Diaries. Journals. Sketchbooks.

They serve a range of purposes; diaries document the momentous and the mundane, the day-to-day detritus, and the sporadic moments of joy and/or despair.

Artists’ diaries can give a good insight into the creative processes. (See the illustrations included here.)

Tate website

“A diary is a record of events or experiences. From sketchbooks to video diaries; and from the mundane and everyday to big life events and how these make us feel… We have pulled together a selection of art to give you some ideas for how you could approach the theme of diary for your art exam…

By Thomas Ratcliffe Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sketchbooks and journals: lots of art has a diary-like feel to it because artists often use their own experiences as a source for the art they make. This is especially true of sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are not just for sketching in; artists usually have their sketchbooks on them all the time. They use them not only for sketching what they see around them and working out ideas for artworks, but also to jot down thoughts and feelings (as well as shopping lists and reminders of things they need to do that day!).

See also “A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art”


“Reading an artist’s diary is the next best thing to being there. Direct and private, diaries provide first-hand accounts of appointments made and met, places seen, and work in progress — all laced with personal ruminations, name-dropping, and the occasional sketch or doodle. Whether recording historic events or simple day-to-day moments, these diary entries evoke the humanity of these artists and their moment in time.”

These comments are true.

Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This photograph is issued to end-user media only. Single use only. Photographs must not be archived or sold on.

But let’s be clear: the visual arts Process Portfolio is NOT a diary.

Yes, it’s quite likely that some parts of the visual arts journal will have diary-like pages and content. The journal is in some ways a kind of diary, and diary-like entries would be appropriate in the VAJ.

But the PP is an ‘assessment instrument’ and, as such, the writing needs to be focused on the art and art-making rather than a day by day description of the student’s life, thoughts, struggles etc.

Frequently the unedited version of a diary records the trivial alongside the important, partly because at the time of writing the student may not know what’s trivial and what’s important.


Constructing the PP allows for and encourages selectivity.

The PP is a portfolio of EVIDENCE of the art-making processes and development as an artist.

Including everything – all the journal pages, photographs of everything as it developed from start to finish, all relevant critical investigations etc  – in effect just bombards the examiner with a mass of non-selected stuff.

Eugène Delacroix [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It will certainly be evidence…But will it be good evidence?

Less is More

The best PPs are not diaries and do not attempt to document the whole art-making output over the two years.

The best submissions consider the PP as a whole, frequently focusing of fewer works, thus allowing for a more detailed discussion and demonstration of the processes involved, including initial ideas and intentions, experimentation, process, refinement and reflection.

The PP counts for 40% of the final grade, but should not be a record of everything.

It’s much more than a diary: its a selection of the best evidence and a distillation of quality.

Less is more!

Visual Arts Guide p44 and “selection”

“Students at SL and HL submit carefully selected materials which demonstrate their experimentation, exploration, manipulation and refinement of a variety of visual arts activities during the two-year course.

The selected process portfolio work should show evidence of their technical accomplishment during the visual arts course and an
understanding of the use of materials, ideas and practices appropriate to visual communication.

They should be carefully selected to match the requirements of the assessment criteria at the highest possible level.”


Images (of artists’ diaries, NOT Process Portfolios!)