The Magic Of Mood Boarding

Do you remember a world before Pinterest?

I know, shudder to think, right? But many moons ago I had my own means of creative collage in the pre-pinning days. I’m talking mood boarding, the good old-fashioned cut-and-paste-paper manual method, and I’m here to advocate this creative tool by sharing how it’s helped me in my life.


For as long as I can recall, I would cut out images from magazines, newspapers, catalogues or crumpled flyers and keep them in a shoebox under the bed. Pictures of pretty girls I wished I could be, products I longed to buy and places I wished to see.

Mood board magic with Nicki Grainger

They weren’t always aspirational. Sometimes they were poignant, sad or silly. Often, I just felt drawn to the witty slogan, colours, or pattern. So; I’d snip them, and store them. As my adolescence collided with the birth of the internet (damn, I feel old) that shoe box of carefully chosen images grew dusty and insignificant.

Digital downloads soon quenched my creative thirst. The reality that you could type anything into a search bar and retrieve hundreds of pictures within seconds blew my tiny mind. I organised endless yellow Microsoft folders on the family computer, brimming with inspirational images.

Fast forward a decade, to 2009. After a series of unfortunate events in my life resulted in a darkened period of depression, I left the outskirts of London and moved back in with my parents in the rural Dorset countryside. I spent days curled up in a single bed, recovering. Repairing myself.

Venturing into the attic one day, I stumbled across that old shoe box. Sat cross legged on the floor, I sifted through the scraps of glossy magazine images my teenage self had salvaged. I was fascinated and thrilled by the old feelings that returned to me, like I’d found pieces of me that time had lost.

That very afternoon, I purchased an A3 spiral bound scrapbook from a sweet art store with wonky steps and cobwebs in the corners. I took a marker pen and wrote ‘2009; who I want to be and how I want to feel’ boldly on the first page and got to work. By work - I mean putting on my favourite music, pouring a cup of tea, artfully arranging the images and gluing them onto the pages. Sounds incredibly simple, no? But this became an almost daily ritual. I cut up almost every publication I came across, ripping apart magazines before they hit the recycling bin. I’d even subtly swipe the complimentary reading materials in the dentist reception if I saw a photo I liked!

It was only a small act of creativity, but it gave me a sense of control. I curated the look and feel of them, taking my time and pausing if it didn’t look or feel right. Here I was, in my little bedroom surrounded by rolling hills, creating my own gallery masterpiece. The pages became mental metaphors, a homage to my personal tastes and desires. At a time when my days were dowsed in depression, it truly helped. Eventually, the mental fog lifted, and I did this activity a little less.

Today, we know these to be vision boards. It’s a common creative tool, call it goal setting if you like, call it manifesting or call it mindfulness. Since 2010, image collection websites such as Pinterest, weheartit, Tumblr and Instagram have re sculpted the landscape for digital curation and gathering inspirational imagery in one place. I love these apps, and how accessible they are.

But truthfully – despite all these delicious online offerings, I still return to my physical mood boarding once or twice a month. I feel it’s essential. When I’m home alone, if I feel a bit down or uninspired, I turn off my devices and drag my big black notebooks, now heavy with glued pages, out from under the bed. Years of collected images smile back at me, they know me so well.

Whilst the shoe box was upgraded to a fancy little suitcase, the creative act remains the same; Music or podcasts accompany my magical mood boarding process, spread across the living room floor or kitchen table. Give yourself permission to make a mess. Take your sweet time. Take up some space.

In writing this blog post I flicked though my first, original mood board sketchbook. Casting my eyes over the mash up of images, I marvelled at just how many of the aspirations I’d unintentionally weaved amongst them had unknowingly been realised over the years, both big and small.

That arty shot of the Eiffel tower? I have been fortunate to visit Paris three times since then. The torn-out interviews with my idol, Barbara Hulanicki? I met her at a book signing and we chatted about fashion. Vintage clothing and interior images were stuck on almost every page, which must have been present in my sub-conscious when I took the leap and opened my own retro boutique.

mood board magic with Nicki Grainger

These books stored ideas I had forgotten I even had, goals I hadn’t even noticed I’d achieved.

We forget how influential images are, we consume thousands a day without even noticing. They can be pretty powerful if you control how you see, store and react to them. Scrolling online can lead you down the path of anxiety or other people’s tastes, but the act of physically collecting visual inspiration, of touching the paper and intentionally gluing it in place? There’s something permanent and definitive about it. I know that when I flick through the pages I make, I feel better, not worse.

These aren’t just pretty, aspirational mood boards, they are insightful journals of a visual kind. So, if you find that some days words don’t always flow, I wholeheartedly recommend mood boarding – the manual way.

mood board magic with Nicki Grainger


There are no rules. Collect imagery and inspiration from anywhere. Junk mail, business cards, even the Argos catalogue! If you decide to keep yours in notebooks, just avoid anything too bulky.

Nature offers constant inspiration. Pick up fallen feathers or include pressed petals and dry out seasonal leaves if you feel moved to do so.

Play with textures, from fabric swatches to dabs of acrylic paint. Play is essential!

I often mood board with no specific intention or goal in mind, but looking back the pages reveal things I wasn’t aware of at the time, so return to past boards for fresh perspectives.

Avoid disgruntled family members, friends, house mates and partners by ensuring you don’t chop up their magazines or newspapers before they have read them!

If you do make a mood board to align a specific dream or feeling, put it up somewhere you’ll see it daily. Inside your wardrobe walls, sellotaped to the fridge – or hey, the back of your front door

mood board magic with Nicki Grainger

Author - Nicki Grainger

BIO - My name's Nicki, I'm a creative freelancer who works with small, independent businesses to help develop, define and stylise their brand. I'd like to help yours be seen!

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