Art Journaling

How to Start an Art Journal

April 25, 2016


I feel like this is opening a can of worms, or delving into something that I cannot quite write all about, but here’s an honest attempt.  There are a million ways to do this one thing, and no way is right or wrong!  I’m only writing because it seems like I’m asked quite often.  When people see my stack of art journals, or we have company over and they are requested to be shown, it’s always, “How did you start that?” So, since I talked about the idea side, here is the practical side to starting an art journal.


This is an old copy of Treasure Island that I got at a garage sale and then covered with pages out of a magazine and some fabric tape as well as washi tape. My favorite art journal so far.

  1. Pick a book to journal in.  Either a blank book, a composition book, an actual journal.  I’ve decided that my favorites are the repurposed books, or altered books, so I have started finding old (but not antique) books at garage sales and in the library trash bin.  The really old, really cheesy Reader’s Digest are some of my favorite, but really large outdated children’s books are also a good one.  OR, do like Julie Balzer does and just make your own journal!  I tried once, and it was a bit of a disaster, so I think I’ll take her online course soon and then I can speak more into that.  One of the most important things with using an old book is the part about ripping out pages.  If you are going to take an old book and start painting and collaging and writing and drawing and layering in it, you must take out some of the pages to make space.  People recommend half, I go a bit more than half.  I count my pages…save one, rip two, save one rip two.  You can get specific here and use an exacto knife, but I just rip carefully.  If the book pages are super thin, you’ll want to glue two of them together also, and then coat them with gesso, which is a primer used to coat canvases and easy to obtain.
  2. Okay, now there’s several approaches to take.  This is like a “pick your own ending” kind of story.  You can either prep the book ahead of time by painting or covering all the pages in gesso and whatnot, or you can just start at the beginning and see what happens as you go.  Personally, I prep my books ahead of time.  And I work on the pages out of order.  I also prep more than one book, because my moods change and I just want to be able to pick something up and dabble in it for 10-15 minutes at a time during the day without getting out absolutely all of my art supplies.  So, when I prepare a book, I go through most, if not all of the pages, and either paint over them or cover them in some sort of craft paper or big pictures cut out from magazines.  Recently, I have been working on a set of children’s books from the 70’s that are the small, square, cheap paperback kind.  They had bright awkward colors and very dated looking animal pictures, so I was glad to paint over all of those.
  3. Work in as many mediums as you are comfortable with, and then explore some that you aren’t.  I find that I end up painting and layering with stencils a lot, because I really do desire to be a painter, but am not super confident in my ability to make shapes.  I tend to incorporate a lot of magazine clippings, poetry, my own photography, zentangle, and found objects (leaves, sticks, flowers, old paper bags, dryer sheets, things with interesting textures).  Are you a writer?  Write in it! Do you draw?  Then draw!  Or do all of the above on a page and see what happens.  The art journal page at the top of this post was a magazine photo of butterflies, I glued a dryer sheet over it, put some gesso on it for texture, used some water-based spray paint, glued one of my own pictures in the corner, and put one of those little quotable stickers in the middle.  So, it’s not only fun to look at, but it’s got a lot of texture too.
  4. Try to connect with your pages.  One of the benefits of prepping a book beforehand is that I don’t have a blank page to stare at in starting.  I can go somewhere that I’ve already begun and just incorporate any of my thoughts, emotions, or ideas into the page.  I tend to flip through one of the 3 or 4 journals I’ve got going at any given time, and see what colors appeal to me at that particular time on that given day.  And whatever pages appeal to me help spark some ideas.  Is there a technique I’ve been wanting to try?  Is there a project I’ve had sitting aside to incorporate?  Is there a color that perfectly expresses my mood at the moment?  Where could that fit?
  5. If you are truly stuck on a beginning place, this is where books and magazines and Pinterest are helpful.  You can refer back to this post for some of my favorite sources of ideas and inspiration.  Another thing I find helpful is art journaling prompts.  They are very much like writing prompts, but you just illustrate them in mixed media rather than completely in words.
  6. Just keep going.  If you hate your page, cover it up with gesso and try again.  Accept that this is a journal, which by definition is meant for PROCESS.  It is not necessarily meant for other eyes to see!  It is definitely not meant for perfection.  It is a tool for learning, experimenting, processing, expressing.  About a third of my pages are epic failures, but I don’t look at them like that.  I look at them and think, “Can I make this into something that I like better?” “What is it about this that is bothering me?” “Do I understand the process or the type of art I am experimenting with?”I hope this helps to get you started!  Do you already have an art journal going?  Do you have questions?  Leave me a comment, I would love to hear from you, or see your current work._MG_8430
    Up next…my favorite art supplies to use, and how art journaling for myself turned into art journaling with others
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