How to Keep a Colour Journal—and See the World Differently


    Clear your mind, connect with your surroundings and hone your creative muscle with this simple daily practice. Four Nike designers show you how.

    Last updated: 3 January 2022
    7 min read

    Hands On is a series where you'll learn tactile techniques from expert innovators.

    "They say that colour is a whole other language", says Jaana Beidler. "It's one without any words that connects intuitively and deeply with us. It carries a lot of emotions".

    Colour is a language that Jaana, as a senior director of colour design at Nike, is fluent in—and one she wanted to keep speaking with her tight-knit team when they started working remotely due to the pandemic. Having read that journalling often helps people process difficult times and moments of crisis, Jaana had an idea to do the same … except with her own twist.

    "Words, at least from me, don't come easily. I think in colours", says Jaana. "So instead of writing a journal, [keeping a] colour journal seemed like something that would be more impactful for us". And so, Jaana invited members of her team to start documenting visuals that struck them in their day-to-day lives. At home and around their neighbourhoods, they began to see subtle beauty in everyday details: high-vis road signs standing out in a natural setting, a vibrant pink flower decaying over days, the bright blues and greens of tennis courts and football fields sitting empty and unused—and so much more.

    Watch the video above to learn colour journalling methods from Jaana and other Nike designers, and hear about the mental and emotional benefits this creative practice can offer. Below, find a step-by-step guide, sample entries from the group and a template to help you start a colour journal of your own.

    Hands On: How to Keep a Colour Journal

    A Step-By-Step Guide to Colour Journalling

    Step 1: Observe

    Start by simply looking around you with curiosity and intent. "Noticing shapes, textures, colours and how they interact with each other … [is] almost like a meditative practice", says Nicola Trigg, a senior design director at Nike and fellow colour journaller.

    So go for a walk, take your time and don't get too caught up in finding something epic. It's all about clearing your mind, seeing details and taking in your surroundings and feelings. "[It] can be something as tiny as a leaf on the floor or the giant clouds in the sky—or the fact that everyone has weird letterboxes", muses Nicola.

    Step 2: Capture

    Next, document your findings. "We all take so many pictures, so you can definitely use your phone camera, but it's also fun to try to do it very analogue", says Jaana. "You can pick up something you find on your way and put it in a journal and really look at it. Let it be real and tangible".

    Other ideas? Take a sketchbook, draw what you see and paint the colours on the pages, suggests Chiyo Takahashi, another senior design director at Nike. "I don't think there's a right or wrong way", she says.

    At the time of filming, Jaana, Chiyo, Courtney and Nicola were members of Nike's Colour Design team, which is responsible for observing the world and translating societal trends into seasonal colour palettes for Nike footwear, apparel and equipment. Some have since moved on to other roles at Nike, but colour theory will no doubt remain a lifelong passion.

    Step 3: Identify

    Once you have your image or objects, build a palette by selecting individual colours that catch your attention. You can use traditional tools like markers, paints, coloured pencils—or go digital on your computer or phone, using an app with a colour dropper tool.

    The magic is what your eyes and cursor are drawn to, says Chiyo. "Depending on where you click, the colours are so different, so you do have to use your intuition and what feels right to you that summarises what you're seeing. It definitely involves a process of editing".

    "For me, it's almost like analysing and challenging my own ideas", adds Jaana. "I have noticed over the years that I gravitate towards certain things. I'm trying to get out of my own comfort zone. I'm pulling colours that are not the typical ones that I usually go for".

    Next, name your colours, based on your own experience and reflections. It's also where the fun comes in for Courtney Dailey, a product design VP at Nike. "[It's] a way to be a bit cheeky sometimes", she says. Some examples from the group? Closed Down Brown, Rotting Rainbow Chard and Plastic Flamingo Pink—just to name a few.

    Step 4: Reflect

    Lastly, let your thoughts come out. What do the colours remind you of? How do they make you feel? What was on your mind at the time? As Jaana and the others have learnt, this step is where a lot of growth and centring can happen.

    "I think that adds another level of introspection", says Chiyo, who was struck by the stark beige colour of empty shelves in grocery stores at the start of the pandemic. "Journalling just really helps [me] process how I'm feeling at this moment. It increases your awareness of the world, [and your ability to be] more curious and open".

    Get Inspiration From the Entries Below …

    Hands On: How to Keep a Colour Journal

    Name the Colour Experience: ALL-BOARDED-UP NEUTRALS
    Date: Saturday, 18 July 2020
    Thoughts & Observations: "Many of the businesses in the centre of Portland are all boarded up. It feels sad and strange walking the empty streets. Who has painted these blocks of colour on the plywood? The colour palette is drab and desolate, like this time we are living through. The more I look, the more I start seeing humble beauty and hopefulness". [Words and photos by Jaana. Layout design by Nike Journal team].

    Hands On: How to Keep a Colour Journal

    Name the Colour Experience: CELEBRATION OF BEAUTIFUL DECAY
    Date: Sunday, 12 April 2020
    Thoughts & Observations: "I love how the petals change colour as they decay. This got me wondering about the concept of beauty, which led me to one of my favourite [quotes by] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 'Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever'. What is beautiful? There is beauty in all stages, at all times, in all things—if you look". [Words and photos by Nicola. Layout design by Nike Journal team].

    Hands On: How to Keep a Colour Journal

    Date: Thursday, 26 March 2020
    Thoughts & Observations: "With state parks closed, we took a long walk in the country to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. During the walk, I documented various roadside markings, signs and utility boxes that we stumbled across. I was intrigued by the contrast these man-made industrial objects created against the natural background. These colours are purely functional, non-design and emerged completely out of necessity". [Words and photos by Chiyo. Layout design by Nike Journal team].

    … And Create Your Own Colour Journal

    The team's biggest takeaway? Let your journal be yours. Whatever catches your eye, however you want to document it, any thoughts or emotions that come to mind as you reflect—it's yours to create.

    Use journalling as an opportunity to de-stress and tap into your creative and observational mind. The fact that it's separate from work or deadlines is what makes colour journalling so special and important to Courtney. "It's just creativity for creativity's sake", she says.

    Here's a template to get you started—or you can make your own. There's no wrong way to keep a colour journal.

    (Note: PDF is available in English only.)

    Film: Azsa West
    Words: Brinkley Fox

    Reported: November 2020

    Originally published: 28 December 2021

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