Art Journaling 102: Materials

Paper & Journals

Loose paper vs. Bound Journal. You can work on loose paper and bind it together later using book-binding techniques {fun to learn} or simply store in a large box. I started art journaling and doodling in a Strathmore wire-bound pad. Loose paper is a wonderful way to start because you can play without committing to any particular journal. If you adore the idea of working in a journal, there are a lot of great bound journals available. A standard writing journal will have thin paper which will NOT hold up to mixed media work or even wet media like watercolor or acrylics. So you'll want paper made for art. Or go the other direction and use an old book and prepare the surface for your art!

More spots to explore:

Favorite Pens for Writing, Sketching, Doodling & Drawing
Getting Words on Acrylics and Highly Layered Art Journal Pages
Art Materials to Take on Vacation
All About Sakura Gelly Rolls
All About Caran D'Ache Neocolor II Wax Crayons


For Simple Collages Using Tape, Staples or Glue Stick:

  1. Strathmore Visual Journal with drawing paper.
  2. Strathmore 300 or 400 Series Watercolor Paper.
  3. Strathmore Visual Journal with Watecolor paper.
  4. Hardback book from the discount bin, for a few dollars/euros. 
  5. Buy loose watercolor paper or mixed media paper and bind your own journal.
  6. Moleskine Classic Notebook. The unlined and unlined versions have thin, smooth, slightly off-white paper. Too thin for paint applications.
  7. Moleskine Sketchbook. Thick cream colored paper {like a manilla folder} is great for drawing and can handle light collage or stapled collage. Watercolor does not work well on these pages, although it will take gouache or acrylics. If you are planning to do gouache/watercolor or ink & gouache/watercolor, I'd recommend the Moleskine Watercolor journal or any journal with watercolor paper.

For Mixed Media Work {Acrylics, Collage}:

  1. Strathmore Visual Journal with drawing paper. 
  2. Strathmore Visual Journal with Watercolor paper.
  3. Hardback book from the discount bin, for a few dollars/euros. 
  4. Buy loose watercolor paper or mixed media paper and bind your own journal.
  5. Moleskine Sketchbook. Thick cream colored paper {specifically, the one with the paper that is like a manilla folder} is great for drawing and can handle light collage. If you are planning to do light work with gouache/watercolor or ink plus a touch of gouache/watercolor, try the Moleskine Watercolor journal or a journal with watercolor paper.

For Writing/Drawing with Ink:

  1. Moleskine Classic Notebook. The unlined and unlined versions have thin, smooth, slightly off-white paper. Good for doodles, sketches, drawings, lists + note taking. My to-do list resides in this journal. Too thin for paint applications.
  2. Bee Paper Super Deluxe Sketch Pad. Nice wire bound journal for doodling, drawing and writing.
  3. Rhodia Web Notebook. Lovely drawing journals. Various versions including dotted grid, grid, lined. Classic orange cover.

For Watercolor or Ink + Watercolor:

  1. Strathmore 300 or 400 Series Watercolor Paper. Great paper, good value. You can get wire bound or buy in huge sheets and cut to desired size. Standard weight for watercolor paper, 140 lb/300 gsm paper.
  2. Moleskine Watercolor journal. Contains 135 lb/200-gsm paper. Note: This is decent watercolor paper, but quality is declining; better for drawing or ink with touches of watercolor/gouache.
  3. Bee Paper Super Deluxe Sketch Pad or Watercolor Journal aka Aquabee journals. The paper is 93 lb/150 gsm. This is OK watercolor paper, but better for drawing or ink with a bit of watercolor/gouache.
  4. Fabriano Artistico Acquarello Watercolor paper. Yummy but expensive! 140 lb/300 gsm paper.

Art Materials

Acrylics. On my art journal pages, I use Golden Heavy Body AcrylicsFluid Acrylics and High Flow Acrylics. Heavy Body acrylics are very thick and opaque. Fluid acrylics are more fluid... and High Flow are the most fluid. All are intensely saturated.

