Express Yourself

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Journaling helps teens explore creative self-expression.
By Rebecca Walden

In our hyper-connected world, there is something delightfully irresistible about a blank sheet of paper.

Before the script, before the book, before the masterpiece, there is the idea. Well…the idea, and the blank sheet of paper.

Teen library programs around the country have taken note, offering a variety of creative journaling workshops to help young library patrons engage in this intellectually stimulating hobby.


Write It

It’s been said that everyone has a book in them. Discover yours! Taking just five minutes each day to jot down your thoughts and ideas can be a great way to get in sync with your inner novelist. Another is to enroll in a writing-focused journaling workshop at your local library.

At Clayton County Public Library in Jonesboro, Ga., Youth Services Librarian Bea Mengel recently hosted such an event, during which she drew inspiration from The Freedom Writer’s Diary Teacher’s Guide to help young patrons engage in discussion and creative thinking.

“Each participant received a spiral bound notebook, a pen, and stickers that they can personalize their notebook/journal with. Each participant also left with a list of writing prompts for those times when they don't know what to write about,” she says. 

The camaraderie of a creatively-stimulating small group can give you just the nudge you need to get going on that short story, poem, blog, screenplay.  The possibilities are endless.


Paint It

Between classes, extracurricular commitments and college prep, it can be almost impossible to find any down time. But at Randolph County Public Library in Asheboro, North Carolina, teen programming emphasis on self is a vital part of overall emotional well-being, as their “You Are Here” series recently demonstrated.

The creative journaling program, led by Melissa Walker, a local high school art teacher, focused on how to tell a story through the pages of a journal and make it personal, according to Teen Librarian Amy E. Keith Barney.

“Prompts such as ‘What was the happiest moment of your life?’ and ‘Where’s your favorite place on earth?’ were given during the workshop [which helped patrons use] different layering techniques of paper, stamps and paint,” she says. “This program helped to loosen up the teens, express themselves through visual art techniques and create a journal that they were able to take home and be inspired by.”

In at least one case, that inspiration helps introduce a patron to a creative side he never even knew he had in him.

“One program in particular was the Downtown Mural that was completed in 2008,” says Barney. “Every morning teens would meet me at 8 a.m. sharp to begin painting the downtown mural.  One teen took leadership of all of the trees on the mural and completely customized them to have the same look and feel. He would come and paint in the morning and then dedicate his afternoon to playing Varsity sports. His artistic side and creativity bloomed during the two weeks we spent working on the mural.”


Wear It

At the George Hail Free Library in Warren, Rhode Island, Moira Richardson recently hosted a creative journaling event focused on the art of collage. Held as part of the Teen Summer Reading Program, the event encouraged patrons to design collages from recycled materials such as maps, sheet music, magazines, and old dictionaries. The collage work was personalized into circle designs, which were then made into buttons that patrons could wear.

“It was a success just to see this age group engaged in a creative activity,” says library staffer Desiree Brunton. “I see them very engaged in social networking sites, but they were sitting around a table asking each other for design advice and interacting with one another in such a positive and thoughtful manner. I was told by two of the participants that they have brought their journals home and have continued to get together to make "Frankin-people", which is a fun concept of mixing different body parts from various people in magazines to create one very strange looking person.”

“This was a nice way to get teens together that don't think they are ‘creative’ or don't think they have anything to ‘express’” says Brunton. “It gave them a starting point. It sparked their sense of humor. Some teens [even] found very inventive ways to use old maps.”


Visit your local library to obtain these resources.

True Vision: Authentic Art Journaling by L.K. Ludwig

Raw Art Journaling by Quinn McDonald

Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling: Learning to See and Record Your Life As A Work of Art by Marianne Heib

Writing Down the Days: 365 Creative Journaling Ideas for Young People by Lorraine M. Dahlstrom and Pamela Espeland

Art Journaling: Pages in Stages by Dawn DeVries Sokol and Interweave Press



Rebecca Waldenrrebecca walden

Rebecca Walden is a Birmingham, Ala.-based freelance writer. She has more than a decade of experience in information services, during which time she has worked with all types of libraries throughout the United States.


Photo credit: by Seeking Sense.

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