What is bujo-ing?
To quote the official bullet journal creator, it is an analog system “to help you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” To quote me (Rosie Lewis, avid bullet journal-er), “my bullet journal is my baby and I cannot live without it”. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, I certainly didn’t birth a notebook, but it has improved my life. To put it simply, a bullet journal is a diary meets scrapbook meets to do list meets budget book meets creative journal meets anything you would like it to be.
If you want to start bullet journaling and know nothing about it, I would recommend checking out the official video guide. However, here’s something you need to know; I don’t follow it. In my opinion, following the ‘official’ system is wonderful to help you get the gist of a bullet journal, but once you’ve got the basics, you’ll get the most out of it if you design it yourself. I tried to follow it to a tee, but I found it too rigid and plain for something you can create yourself. I’m a little bit of a juxtaposition of a human; I require strict planning and preparation in my everyday life, but I’ve got to be surrounded by creativity and arty-farty things or I feel drained. My bullet journal is where my left brain and right brain are both satisfied, and there’s not a lot of time in life where that happens!
If you want to get into bullet journaling and don’t know how, let me show you how to bujo; Rosie style.
First off, you need a notebook. Simple as. Any notebook will do, it’s all to do with preference. Some people like lined notebooks for ease of writing, some like sketch pads for drawing purposes, some line square notebooks for precision. It’s all down to preference. Don’t know what you like? Experiment. Use a coloured notebook for your first bujo. Don’t like it? Try a plain one for your next. You’ll find what suits you eventually. The only advice I will give is make sure you a notebook with decent paper thickness, to avoid bleeding and ghosting (Bleeding is where the colours goes through the paper and marks the page underneath, and ghosting is when the colour does not seep through the page, but you can see it on the other side. There, you learn something new everyday!).
What do I use? The Rhodia Webnotebook in A5. It’s got dotted paper, great for precision and symmetry when drawing freehand, and pages are 90gsm (the gsm stands for ‘grams per square meter’ and that’s all about paper thickness and weight!). This book is not an art book, so it won’t bode well for those who use watercolours and heavy art pens. However, the pages are thicker than a normal notebook, which means you can use fineliners and gels and vibrant colours without bleeding and with minimal ghosting. I am also currently trying a journal from the Little Journal Company which I received as a Christmas gift, and I am loving it so far!
You’ve got your notebook, it’s time to get the rest of the kit. At the very basics, you will need a pencil. I will always recommend sketching out whatever you are designing or writing in your bujo before putting pen to paper. There’s only so much you can hide by sticking coloured paper and washi tape over a mistake. When it comes to pens for drawing and writing, it’s all down to preference and down to paper weight. You may just want to use a black biro; simple, cheap, doesn’t leak with coloured pens, gets the job done. You may be an art enthusiast who needs different fineliners for writing and brush pens for drawing. Use what you feel comfortable with at first, and then experiment. Also, it’s important to consider paper thickness when choosing pens. Your normal fineliner will do well on almost all kinds of paper, but a fountain pen will leak through onto anything other than thick or art paper.
What do I use? I’ve used quite a few pens in my time (title of my autobiography), and I’ve found that I like fineliners. My favourite pens for bujo-ing are ones that you can’t just pick up at any old WHSmith; they are from Muji, the store to end all stores for bullet journaling needs. I only discovered this brand through trawling through Instagram and Tumblr for bujo inspiration (I lead a wild life, I know). The pens in question are the 0.5mm Gel Ink Pen. They don’t bleed, they don’t run when used with colours, and they are great for writing and line drawing, which I prefer. If I can’t get to Muji (which is the majority of the time), I’ll use the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint 0.5mm pens.
You thought I was getting excited over plain black fineliners, then you haven’t heard me talk about COLOURED PENS (I know it seems like I’m not a cool person, but I think you’ll find that is wrong, I am very cool). I, personally, love a colour filled bujo. My weekly spread always have a theme, most of them based around colour. Not only does it look aesthetically pleasing, using colour in your bujo can also be very useful; like colour coding your to do list or making a mood tracker. Buying lots of pens, especially top range ones, can be pricey. It’s important to remember that the brand you use doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to find what you like, and roll with it.