Artist quality acrylics are more intense and consistent and have a higher pigment load. Keep in mind that you can mix paints to get a variety of colors, no need to buy every color. You can make acrylics more transparent by mixing them with fluid matte medium, which keeps the consistency of the paint.

Craft acrylics are less expensive but also less vibrant/saturated; lightfastness and consistency also differ. Learn about painting with acrylics as well as mixed media work with acrylics and collage in my mixed media art journaling workshops

Watercolor & Gouache. I use Winsor & Newton watercolor paint as well as several brands of gouache. Artist quality watercolor & gouache paints have a higher pigment load and are more intense. You can mix paints to get a variety of colors, no need to buy every color. Details about the watercolor and gouache paints that I use in my journals. Learn about painting with watercolor & gouache in my workshops!

Markers & Pens. 

➸ Wow. So much to say about pens! See: favorite pens & markers for drawing, doodling and getting words on acrylics and highly layered art journal pages

Stamps. You can carve your own stamps from erasers using an x-acto knife or lino-cutting tools. There's a tutorial here. "Found" stamps include things you find around the house like lids, medicine cups, cookie cutters, old brushes and play-doh tools. Just dip them in acrylic paint or gesso and make marks! But once you use them in your art, keep them with your art supplies.

Adhesive. Fluid matte medium can be used to attach paper to your pages.

Brushes. Buy basic, cheap brushes {or even better, your old, worn-out brushes} for adhesives because they will be trashed. For painting, buy decent quality but not junky brushes because they will shed hair and not hold water well. Try various brands, styles and sizes, until you find an assortment you like. Try flats and rounds. For mixed media art journaling, almost any decent brush will do.

Scissors. Having had hand + elbow surgery, the ONLY scissors I use are Fiskars Softouch Scissors. They have a helping hinge that makes them easier to use. Extremely sharp, with a precise tip. Work with paper, glossy magazines, photos, fabric, detail paper cutting. I've got a larger version near the sewing machine for paper/fabric, and another with my art journal gear. 

Neocolors. I love, love, love Caran d'Ache Neocolor II wax crayons. They can be blended with fingers, drawn and dissolved with a brush or used to paint like watercolors {by touching a wet brush to the crayon and painting with the brush}. 

Old gift/credit cards. Great for pushing paint around a page, making borders, "stamping" lines, scratching off layers, painting a layer of gesso, etc. 

Parchment Paper. Details in Un-Sticking Art Journal Pages. In the baking section of the grocery store near aluminum foil and wax paper. After a page has dried a bit, place a sheet of parchment paper in between your pages and put a bunch of hardback books. The parchment keeps the pages from sticking together and the weights help your pages dry flat. If working within a bound journal or hardback book, keep parchment between the pages, close the book and put a bunch of books on top. Pages with lots of layers might take a week or more to fully dry.

A surface to mix paints. For acrylics, save those plastic lids from yogurt/iced cream and pitch after you are finished painting for the day. For watercolor/gouache, you can get inexpensive plastic watercolor palettes for mixing paints. Learn how to mix paints too! One of my favorite books about mixing color is the Color Mixing Bible.


Art Journaling 101

How do you start an art journal?

In art journaling, the focus
is on the process rather than the end result.
That's a fun twist.

What is art journaling?

Here's my favorite way to describe or define art journaling, which in many ways is undefinable: "Art journaling is about the creative process of pulling together color, words and images as you wish on a page. Unlike many other forms of art, it is not about the outcome." ~ Tammy Garcia

Art journaling is simply doing art in a bound journal, on loose paper, even on a cardboard box. You do not need a kit, a coach, a lesson or a guidebook. But you do need to discover {or rediscover} your sense of fun. Art journaling is play, exploration & experimentation wrapped into one. It's not magic, really. It's about loosening up and going in the direction you choose. I know that can be a little scary. So let's break that down a bit further!

