Art Journaling 101: How to Start an Art Journal

In art journaling, the focus is on the process rather than the end result. 

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 Journal pages by Tammy Garcia.

Art Journal pages by 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. 

Art Journal pages by Tammy Garcia.

Art Journal pages by Tammy Garcia.

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.

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. My organization method is quite simple, and it works for me... 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. 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.

Creative books