It all started with the book that took me 3 years to finish reading. The Artist’s Way is a 12 week course for blocked artists, written by Julia Cameron. My inability to finish was attributed to several things, really. I started reading it in art school, when I clearly wasn’t blocked as an artist, and then I tried again when I was severely depressed after Africa. So, about 14 months ago, I picked it back up, victoriously made it past Week 4, and kept plugging on. At that point, I was legitimately blocked, and ready to face my demons and process the difficult things. Truly, I do love love love this book and highly recommend it to any creative person who feels stuck, or even those unable to admit that they are a creative person! The techniques and assignments and insights were transformative and brought me on an unexpected joyful journey.
One of the first things Julia Cameron talks about is giving your inner child permission to play and experience joy. My inner child? What a picture. As a little girl, I didn’t experience shame or fear (at least, not in the ways I do as an adult), and I cared far less about success and failure or other people’s approval. Children have a remarkable way of experiencing the world and finding mystery in things that look plain and boring.
That got me thinking. If I could do anything without the fear of embarrassment or failure, with complete freedom and no expectation or standard, what would it be?
Painting. Drawing. Artistic mess-making.
I would be a painter, standing at my canvas flinging paint everywhere, that’s where I’d be. I’d go back and redo all those amazing preschool crafts we did, with tissue paper and bubbles and colored water and melted crayons, and no one to tell me that my watercolor rainbow doesn’t actually look like a proper rainbow. “Little Kathryn” (who still goes by Katie, of course), had no doubt that she was a “Real Artist”, and needed no one to justify it for her. Little Kathryn could boldly throw her thoughts and feelings and imagination on paper without holding back.
So, somewhere in this train of thought, I pulled out a sketchbook I had bought myself. I started doodling. I started making pretty letters. Then, very timidly, I tried painting with my set of Crayola watercolors. Then I ran out of ideas, and hit up Pinterest for some of theirs. I found out very quickly that art journaling was a “thing”, had been a thing for a long time, but was now becoming wildly popular and there was ample inspiration out there. If you’d like to peek, here is my Pinterest Board of art journaling ideas—I don’t visit it all that often anymore, but I’m so glad to have it all gathered still.
What exactly IS art journaling, and why is it a big deal?
Art journaling is a technique of expressing thoughts, feelings, and observations on paper (in a book, usually), via drawing, sketching, painting, mixed media, and any other type of art you can think of. There is no right or wrong way to art journal, which is one of its greatest qualities. I have seen Moleskine sketchbooks, I have seen homemade travel journals with layers of ticket stubs glued in. I have seen people incorporate magazine collages, layers and layers of paints, all scribbled over with markers. In every way that an individual uniquely sees the world and relates to people around them from their personality and history–that’s how many unique versions of art journals there are. Art journaling is a phenomenon used in art therapy, to help people process trauma and difficult situations. It is used by active, successful artists around the world to keep them inspired in their own particular work. It is used as any method of journaling would be used–to document life, growth, change, hardship, moments to remember, sweet things.
When I really dove into art journaling, momentum grew so quickly that I hardly know how to put words to it. I went from timidly putting a few lines on pages, to being able to process in a new way. I went from a dried up creative well to one bursting and overflowing with color and poetry. Art journaling is something that I simply stumbled upon, not what I ever intended to use my art supplies for. It has been incredibly revealing, incredibly motivating, incredibly helpful in the process of healing.
I think everyone has the tendency to bash their early work. I know I do. I look at the photos I was taking when I got my first professional camera and gag a bit. Even when I look at projects that I was crazy about in art school, I scratch my head and wonder why I thought I was so great? However, in this case, I specifically am showing photos of my earliest work. I want to celebrate it! I want to declare that I let my inner child out to play, and she was timid at first, and then grew in confidence and freedom. The more confident I get, the more bold I get. And the more bold I get, the more honest I can be, and the more I can pour out my heart into my work. So, here are the first art journal pages. There has been much growth since then!
I went a bit crazy in the beginning with the art supplies and books, I’ll admit. I must’ve started last January and perhaps sometime in March, I got to take a trip into town— I came back loaded down with all sorts of magazines and bags full of paints, crafts, markers, paint pens, sponges, ink, canvases, watercolor paper…I could go on. It may not have all been necessary at that very moment, but I’ve used all of it at some time or another. Amazon Prime has been my greatest friend and also the worst enemy to my wallet, but all of the books listed below have been super useful!
Some of the most useful books at the beginning were:
The No Excuses Art Journaling Method by Gina Rossi Armfield— an introduction to one type of art journaling. I really liked the monthly list of colors and words for inspiration.
The Art of Whimsical Lettering by Joanne Sharpe
The Painting Workbook by Alena Hennessy. Super practical for some painting techniques for those absolutely clueless about painting, like me!
Zenspirations by Joanne Fink. I’ll do a whole post on Zentangle and its delights, but this was my first “real” introduction to it, other than the bazillion things I saw on Pinterest. A book is less overwhelming sometimes.
Adventures in Mixed Media by Amy Jones
My very favorite magazines at the time (and still!) were pretty much stumbled upon. When I flew into town, I went and stood at Barnes and Noble, and stared at the shelves. Whatever visually inspired me came with me that day. Now, I can only afford one or two every once in awhile, but they are SO worth it. Someday I’ll subscribe for reals!
- Bella Grace
- Somerset Studio
- Art Journaling
- Artful Blogging (I know, not about art journaling, but totally inspiring for everything creative, and pretty pictures too)
- Daphne’s Diary (delightful, adorable, very British-country-chic)
- Cottage Hill
- and of COURSE, National Geographic