapt to her Bible…
I am still happy with my first journaling Bible: The Crossway ESV Single Column Journaling Bible. It comes in many different options for the cover, but the insides are all the same. The Bible is well-constructed and has held up well. I am pleased with the translation, too. This Bible remains very popular with Bible journalers. It has cream pages and lighltly lined margins. When I look at all the choices today, I feel grateful that my choice was largely limited to this one! It’s perfect for me.
There are now Bibles with line art for coloring. When I gift a journaling Bible, I often give the Inspire Bible, which has pages to color and plenty of blank space for journaling, too. For many, it’s a little less intimidating to simply begin by coloring line art than with a blank page. Below is a page that I simply colored with colored pencils in my Inspire Bible.
There are also large interleaved Bibles with entire blank pages next to each page of text for art or journaling. These are very popular because they provide plenty of space for art. Some of these come in large print, which will make many people happy. Journaling Bibles come in an increasing variety of translations.
To Page Prep or Not
You don’t have to prep your Bible pages. I did not use any kind of page prep in my first year of Bible Journaling. I just used supplies that worked well on thin Bible pages and there are plenty to choose from. Coating a page with clear gesso does expand the possible supply list. Gesso is basically clear or white paint. Clear is better for most Bible applications. It both protects the page from bleedthrough and provides a better surface for wet art supplies. There are two brands of gesso I recommend: Prima Art Basics Clear Gesso and Dina Wakely Clear Gesso. Both these brands dry smooth enough for most pens. Avoid Liquitex clear gesso, which has too rough a finish for most Bible Journaling applications.
You can prep the whole page or just the margins. I frequently use post-it notes to mask off the text, especially when using gesso and Distress Inks in the margins. The post-it notes provide a nice crisp, straight edge.
What has surprised me the most about my Bible journaling journey is just how many supplies work well on the pages of the Bible. After good pens and a Bible, I would invest in a nice set of colored pencils, which is the most obvious choice for adding color to thin Bible paper since they need no page prep and don’t bleed. After a year of experimenting and watching others, here’s a big list of supplies and techniques that seem to work well. My advice is to start slow and add to your collection as you see techniques you would like to try. This is not a list of must haves, but rather a list to help you see all the possibilities!
- Micron pens
- Pencils and white erasers
- Colored pencils
- Gel pens
- Alphabet & word stickers
- Die Cuts
- Glue sticks or double-sided tape
- Glitter and glitter glue
- Washi Tape
- Watercolors (better with gesso*)
- Acrylic paints
- Distress Inks (need gesso to prevent bleedthrough)
- Distress Markers (need gesso to prevent bleedthrough)
- Tombow dual brush markers (These don’t bleed if you use a light hand; gesso wouldn’t hurt!)
- Watercolor Pencils (better with gesso*)
- Inktense Pencils (better with gesso*)
- Inktense Blocks (better with gesso*)
- Crayola Twistables
- Neo Color IIs
- Pan Pastels
- Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens (need gesso to prevent bleedthrough)
- Graphite paper (for tracing)
*Better with gesso just means that the materials won’t necessarily bleedthrough, but that the thin Bible paper will hold the color better if that makes sense.
- The trick to better lettering is to imagine that you are drawing the letters. My grocery list is impossible to read, but when I write out a verse in my Bible I just focus more on each letter.
- Play and have fun first! Every word artist I’ve studied practices on scrap paper and tries a number of different options before deciding how to proceed.
- First just write out the verse on scrap paper and circle any words that speak to you. This will help generate ideas about how to lay the text on the page. I like to do this in a quiet space where I can pray and focus at the same time.
- Find the midpoint of the word and the middle of your margin space. Draw the middle letter first.
- Use pencil before pen so that you can correct any problems with spacing and check your spelling. It’s easy to make spelling mistakes when “drawing” words.
