Here is an easy-to-follow tutorial for drawing basic bullet journal icons.
I primarily use these in doodle notes and my bullet journal – to draw attention to key concepts or just to fill empty space to create a visually balanced page of notes, I keep them tucked in my bullet journal idea notebook, and these accents make my top tips for bullet journaling.
Step by Step Guide to Drawing Bullet Journal Icons:
How to draw LIGHT BULBS:
I like to draw lightbulbs to illustrate key concepts or where in the notes something “clicked” for me. Plus, they are just fun to doodle- Just draw a balloon, add a little stack of pancakes and you are halfway there. 😉 Long, skinny, fat, squatty, they all turn out pretty charming and look great colored yellow or uncolored.
Free Printable Worksheet: How to Draw Bullet Journal Doodles
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How to draw BLUE RIBBONS:
Used in my doodle notes to denote a really good idea, I like drawing award ribbons a lot. If I’m bored, adding shading to the ribbon lets me play a bit while still (mostly) paying attention.
How to draw A PUSH PIN
Mostly a filler doodle to occupy blank space for me, occasionally in my doodle notes I use the pushpin to denote a good idea worth remembering- or a place in my notes that I need to come back to and study.
How to draw a NOTEBOOK or CALENDAR
Perfect for serving as a visual reminder to help remember dates or key information. Bonus: I like that this doodle of a spiral bound calendar can be done sideways for a notebook effect. Also, the design begins with a basic square- meaning as a lecture is progressing I can draw a simple box around vital data and then come back a few minutes later and add the embellishment to turn the square into a spiral bound booklet.
How to draw a BOOK or TEXTBOOK
Like the spiral notebook, this icon is extra handy for headlines and setting apart important information. You might also choose to include characters from a specific book, either on the front of back cover- or to use this as part of a “books I’m reading” bullet journal spread.
In Part 1 of Doodling Journal Accents, I demonstrated how I add light bulbs, blue ribbons, thumbtacks, and spiral bound calendar pages to my notes and journals. In part two, I show my process for doodling lightning bolts, award medals, gears, question marks, and checkmarks. All helpful accents for bullet journals, visual notes, or doodles.
How to draw a LIGHTNING BOLT
So simple, but easy to mess up. The trick is to keep your angles consistent on the first line, then match the angles with parallel lines. This lightning bolt doodle is great for marking major ideas.
How to draw an AWARD MEDAL
A fun doodle to fill blank space, denotes a “best practice” idea, or congratulate yourself in your journal for a goal met, the award medal has a 3-D ribbon that can be fun to shade in notes if you’re bored. It’s a simple 4 step doodle, shown below.
An award icon is an acknowledgment of all the hard work that you’ve put in on something. It is a representation of personal achievement.
How to draw GEARS
Perfect for denoting when information starts to “click” and make connections. Drawing a gear can be a fun and challenging exercise. You will need to pay close attention to detail and ensure that your gear icons align.
How to draw a 3D QUESTION MARK
Because a cool question mark should be a standard icon in your doodle-repertoire, large question marks help mark things left unresolved, not understood, or places you need to give special attention to during review or engage the instructor about during office hours.
How to draw a 3-D CHECK MARK
Helpful for marking off checklists with style.
2022 Update: New Printable PDF
Recently, I decided it was time to revisit this bullet journal tutorial. When I originally created this resource, I was still working as a primarily pen and ink artist and did not yet know how to convert my paper drawings into high-quality digital resources. Because of that, the original resource was gritty when enlarged and generally not very high quality, so in the summer of 2022, I set to work to redo this visual (that’s why it will look a little different than the header picture or the image you may have found yourself clicking on from Pinterest!)
With this new update, I made it easier to use this drawing guide interactively. You can use the provided space on the printable worksheet to practice each bullet journal doodle step-by-step – learning how to draw by copying each step of the walk-through.
How-to-Draw Guides & Structured Practice
Everyone knows that the best way to learn to draw whether it’s for fine art or for a bullet journal, is through practice, but when we don’t know where to start, or even have ideas for what to draw, often, it’s hard to know how to practice.
Even though I work as a professional illustrator, I know what it feels like to start from scratch drawing something that is unfamiliar and particularly challenging. A few years ago, I decided that I would learn to draw an ampersand (aka the ‘&’ symbol). No matter how many times I tried to draw this simple & sign, it was always lopsided, pointy, or just weird.
My brain which had learned all of the characters of the alphabet decades ago, struggled to grasp just how to add an entirely new character. Instead of giving up, I committed to practicing daily. Each day as I wrote in my bullet journal at the end of the day, I would letter no less than a dozen hand-drawn &’s into the margins of my journal. It was there, through practice and through hundreds of terrible &’s, that I eventually became really good at adding &’s to my hand lettering.
Drawing bullet Journal accents may seem like an entirely different activity, but it’s not! Even if you think of yourself as “not an artist” you know how to draw meaningful lines that look like what they’re supposed to – your handwriting. However messy it is, it’s proof that you’re able to capture form and meaning in a line. If you can write in a way that communicates your message to other people, you can learn to draw simple accents for your bullet journal.
Building a Visual Vocabulary
The trick to having a visually impressive bullet journal when you aren’t an artist is this: selecting a few easy-to-draw bullet journal icons and practicing them until you can draw them in your sleep, with very little effort.
It may sound daunting, but just like me learning to draw &’s, you can learn to add illustrations to your bullet journal even if you don’t feel like you’re an artist. The trick to creating a visually interesting bullet journal is simply to choose a few – maybe just 2 or up to 67 – accents that you know that you will reuse regularly, and practice those figures until you are pleased with how they turn out.
It might take weeks or even months, but using a portion of our bullet journal – perhaps even a page dedicated to the learning process- can help us stay in a learning mindset and remind us that when other things in our life feel challenging, maybe they, like learning to draw a new bullet journal doodle accent, just need time, practice, and attention to get it right.