Hit the Books with Dan Milnor: Creative Journals

“Are you going to make your journal available for purchase?” 

I’ve been hearing this question quite frequently over the past few days after making a post about my latest Blurb journal creation, a 120-page, softcover notebook filled with imagery and artwork from a trip to Albania. I made this journal for myself, as I do with all my journals, never thinking it would have any appeal to a wider audience. But after fielding this question again and again, I’m beginning to wonder. 

I’ve been a journal keeper since childhood but recommitted to daily journaling in 1993 after finding a book about Peter Beard in the Phoenix public library. Until that day, I had never heard of Peter Beard, nor did I know about his skill as a diary maker. I opened The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa, and my view of the world and the importance of journaling crystallized. 

Beard was one of the most fantastical journal keepers the world has ever seen, and his notebooks are detailed recordings balanced with incredible artwork. My books are simpler and based around the written word with additional artwork added in during the Blurb design process and after the fact, once I’ve received the book. I add to my journals with pen, ink, acrylic, tape, and other art supplies. 

Journal as gateway into bookmaking

I often describe journals as the gateway product for future bookmaking. Many of us place a high level of importance on our books. Consequently, we can also get bogged down or distracted by the idea of making the perfect book. 

After 30 years of being around photography books, I’m not sure I found a perfect one yet, but the bogging down part, yes, I’ve seen that plenty of times. 

The journal doesn’t have to be perfect because the journal, most of the time, is made for one person and one person only. This means that whatever happens in that book stays in that book and stays with the person who designed it. 

Make mistakes, try new things, experiment, and take huge bookmaking risks all without the possibility of being exposed as an imperfect bookmaker. Do this enough times and you begin to realize the enormous benefit of making notebooks and journals. 

A Preview of a creative journal by Dan Milnor highlighting journal making examples

The rules of journal-making

When it comes to my journals and notebooks, there is only one rule: There are no rules. 

Whatever is placed on those pages is subject to my glue, ink, paint, or scissors. Nothing is sacred, not even my beloved photography. If an image has a dark area, then that area is perfect for the white gel pen. If an image is complex, I can outline all the edges of shapes and subjects within the frame. And there are plenty of blank pages for whatever thoughts I have percolating around in my head. (Like why I’m obsessed with the Toyota Yaris?) 

How to make one 

If you haven’t yet made your first Blurb journal, you will find them under notebooks and journals on the site. If you’re already in BookWright, they have their own tab there too. 

A huge bonus of creating a notebook or journal is that there is only a single paper choice, so in essence, there is no choice. One less chance to get bogged down. 

And the cover, for me, is softcover all the way—which keeps the price down

Finally, I’m a fan of making journals of at least one hundred pages. This page count makes the journal feel more significant but also assures I’ll be carrying it and working on it for months at a time. If I get through four of these notebooks in a year, I feel like I’ve been journaling the way I need to be journaling. 

Journals are fun, and they are personal. There is no judgment, no pressure and they are impossible to get wrong. Not many things in life fall under this description, so take the time to enjoy the process and the opportunity to make something so close to home, even if the work inside comes from the other side of the planet.  


Dan Milnor is a professional photographer and Blurb’s creative evangelist. He helps us all feel free to make books. And he consistently impresses us with his journals—even if he frustrates us by not selling them!

Ready to make one? Join us at Blurb.

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