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, right?

Art journaling  is 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."
Tammy Garcia

In the type of art known as "art journaling," imperfection 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. Monochromatic collage, pastel scribbles, mysterious found poetry, eccentric collections of imagery, symbolism. You can start by simply documenting what happened today, adding a few doodles along the margin. 

Creative books

A World of Artist Journal Pages, Sokol {my art is inside!}
1,000 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]

Art journaling materials

Learn about the materials that I use in my art journals, with tips @ journals, paper, paint, pens, markers, inks & adhesives. Each art journalist uses a different set of materials. 


Art journal pages are not structured or formulaic. Take a deep breath, let go of expectations about how the page should look. 

More to explore

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.

Collect ephemera & journal fodder 

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. 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 organized + find space to work


Develop a system that works for the way YOU work. 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 few rolls of washi tape, matte medium {an adhesive}, an old brush, scissors, a few rubber stamps, a 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.

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. 

Original post 2008. Updated December 2015.