Inspiration Boards: The Why + How

by Grace Bonney

inspiration boards

If you’d asked me a few years ago if I would spend a few days every year making vision boards for life and work, I would have given you a huge Liz Lemon-level eye roll. But I would have been so wrong. Over the past four years, vision boards have become one of the most powerful tools in my life & work toolbox, and have helped me not only stay in touch with what I really want, but they’ve helped me envision a path to get there.

While there’s no wrong way to vision/mood board, I have learned some tricks and tips that have helped me get the most out of them over the years. And today I’m sharing those techniques, along with some tips for analyzing and understanding what your mood board is saying to you, after the jump. Happy collaging! xo, grace


Above: The vision board where I figured out how badly I wanted to move upstate, own a home and focus on family.

For anyone new to the idea of vision or mood boards, they’re essentially a way to visualize what you’re most interested in right now in your life. I find them to be an incredible way to get in touch with my subconscious and cut through all the “this is what I SHOULD be doing,” and figure out what I actually want/need right now.

Sometimes vision boards are all about the distant future, but they can also be helpful to assess the right now. Some years, my boards have been about figuring out the years ahead and some years (like my most recent board) have been about making plans (or staying on course) for what I want to do in the coming months.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Get yourself a large piece of foam core. I prefer foam core to something thinner, but any flat piece of cardboard or presentation board (even cork board) will work.
  2. Gather a large selection of printed matter that you’re okay with recycling when you’re done. I like to collect old catalogs, magazines, newspapers and use them as source material. But you can also pull from anything else lying around. I even cut the side off of a cardboard salt box one time because I liked the pattern. The sky is the limit when it comes to source materials — even fabrics would be fun to pin or glue on.
  3. Pick up a pair of scissors, a few glue sticks and thumbtacks. The thumbtacks are for organizing your images together in the initial step and the glue is for finalizing the images in place.

The process:

  1. The basic concept is to cut any imagery/text from printed matter that appeals to you (any strong emotional reaction will do!) and to collage them in a way that feels pleasing to your eye/mind/heart. I like to plunk down on the floor and pull things out one by one and gather them in a big stack until I’ve gone through all my printed matter (you can always print things off the Internet or your Pinterest boards, too!).
  2. Once I’ve torn everything out, I like to go through the pile again and cut things neatly with scissors to focus on the words/pattern/colors I’m most drawn to.
  3. Next, I like to start with the image I’m most drawn to and place it in the center of the board. Then I start forming relationships between images and laying them next to each other. Don’t glue at this stage yet, unless you feel strongly about the image and its placement. I like to use push pins here to keep things in place. (Tip: Don’t do any of this in front of a fan like I did this year — you’ll lose it all in one quick woosh).
  4. Continue placing items/images until you’ve added all of the images you want. It’s okay to leave some out or to add/embellish images and text any way you like! Sometimes I like to add something written or draw in the space between images on the board.
  5. Once you like your placement, I like to take a picture to document this phase and make note of where everything is. Then I start gluing them down until they’re all in place.
  6. Then step back, admire your work and start seeing if you can find some of the bigger themes or messages. They may be about family, kids, work, finding your voice, changing your personal style, etc. Make notes without judgement. Then hand your board to someone you love and trust and see what they might see that you miss.


  1. My biggest tip has to do with the “picking/selecting” phase in the beginning. Don’t go in with any preconceived notions. Oftentimes, when I go in with the idea that I want this board to answer some big life questions for me, it will end up being all about work. Or if I focus too much on work, I end up picking images that I think will speak to what I want to see. The key is to grab images that you respond to strongly, without overthinking or judging it. Those strong feelings will make themselves clear when you start arranging. But if you pick things you think you should pick (ie: as a woman in business I always feel like I should pick words like “power” and “strength,” even if I’m not drawn toward them), you’ll end up with a board that is more about what you think other people think your board should say, versus what you really want it to say.
  2. Document the phases with photos. Sometimes the way I arrange things in the pushpin/placement phase is different than how it comes together when I start gluing them down. I learn a lot about myself in that moment and it’s valuable to get a picture of each stage to see what’s changed and, maybe, why.
  3. Always run your board by someone else you trust. I find that people I know and love sometimes see things and connections I don’t.
  4. Be aware of mini-themes within your board. My boards always end up having a central theme in the middle and then smaller mini-themes in different areas of the board that have to do with health, family, etc. Those mini-themes are important to assess, too.
  5. Have fun with it! There’s no grading happening, so don’t worry if yours is neat, pretty, messy or anything. Just trust your gut and you’ll end up with something that really speaks to you.