In the type of art known as "art journaling," imperfection {or perhaps a lack of concern about perfection} is part of the process. You can keep an art journal without in-depth knowledge of composition or color theory. Just learn as you go! Try a bit of this and a bit of that. 

Your art journal can be whatever you want it to be. It can be something very simple, like you can simply document what happened today, with a few doodles along the margin. On the pages of your journal, you can do monochromatic collages, scribble with pastels, put together mysterious-sounding poetry from random phrases cut from magazines, collect eccentric arrays of imagery & symbolism. So it can be as simple or complicated as you want or need it to be. The pages can contain words, if you feel like adding them.

Art journaling materials

You'll need to gather some art materials to get started, but I assure you that you don't need a U-Haul box full of supplies. Each art journalist uses a different set of materials.  There's an extensive list of the materials that I use in my art journals, with tips @ journals, paper, paint, pens, markers, inks & adhesives.

Collect ephemera & journal fodder 

These are fancy terms that mean "all of those quirky papers that you find intensely fascinating." Art journalists collect papers found in everyday life and then use them as fodder {ingredients} in their journals.

Ephemera can be taped, clipped, glued, stapled, tucked, folded and otherwise attached to your journal pages.

Examples: ticket stubs, museum maps, pages from old textbooks, receipts, product packaging, clothing labels, old photographs, vintage postcards, lottery tickets, polaroid photos, postage stamps, raffle tickets, hand-written lists, old greeting cards, subway maps, airline tickets, event announcements, advertisements, maps, ribbon, fabric, images cut from magazines. Even more: brochures, maps, pages pulled from magazines and pages from books.


Get organized + find space to work

Develop a system that works for the way YOU work. And yes, I have an organization method that works for me, and it's quite simple... read more in What About All That Paper? I have limited storage and work space, so I keep materials that are typically used at the same time together in wooden baskets. My goal is to pull out as few baskets as needed to work on my journal pages.  

Examples. In my art journaling & collage basket, I keep a bit of washi tape, matte medium {adhesive}, an old brush, scissors, a few rubber stamps, a set of alphabet stamps and a few ink pads. I rotate the stuff in this basket. I have another basket with heavy body acrylics that also contains tools that are used to add texture to my paint... things like palette knives, sandpaper & chopsticks.

You can work in your journal in a fairly small amount of space, transporting your materials in a little basket or box to the breakfast table. This is how I usually work. If you are using acrylics, be sure to protect your space with a huge piece of cardboard or part of a painting tarp. Remember that you don't have to have every possible material at hand's reach, just a small subset of your materials.

More to explore @ Daisy Yellow

When is an art journal page finished?
Tammy's interview with Connie of Dirty Footprints Studio
Notes about sewing paper.
Tips for getting words onto acrylic backgrounds.
Art journaling defies definitions.
100+ Ideas for Small Format Art.
Taking stock of my journals.
Art journaling is not a pass/fail course.

Creative books

Art Journaling for Kids + Teens

"The artist must possess
the courageous soul
that dares and defies."
Kate Chopin

We are art role models. 
I want to share with you examples of art journaling that kids can do on loose paper or in a bound journal. My kids started art journaling simply by playing around with the art materials that I had on the table. And that is really what it is all about - playing with art materials.

Focus on the playing and exploration. Don't worry about the way the finished pages look, because the benefit is from the DOING, the EXPERIENCE of CREATING.  

"stories," my younger daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 8.  watercolor paper, neocolors

"stories," my younger daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 8.  watercolor paper, neocolors

The sky does not need to be blue. 

The key word is PLAY. If you want to work with kids to inspire them to start a journal, or a journaling habit, let them see you play in your own journal! It is so much fun, and your exhuberance will inspire them to try something creative.

"love," my younger daughter created this 8x11" page when she was 9  black card stock, colored pencils

"love," my younger daughter created this 8x11" page when she was 9 
black card stock, colored pencils

Art journaling is a creative outlet for kids that love the freedom of a blank page and the adventure of exploring color + images + words. The ability to decorate their thoughts on paper. The flexibility to do whatever they want with the materials at hand. To explore without adults telling them "how" to use the materials, without adults managing the show!