- Combine contrasting styles of lettering: fat and tall, cursive and print, fancy and plain
- Pay attention to how letters might either bump into each other or connect. Maybe you want to move the word on top a little to the left to avoid letters bumping into each other. Maybe the bottom of a “y” can loop through through the top of an “h”.
- Fake calligraphy is easy: Write in your normal script. Go back and make just the downstrokes thicker.
- Beautiful hand lettering is not that difficult with a brush pen. It takes practice, just use more pressure on the down strokes and lighter pressure on the upstrokes.
- An easy way to do block lettering is to print the letters simply in pencil. Then simply draw around the printed letters.
- In watching Shanna Noel create, I notice that she often puts down all the cute stuff on the page first and then just journals around it in her normal handwriting, which creates a nice effect. I’ve found that putting stickers down first is generally better than adding them as an afterthought.
- If I am going to use gesso on a page, I usually write in pencil first and erase the pencil marks so that I can just barely see where to draw the letters. Sometimes pencil marks are hard to erase from gesso. (Dina Wakely clear gesso is the best for making it easy to erase pencil marks!)
Other Tips and Tricks
What can you do to fix bleedthrough?
Bleedthrough is when the ink seeps through the page. I generally try to avoid this problem. Shadowing is when you can see the art from the backside. I don’t worry as much about shadowing unless it’s really distracting. Bible pages are so thin that you can even see the text from the other side of the page if you look closely. Your eyes just don’t tend to focus on that. Eventually if you use enough different art supplies bleedthrough will happen. As long as it does so in the margins, you can simply cover the backside with stickers or scrapbooking paper. My favorite solution is to paint the backside with white gesso, which covers up the bleedthrough and provides a good surface for something new.
What if the page wrinkles?
Any wet mediums will cause the Bible pages to wrinkle. Don’t worry! Once the page is dry, just shut the Bible and the page will flatten out in time.
What type of adhesive do I use?
I use an Elmer’s glue stick. You could also use double-sided tape or most adhesives you would use for scrapbooking.
What ink to use with stamps?
I generally use Staz-on ink. Honestly, I’ve had mixed results. Sometimes the ink causes minor bleedthrough and sometimes it doesn’t. It never hurts to put down a coat of gesso first. There’s a product called Chalk edgers. They don’t bleed at all, but you can’t paint them with any type of wet medium. The same is true of Illustrated Faith inks, which are great if you give them time to dry and then don’t get them wet. I like Distress Inks for stamping, too, but they definitely require gesso first. You can also dip stamps into a thin layer of acrylic paint and stamp. Another technique is to coat the stamp with a marker and then “huff” onto the stamp to introduce a little extra moisture. Experiment with what works best for you.
Where do I get my stamps?
I really enjoy clear stamps that mount to clear acrylic blocks for Bible journaling. With just one chance to get the impression right in the Bible, being able to see clearly through the stamp, give me greater confidence. If the stamped image is not as clear as I would like, I just go back over the ink with a micron pen.
- Growing Meadows (Etsy)
- Bythewell4God (Etsy)
- SRM Stickers
- Winnie & Walter
- Sweet & Sassy Stamps
- Joy Clair
I thought you said watercolor paints don’t bleed!?!
Most watercolor paint does not bleed even if the page is untreated, but for some reason Crayola watercolor paints bleed like crazy (even when I used gesso). I encourage testing any new supplies on the back pages of your Bible. The Artist Loft water colors from Michaels are inexpensive and work well.
Painting with a Credit Card
One fun way to add background color to a page is to put a small amount of heavy body acrylic paint onto a credit card (any credit card will do, but the ones from illustrated faith are cute!) and drag the card across the page. This allows you to put a thin coat of acrylic paint down. The coat can be thin enough to see text through the paint. This is a useful technique for stamping because the thin coat of acrylic paint prevents bleedthrough. Every time I use this technique I wonder to myself: Who thought this was a good idea? It’s really hard to control where the paint goes, but that’s part of the fun (I guess). Even though it’s an oddly frustrating technique for me, I usually end up happy with the results. Here’s an example of this odd, but fun technique..