What do I use? I went through a stage of trying the expensive pens that people online raved about, and soon realised I could get better options for much less on the high street. I have four sets of pens for colours; some people may say that’s a little extra, but fight me. My go to set is the Crayola Supertip felt pens. You think of ‘Crayola’ and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘children’s art work’. So what? They do the job! They have such a variety of colours, including darks, brights, and pastels, all for a super affordable price. I managed to get my set of 24 for £8. For when I am doing something a little more artistic, or need some fine detail, I use my WHSmith Dual Tip Brush markers. These are own brand pens, relatively cheap, and easy to find, and they are beautiful colours! Finally, I have my favourite type of pens; pastel shades. For general bullet journaling, I use the Stabilo pastel highlighters. These are great for making notes or colour coding, but they are my favourite for adding gradient to the page. They layer beautifully and blend surprisingly well for highlighters, and also don’t have the harshness of your normal, neon highlighters. Plus, you can get a pack of six for about £6. For finer details and arty farty doodles, I use the Tombow Brush Pens, which I received for Christmas. (I know this seems an excessive amount of coloured pens, but I have been bujo-ing for years. I have found what works for me, and it is a bona fide hobby for me. Some people spend money on designer clothes or car parts or football boots. I spend mine on pens.)
There are two types of accessories when it comes to bujo-ing; things that are useful, and things that are extra. First up, useful accessories tend to be ones that make sense; a large eraser to rub out across the page, a long ruler for precision, a glue stick and scissors for sticking notes and pictures in. The extra items tend to be the ones that focus on aesthetics and colour and all things pretty. This includes washi tape (decorative or coloured adhesive tape), stamps, gel pens, clips, post it notes, stencils, the list goes on. I know the desire to buy all of things when you start out is strong (I have certainly been there), but take some time, find what works for you before you splurge large amounts of cash on something you may never even continue with.
What do I use? I’ve got a love hate relationship with washi tape. I find certain brands to be ridiculously overpriced for what it is e.g. pink sellotape with some glitter on it. I do use washi tape, but I currently use a pack of three colours I received from The Works. I like my tape to add something a little extra, not to distract away from all of the blimmin’ hard work I’ve put into the layout and fonts. I’m also a sucker for a good gel pen, a glitter gel pen to be precise. I find they are great for fine, added detail; shadowing font, adding to line drawings, highlighting boxes.
So you’ve got the notebook, the pens, the kit. What now? I would recommend looking at the ‘#bujo’ or ‘#bujospread’ on Instagram or Tumblr for some inspiration. You can find ideas for new pages, themes for spreads, doodles to copy, and motivation to get you started. However, it’s important to remember that the popular spreads and work you see on Instagram and Tumblr are made by people who are practiced at bullet journaling. Like any hobby, it gets better with practice. Practice, practice, practice. I’ve been bullet journaling for two years now, and each spread gets better (or closer to what I want) over time. It’s also important to remember that those images online are curated. They won’t be showing the spreads they aren’t proud of, or the stuck together pages to hide the mistakes, or the hours it took them to get it to look exactly how they wanted. Social media is wonderful for inspiration, but make sure not to falling into the trap of judging your work against someone else’s.
And then, you begin. You go at your own pace, you do entirely what you want to do. This is your project, so it plays by your rules. Mistakes will happen, non-erasable ones at that, so just embrace it; make it into something else, start over, or just let it be. Bullet journaling should be relaxing and productive, not stressful and time consuming. That’s why I bujo. I have an issue where my anxiety flares up if I am not doing anything. Busy day at work? Fine. Going home and doing absolutely nothing after work? My body freaks. It has the need to be doing something productive and worthwhile at all times. That’s probably to do with my deep seated, ingrained fear of failure, but we’ll get to that another time (hopefully through therapy). When I am making my weekly spread, I am doing something productive and worthwhile, I’m planning my week, getting my life in order. It also fuels my creative drive, so I don’t worry about not being creative enough. Most importantly, it relaxes me. I can do it whilst watching the TV or listening to an audio book; I can spend hours filling it in, or just dip in and out when I have the chance. Bullet journaling is not a need, no-one needs to do it to survive (I was most definitely exaggerating in the first paragraph). It keeps me organised, creative, and relaxed; isn’t that all that matters?