Embracing the art of memory-keeping through creative journaling
Feeling a lack of affordable journal supplies in Singapore, Melissa Tan decided to start her own craft supply store.
In the age of social media where memory-keeping is simply a click away on Instagram, the slow yet intimate process of journaling is another way to keep our memories alive and an important form of self-care during the pandemic.
But journaling is more than just “Dear Diary” entries, as Melissa Tan shares.
Melissa, 30, is the creator behind Tangerine Studio, a local craft supply store and Instagram page dedicated to all things journaling. With more than 2,300 followers on Instagram, she is part of the growing community of journal artists who share their love for the practice online.
Creative journaling involves not only written text, but also an expression or documentation of a specific area of interest through the use of art or other mediums.
“To some, writing can be considered creative journaling as it is not what they are used to in their daily life. For me, creative journaling kicks in when you incorporate stickers, colours and you start drawing, doodling or sketching too,” she explained.
Youthopia spoke to Melissa as she shared her experience in the local journaling community and how she turned her search for affordable journal supplies into a craft supply business.
Memory-keeping through journaling and art
Growing up, Melissa had always had a love for reading, writing and the arts. Coupled with her habit of being “a planner” and her love for nice stationery, picking up journaling as a hobby came almost naturally for her in secondary school.
“[In secondary school,] I picked up a journal and because I thought I had a really interesting life, I wrote down everything that ever happened and every moment of it in those journals. That was how I kept and promoted my love for writing,” she candidly recalled.
Although her interests waned as she got “sick of it” growing up, Melissa eventually returned to creative journaling in 2018 – and it was through the same activity that helped reignite her creative spark.
“When I started creative journaling, I felt like I was creating and being a creator again, but in a different form. Although I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to writing or fanart, at least I know that I am still a creative person and doing what I love,” she said.
Followers of her Instagram might recognise her colourful journal spreads where each page is intricately decorated, sometimes according to themes, with a series of stickers, washi tape, doodles and her daily musings.
Sharing about her creative journals, Melissa explains that she keeps several, each with a different purpose. Her memory-keeping journal, for example, is filled with fond moments of her life – from going on staycations with friends to finding out her enneagram sign.
On the other hand, she keeps a journal for her favourite movies and books as well as a Hobonichi notebook – a cult favourite journal brand – for journal prompts and doodle practises.
Each journal contains a “mixture of things” for Melissa, who prefers to journal about things that make her happy as a way to look back upon significant moments of her life.
“I won’t say that I have a journaling style, but I know that I don’t like having white spaces and prefer filling each page. I like jamming as many stickers, writing or pictures as much as possible,” Melissa shared.
“I like colour and vibrancy and I feel that I have a better sense of design [than when I first began]. I think I’ve also learnt how to unleash my creativity and I use anything that makes me happy – like washi tapes – to beautify the page.”
Most of her designs and techniques used are also inspired by various Instagram journaling accounts she follows.
Melissa, who currently works as an arts marketer with a local orchestra, takes time out of her evenings to journal up to four or five times a week. Depending on the complexities of the theme, most spreads can take up to a few hours or even days.
Although her journals may seem well put together, Melissa reveals that she does not plan her journals as she prefers to follow the “natural process” when creating.
With creative journaling borrowing from various elements of art, Melissa adds that she has had her share of art blocks and would usually try to adapt to the situation instead.
She explained: “Some days I’ll force it to push through with an art block – like the time when I thought of ways to fill up the white spaces in my journal by writing my favourite poem. Other times when I can’t think of anything, I tell myself that I don’t have to finish the spread by today.
“If it turns out ugly, I’ll just tell myself that it’s okay… Even if I don’t like it, I don’t have to look at the page again and just have to finish it, turn the page and be done.”
Starting her own craft supply store
Creating a journal begins with several technical considerations. A blank page notebook, for example, is usually preferred over lined notebooks if it is intended for sketching or doodling.
Finding the right stationery that is functional and suited to a user is also a decision that can not only come at a cost, but can also be overly confusing for a beginner given the wide variety of products available.
“I had trouble finding affordable journaling supplies in Singapore because a lot of what we have are either imported from countries like the United States for brand-name products or of very low quality,” she explained.
“I wanted to find affordable journaling supplies for myself that were not too expensive but also of reasonable quality. Since I couldn’t find that myself, I decided to start my own business.”
Her search for craft supplies prompted Melissa to start Tangerine Studio in 2019 – an independent journal craft supply store named after her surname and love for citrus fruits.
She primarily offers notebooks, journal inserts as well as stationery including stickers, washi tapes and stamps. She also works with local brands, with one of her latest product launches featuring a notebook cover handmade by a seamstress using Liberty London fabrics.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Melissa frequently set up pop-up booths at various art market fairs and events. It was also through such events that she was able to meet her followers and other journal artists within the community.
“Everyone is very open to sharing. I can be at the booth with two separate customers but we will end up talking about stationery and journaling together. Afterwards, all of us make friends and start exchanging details to follow each other on Instagram,” she candidly recalled.
Just as marketplace events closed because of the pandemic, Melissa was coincidentally also planning to take a break to set up her e-commerce platform for Tangerine Studio in early 2020.
“I had six months to focus on the webstore during the circuit breaker since we could not organise markets or booths. With few events to go to, your one source of income is significantly decreased so you can’t booth or sell your product,” she said, adding that the livelihoods of many creators in the art sector were also badly affected.
Since 2020, Melissa has pivoted her store towards online sales since physical events are few and often met with strict safe management restrictions.
Even for stationery stores like hers, going online has its own set of concerns especially since consumers would often prefer to see the product in person.
On starting a business by herself, Melissa said the process was “confusing” with lots of “trial and error”, especially when managing administrative matters and finding events to participate in.
Reflecting on her experience thus far, she added: “Although this is still my hobby, it has – at least in a business sense – given me a chance to learn new things especially on the ecommerce side…
“While I’m not perfect, I’m learning how to run my own business, deal with suppliers, comments and putting myself out there [with these new experiences.]”
Thankfully, her friends and family were supportive of her hobby-turned-business, with her dad being one of her biggest supporters that first encouraged her to start Tangerine Studios.
“Everyone has been really supportive and I think because there are a lot of us being very entrepreneurial in our generation and starting our own business. So it’s less worrying about the dangers of starting a business but more of being supportive of trying something new.”
Exploring the creative possibilities in journaling
With the increasing popularity of studygrams and bullet journals, various art trends and journaling techniques come and go frequently.
Even for Melissa, journaling is a constant learning process even after several years as she believes that there are always new journaling techniques and styles to pick up.
Her latest interest includes ‘Dutch Windows’ – a layering technique that cuts a page to create an illusion showcasing what is behind a page – as well as ‘Polco (Polaroid Decoration)’ which she was inspired by her followers to try.
“Journaling may look like just putting pen to paper but with creative journaling, many may want to do different types of journaling and I think they need to first figure out what they hope to journal.” she explained.
Besides researching the different materials required to start a journal, Melissa also encourages youths who are interested in starting a journal to “not be afraid to ask questions”.
She said: “I know of people who want to try but don’t know what to try so they would spend their money unknowingly by purchasing very expensive supplies but for all the wrong purposes… Just do a bit more research to find out what you actually want to do and then narrow it down.
“If all else fails, just be open to trial and error!”