Art Journaling 101

How do you start an art journal?
Original post 2008. Updated July 2015.

Art journaling  is loose and free, unencumbered by rules about what we "should" do. It is simply doing art in a 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 about play, exploration & experimentation. 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!

Here's the way that I like to 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."

Focus on the process, not the end result.

Go forward and celebrate the imperfection inherent in art journaling. The lack of matchy-matchy, the fun, the vivacious, the plain, the pastel, the bold, the scary, the ever-so-perfect chaos, the lack of kits, the lack of perfection, the fun of it, the whatever-you-want-it-to-be. The freedom. If you build a page from a kit, that is indeed an art project, but it is not the same as building your page from scratch, using your mind, the supplies on hand, and your creative energy. 

art journaling materials

Learn about the materials that I use in my art journals, things like acrylic paint, paper, Neocolor wax crayons & magic markers. You'll find tips about journals, paper, paint, pens, markers, inks & adhesives. Art journaling is a flexible form of art and you'll find that each art journalist uses a different set of materials. Art journaling does not have to be in an actual journal! Consider a blank journal, an old hardback book or a wirebound watercolor journal. 

resources, prompts & tutorials

Art journal pages are not structured or formulaic. Take a deep breath, let go of expectations about how the page should look and just explore your art materials. Play with color and imagery. 

Focus on words + color + imagery. 

Collect ephemera & journal fodder

Journalists use these terms to refer to the stuff you put in your journal. You'll also see phrases like "found paper" or "found text." Be on the lookout for yummy paper stuff! 

Examples include 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. 

Consider large items like full page brochures, maps, pages pulled from magazines and pages from books. It's nice to have a separate space for smaller items that might get lost otherwise - things like ticket stubs, images cut from magazines, words, scraps of patterned papers, index cards, postage stamps. 

Get creative books

1,000 Artist Journal Pages, Sokol
A World of Artist Journal Pages, Sokol
The Journal Junkies Workshop, Scott/Modler 
The Creative License and An Illustrated Life, Gregory
The Collage Workbook, Plowman
Good Mail Day, Hinchcliff
Journal Spilling, Trout
Creative Illustration Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists, Dunn
Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking, Berry
The Art Journal Workshop, Bunkers
The True and the Questions, Harrison [a journal to fill-in]

Get started

Here's an easy idea to get started: Grab a journal or piece of heavy paper. Use glue, tape or staples to add anything you wish in any way you wish. Pay attention and enjoy the process. Use images, words, doodles & quotes! And drips of paint! And magic markers! Dip a brush in acrylic paint and swirl and swoosh paint around the page. Let that dry for a few minutes, and then adhere papers or a photograph.


Get organized

To organize your art materials for art journaling, develop a system that works for the way YOU work. Because I have limited storage and work space, 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 few rolls of washi tape, matte medium {this is an adhesive}, an old brush, scissors, a few favorite rubber stamps, one set of alphabet stamps and a few ink pads. I rotate the stuff that goes 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.

Find a small workspace, like your breakfast table!

Part of a table is enough space to work. You do not need a dedicated studio space to art journal, although you'll need a bit of space to handle your art materials, a storage space that might expand the more involved you get. I work on art journal pages at my breakfast table or on a rolling cart in my kitchen and I keep my art journaling supplies {paints, journals, papers, brushes, etc.} in wooden baskets on some shelves adjacent to our laundry room! It's not a studio, but it works!