Suggested For You


  • I’ve been collecting some pictures and photos from magazines and from the web but I never been able to do my vision board, but this post really inspires me to do it. I making it a goal for next year! Thanks for the tips. Maybe I’ll make a post about it in my Blog in 2017!

  • I love this! The part I like the most is the approach to grab the images that attract you without pre-conceived ideas, it makes it easier! I ‘m probably going to do this with my kids this month, thank you!

  • I have always loved making photo collages and I love your tips! Another fun thing to do is to give special people in your life photo collages on shoe boxes. You can coat them in Mod Podge if you wish. They are meaningful and practical!

  • Was it you or Oprah who also highlighted a few years back that once you’ve made your collage you can let it go, or put it somewhere that you don’t see it everyday, so that you don’t overwhelm yourself with feeling like you need to achieve something? I remember that either you or Oprah also noticed you actually reached what was on your vision board simply by creating it. I like that all a lot. Thank you for these tips on this post.

  • My 5th graders work on dream boards every June. In my classroom, we talk about life’s transitions and how we can shape what’s to come by imagining … creating …. and believing. It’s a fun and inspiring way to end our year together, and each one of those kiddos is so engaged in the process. Every student’s board – like every student – is so different!

  • Thank you for this! I just decided that I’m going to host a few friends for a 2017 vision board session at my studio . . . so your timing couldn’t be more perfect!

  • I love making dream boards and have made about 4 over the years. I thought it was a bit corny too but they do seem to work. I usually keep them in sight for a while. They bring me a certain joy and excitement looking at them. After a while I tuck them away believing that all of it has been achieved. Some of the goals take a long time to happen, some happen quickly and a few fade away, no longer important. I’m ready to make a new one and to look at the old one’s and see what has happened.

  • Thank you for these helpful tips on creating vision boards! I tend to create a lot of “inspiration” boards in my work with wedding clients, but I hadn’t really thought of creating them for my personal life beyond what pinterest offers.

  • I just got given boxes of unwanted magazines, more than I can store. I haven’t done an inspiration board since my teens but am going to give it a go. Great for this time of year, thinking about what’s next… Thanks for going into detail about how you make yours.

  • I love your idea. It reminds me of the Smash It journals popular a few years back. I am blessed to have a crafting space where I have 3 large boards & 3 small boards and finally a chalk/dry erase combo board. I have covered them & decorated/embellished them & each is for primary subjects in my life: Professional, hobby/personal; part-time work & current/future plans and dreams. It includes family photos, travel plans and home improvement projects, for example. I need some space between my images so I can easily discern what I want to find. I put ribbon, borders, jewelry components, pins, etc. to do this.
    The smaller cork boards are perfect for a small easel and I keep pics, how-to/tits & my sketches on them for the projects I have going at the time.
    Average size Bulletin boards can be found at Michael’s, Staples, Target and even Wal-Mart for $5-10 & same for my 2 square & one round cork boards.
    If u have the space they are not only invaluable motivating but decorative.
    Finally if u r in a basement like I am w/a couple of unfinished walls-u can use liquid nails to secure them where u like.
    Thanks so much for the reminder to keep are ideas easily to access visually & touch, edit, interchange as we change!

  • Edit from previous comment please:

    1st paragraph:
    ‘Tits’ should be ‘tuts’ as in tutorials.

    3rd paragraph:
    Not invaluable but ‘invaluably’

    Last paragraph:
    Keep ‘are’ ideas’ should be ‘our’

    My apologies
    Thanks-Renee Townsend