37 Uses for an Index Card

One creative block I experience easily is fussing over the right supplies. I signed up for Liz Steel's superb online Sketching Now Foundations class when it was a new and live class. (It's still available as a self-paced course.) And despite the encouragement and excellent advice, I was stymied by the list of materials. I knew I could learn without expensive new supplies but the "Get to Know Your Materials" lesson never felt finished. I moved on in the class but with a constant glance back. For that reason, I love The Laws' Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling.   A discussion of materials appears many chapters in and is not the focal point.

What frees me from this creative block? Deliberately choosing extremely basic tools and letting perfectionism go.

The Humble Index Card

And what can be more basic than the humble index card? Versatile, readily available, very cheap, easy to store.

Who needs the perfect sketchbook when you can draw, take notes, clip a hole in a corner, and attach a bunch of portable cards with a metal ring?

(For the record, I own a sketchbook called, The Perfect Sketchbook. It was created through a crowd-funded IndieGoGo campaign that was a delight to experience. But the resulting leather-covered sketchbook of handmade fine Italian watercolor paper still sits on my shelf unused. Can anyone say 'intimidating'?!)

So buy a stash of index cards. Keep them readily available. Like author Ann Lamott, take one with you wherever you go. 

I believe in lists and I believe in taking notes, and I believe in index cards for doing both.
— Anna Lamott, Bird by Bird

Brainstormed: 37 Uses for an Index Card

From organizational tool, to writer's memory box, or mailman's recycling secret, here is an incomplete list of uses for your humble blank 4 x 6s. Can you add more?!

  1. A doodle a day project.
  2. A quote you love.
  3. Overheard conversation.
  4. Today: a simple 'to do' list to slip in your pocket.
  5. A masterlist of projects on your plate.
  6. A brainstorm of one project, step-by-step.
  7. A gift tag. Cut a card in half; fold each half in two, punch a hole in the corner for a ribbon, decorate (draw, paint, collage or simply write): one card makes two tags.
  8. A timeline entry, for all you hands-on homeschoolers: date one side; drawing of an event or historic person on the other. You can play memory games or lay out a physical timeline stretching across a whole room, if you're diligent. 
  9. Directions for a road trip, in case the GPS goes on the fritz, or if, like my husband, you never use one.
  10. A joke. Cheer yourself up or a young friend.
  11. Something to memorize.
  12. An address label (in lovely lettering?): tape it over the old address and recycle a used package.
  13. Notes at a conference ... in word form ...
  14. ... or visual notetaking.
  15. Foreign Language vocabularly, one word or word family per card, hole-punched and kept on a ring.
  16. A simple game to entertain while waiting, like hangman or tic-tac-toe.
  17. An overheard song you want to remember.
  18. A "To Read" (or "Buy"!) book wishlist.
  19. An art supply wishlist. For those days when you want more than an index card.
  20. Your list of overdue library books to hunt down in the house, or give a child to look for under their bed. (No? You never lose library books?)
  21. A recipe card, illustrated.
  22. A menu of meals for the week.
  23. A shopping list for that menu.
  24. Play The Shape Game. You'll need two colored pens.
  25. Random doodling space for use while in line (queueing up), while on the phone, or at some interminable meeting.
  26. A postcard to actually mail, image one side, address, stamp, message the other. Helps if thick and sturdy. 
  27. A submission to the Twitter Art Exhibit. Postcard-sized art to be auctioned off for charity. Use heavy paper.
  28. An etegami card. The delightful Japanese postcard art practice for cheering a friend.
  29. Lettering practice, one letter or stroke per card. Also helps if the paper is sturdy and fountain- or brush-pen friendly.
  30. A list of your goals.
  31. A list tracking your weight.
  32. An exercise routine, posted where you'll feel just guilty enough to do it.
  33. Pictures of drinking glasses to color in and keep track of well you stay hydrated.
  34. A list of Christmas or birthday gift ideas. I usually draw cartoon visuals.
  35. A vision board entry.
  36. A bookmark. Can double as a home for noting passages you enjoyed as you read.
  37. A Thanksgiving Banner! Each person draws or writes something they're thankful for that year and dates the back. Then punch a hole in each upper corner, thread string or yarn through the lot and hang up the banner, draped over a mantel shelf or around a room.

We've put up our Thanksgiving banner annually for the last nineteen years and the resulting unruly muddle of cards still gets hung during the week of the U.S. holiday, the third week in November. We reread the cards, remember and reflect, and chuckle over such old artwork as a three-year-old's bizarre depiction of her baby brother. She is now an adult and an accomplished calligrapher. The banner is threatening to burst from the living room this year and begin encircling the dining room. When we take it down at the end of Thanksgiving, we add the current year's freshly finished cards and file the bundle away. 

Is it Art?

Some of those suggestions don't sound like making art. But actually you can decorate, doodle on, and generally gussy up, any index card project to count as a creative venture. Any of these ideas can be the vehicle for enjoying a fountain pen or new set of Tombow brush markers. Supplies other than the index cards can be as simple as a ball point pen or as lavish as gold ink or etegami gansai paint. But whatever the materials, the risk is low, the enjoyment high, and the outcome can be one that keeps you coming back for more.

Incidentally, this blog post was entirely planned on three index cards.

Enjoy those index cards!