I'm going to share my ideas with you from the perspective of a mom and also as a self-taught artist and teacher. When my kids were young, I took them to art classes and watched the way that each teacher interacted with the materials and the kids. In most of the classes, the teacher imposed too much control on what the kids were doing. They did not inspire an absolute love for the materials and definitely not a love of process.

teaching  mixed media art journaling, watercolor and creativity workshops for about 5 years. I teach watercolor taught an art journaling workshop for local high school art teachers, a gelatin printing workshop to The reality is that making kids follow strict instructions for art projects can zap their enthusiasm and innovation. The benefit comes from doing art rather than generating a perfect page or outcome. 

As kids get older, they often get concerned with what others think, get more critical of their work, less free with their creativity, more likely to worry about "rules" for whatever form of art they are doing. That's why art journaling is important. It focuses on the DOING not the RESULTS. Kids, especially tweens and teens, are more likely to play creatively if you don't give them constraints. 

Please don't teach art journaling as an assignment, with rubrics and requirements. For moms who art journal, I think you'll find that doing art together is a refreshing way to stay close and keep the lines of communication open. You can be an art role model by working in your journal, playing and experimenting with materials. You can ask yourself questions out loud - I wonder how long it will take this layer of paint to dry? I wonder what will happen if I use salt water instead of tap water? I wonder what pen will work on this paper?

You don't have to convince kids that art is fun. They'll figure that out if you let them work without micro-managing the outcome. 

If your kids can grasp a crayon, they can scribble. Ask them what they have drawn! Write a little note on the back with the date and their description. After your kids can hold a paint brush and not try to eat the paint, they can paint. Show them how to make marks. Dots, lines, waves. Then let them see what happens. Give them a brush and a set of watercolor paints. Or a bucket of magic markers. The kids can do their own art - share the materials and keep it open-ended and relaxed - put on some music. If the materials are particularly messy, throw a painting tarp under the workspace. Designate some of your old t-shirts as painting t-shirts. That way you won't care if they get paint on them! 

Here are the materials my kids use for their art journal pages & doodles:

⧠ Gelly Rolls. Colorful gel pens, fun and versatile. See All About Gelly Rolls.
⧠ Neocolor wax crayons. Fun & flexible drawing/painting materials, brilliant colors that can be used with water or without. See All About Neocolors.
 Watercolors. Two watercolor pan kits I recommend for kids that are 5+ {old enough to hold the brush and treat their painting kit carefully i.e. not flood with water or smear adjacent pan colors together}. Pelikan watercolor pan sets -when my daughter was in 1st grade we incorporated art journaling into our book club and used these paints. Koi watercolor pan sets - lovely color, great feedback from the students in my watercolor classes that are using Koi.
⧠ Pencils. Colored pencils and ordinary #2 pencils.
⧠ Paper. I have an entire post about art journaling materials, which includes paper and journals. I think it's important to note that you don't need to work in one space. For example, you can have a stack of watercolor paper and several journals {maybe one for painting and mixed media, one for sketching?} going at the same time. 

My kids use many of the same materials that I use for art journaling. There are exceptions. For example, they do not use artist quality acrylics with their hands, because these are not non-toxic. 

Some ideas to consider...

Document the story. Take a few photographs of the kids working, to show how the work unfolds. Learn about how your kids work. On the back of their artwork {especially for pre-writers} you can document the date, the child's name, the mediums. Ask the child to describe their work. Now that my daughters are teenagers they love looking back at the notes on their work. Here's what was written on the reverse of a very pink page that my daughter did when she was 3: "The girl did a twirl." 

This concept of documentation is part of the educational philosophy of Reggio Emilia. I enjoyed watching Documentation: Transforming Our Perspective, a 15 minute video. "A conversation with several leaders of Reggio Children and the municipal infant-toddler and preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy about the practice of documentation and its role in teaching and learning." Thank you to Lori of Project-Based Homeschooling for the link.