Gelatos are essentially pigment in a tube. The color can be used wet or dry. I prefer to use the color dry. My favorite way to use gelatos is to color onto a craft mat and then pick up color with a make-up sponge. I use the make-up sponge to apply color over a stencil. It can be really fun to make simple hand-cut stencils. No page prep is needed and they provide fun, bright color.
One of the advantages of thin Bible paper is that it’s really easy to trace images or text. You can print out coloring pages for many Bible Stories and simply trace them into our Bible. It’s also possible to transfer an image using graphite paper.
You can print photos onto photo paper and glue them to the pages of your Bible. One very cool technique is to print the photos onto clear sticker paper or clear window decal paper. The text will show through the photos, which is a neat effect.
What do you do if you illustrate verse and want to come back to the same page and do another verse?
Sometimes our margins need margins! When this happens, I use a tip-in. I just use washi tape to tape a piece of cardstock into my Bible. I just tape one side so that I can lift it up and see the underlying text. I’ve tried different types of paper, and have ultimately decided I like cardstock tip-ins best.
Facebook: Journaling Bible Community
Pinterest: Search for “Bible Journaling by Book”, a board by halfajulie. It is an awesome collection of Bible Journaling entries arranged by book of the Bible!
Books: Writing in the Margins – Lisa Nichols Hickman
Blogs and websites:
- Shanna Noel of Illustrated Faith has many resources on her site including tutorials and product reviews.
- Check out Heather Greenwood’s bold and daring style. She definitely inspires me to be braver!
- Rebecca Jones has a whole series of tutorials on different techniques for Bible Journaling from simple to more advanced. (Just scroll to the bottom of the page!) She hosts a weekly Bible Journaling challenge on Facebook.
- My personal Bible Journaling hero is Karla Dornacher. I love her inspired art!
- Valerie Sjodin’s beautiful Bible artwork can be found at virtualblessings.blogspot.com.
- I love Tai Bender’s stamps and her blog Growing Meadows. She has many helpful tutorials!
- Lots of beautiful pages at KarenScraps.
- Krista Hamrick provides lots of bright and beautiful inspiration, too!
- I really enjoy the art and reflections found at Vintage Grace, too.
- Lacy at Catholic Icing has a page with lots of good Bible Journaling Tips.
- Rachel Higgins shares her Bible journaling journey on Faithfully Mapping My Way. (She also has an awesome collection of Bible Journaling examples on Pinterest!)
- Lots of beautiful inspiration can be found at Diane Marra’s Adore HIM creations, too!
- Jann Gray, author of Illuminated Journaling, shares the beautiful illustrations that fill her Bible on her blog.
- One of my favorite margin artists on Instagram is Kristin Wolbach. You will be so blessed by checking out her beautiful artwork.
- Robin Sampson has tips for digital Bible journaling at BibleJournalLove.com.
A Few Concluding Thoughts…
One of the most exciting ways that I’ve seen God’s Word come to life is through the recent Bible Journaling movement. It fills my heart to see so many people sharing Bible verses that have spoken to generations for centuries through social media. Illustrating our faith and the Bible and even our theology clicks with us today in our increasingly visual society. It was an idea whose time had come!
God’s Word is living and active, and one way that God’s Word comes to life is though our creative response. The stories of the Bible fill our imagination and verses of the Bible become part of our thoughts as we travel through life. Responding to God’s Word in a creative way seems to be a natural human desire from the illuminated manuscripts of Medieval monks to beautiful masterpieces lining museum hallways. I often reflect on how awesome it is that the Bible begins: “in the beginning, God created…” It is so amazing that as people we have this incredible ability to be creative, to make something new or do something in our own unique way. It is such a wonderful gift and not one that should ever be taken for granted.