"candy," my older daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 12; watercolor paper, neocolors, oil pastels, watercolor

"candy," my older daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 12; watercolor paper, neocolors, oil pastels, watercolor

Release control over the outcome of your kids' art projects. Kids benefit from less control more creative freedom

Art Journaling is an activity that parents and kids can do at the same table, using the same art materials and found items. Each person's page will blossom individually. Kids can explore the idea of combining imagery with colors and words in an unstructured format. 

For younger children, try to create an environment that fosters creativity while balancing freedom with responsibility. Here are some things that you as a parent or art teacher can do:

Use gentle reminders. "Let me show you how we rinse brushes in the sink." "We keep beads in this box on this shelf." "Remember to put your finished work in this basket." "Keep lids on your markers when you aren't using them."

"without paint," my older daughter created this 9x12" page when she was 9; watercolor paper, neocolors, watercolors

"without paint," my older daughter created this 9x12" page when she was 9;
watercolor paper, neocolors, watercolors

Share art material techniques. Younger children might not know how to hold a pencil or a brush or how to prepare watercolors for painting You can work together to show kids how they can make new colors by mixing the colors they have. Kids will figure out soon enough that a bunch of colors mixed together will result in brown. The thing is, they might like brown! My daughter was quite happy about her brown birdhouses. Let kids experience the act of mixing red + yellow = orange but also let them know that pink + yellow = orange! But it's a different sort of orange:) Or try dark purple + white = lavender. I often suggest mixing just two colors together, rather than 3 or 4, but it's really up to the kids.

Protect your art space. We don't have a dedicated art space in our home, so we use the kitchen floor or breakfast table. When my kids were tiny, we painted in the kitchen at a cheap plastic table with a drop cloth on the tile floor underneath us. I asked the kids to stay in the kitchen until we cleaned up, otherwise we might have orange acrylic footprints leading out of the space. If they didn't want to paint any longer, we stopped. Protecting the workspace means less worry about mess, less stress and more patience!

Facilitate. Balance freedom with guidance. Put out colors that will work together, no matter how the kids use them. You don't have to put out 25 colors; nor do you have to say that the cow has to be brown. Turquoise cows are cool too.

Keep suggestions open-ended. There is no "right" color, "right" pattern, "right" way to do art. Ask questions like, "Would you like to add another color to your painting?" "Are you finished with the background?" "Would you like to add any words?" "Would you like to try a smaller brush for that?" 

Facilitate. Balance freedom with guidance. Put out colors that will work together, no matter how the kids use them. You don't have to put out 25 colors; nor do you have to say that the cow has to be brown. Turquoise cows are cool too.

"alphabetical order," my younger daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 12;  bristol paper, PITT artist pens, index cards

"alphabetical order," my younger daughter created this 9x12" art journal page when she was 12;  bristol paper, PITT artist pens, index cards

Manage children's expectations. Focus on process {the "doing" part} not product {the "end result" part}. The goal is not perfect art.

Manage "customer" expectations. If you are a teacher, that's likely parents & administration. Talk about your approach to art; letting kids have freedom while learning about mediums and techniques. The goal is not "cookie cutter art" where all of the kids do the exact same thing. 

Please don't "fix" or "finish" a child's artwork. The truth is that this not your artwork. It is the child's artwork. I do not believe in altering a child's artwork, like, ever. You could put it in a frame {if the kid is OK with that}. Do not draw lines around his/her work, erase his/her work, add a blue sky or tell him that the grass should be green.

Don't copycat. If you really must teach kids to paint in the style of Van Gogh, teach the brush technique and let them paint what they wish as long as it is within the boundaries you set - i.e. using a specific style - medium - type of brush. Requiring them to use deep mustard yellows and create a sunflower is basically copy work. 

➸ How to start an art journal? Art Journaling 101
➸ Materials for art journaling? Art Journaling 102: Materials