art journaling 101

How to Start an Art Journal

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 or formal study of art. Art journaling is play, exploration & experimentation wrapped into one. It's about doing an unstructured form of art in a bound journal, on loose paper, even a cardboard box.

The term art journaling means something different to each artist. For example, there are art journals, artist's books, illustrated journals, urban sketchbooks, visual journals... journals for testing art materials, for practicing a technique, for nature sketching, figurative drawing, pattern design... collaged ephemera, mixed media painting, lettering practice, bullet journals, daily diaries and leather-bound planners with darling Miss Kitty stickers. 

The good news? 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! It's not magic, really.

Art journaling is not all about the art

Journalists love to pull together collage elements, words & images on paper, whether that’s loose paper, a bound journal or even a cardboard cereal box. The goal is to do the work, to follow the path, no matter where it winds up. When you open your art journal, you get to play like a little kid again, using paint, imagery, typography, even some invisible pixie dust. 

Focus on the process rather than the end result

Mixed media art journaling typically includes words, imagery & color. But, and this is important, there are no rules that you must follow. So you can do a page with any combination thereof. Just paint,  just imagery, even just words. Or skip the words, incorporate words as texture or write your deepest thoughts. That's up to you. 

“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

The good news? 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! And so it follows that whether you are middle school teacher, professional artist, chemical engineer or a tax accountant, you can be an art journalist too.

Gather art materials

Each journalist works differently; in the years ahead you will be drawn to different techniques and mediums as you experiment and grow in your work. 

I've been art journaling for many years and have narrowed down the materials to a fairly small set of go-to items. So I thought it would be helpful to describe a list of materials to consider. I've included paint, journals/paper, brushes, ephemera and miscellaneous items like scissors. As you experiment in your journals, you'll probably want to add fun tools like inks, plastic stencils from your favorite artists. You can carve your own eraser stamps, paint papers to use in your collages and explore gelatin printing. The options are endless.

Art journaling is play,
exploration & experimentation
wrapped into one.
An art journal page created with paper ephemera and Neocolor wax crayons. 

An art journal page created with paper ephemera and Neocolor wax crayons. 

a) Ephemera & journal fodder

Think of this as "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, stitched, clipped, glued, stapled, tucked, folded and otherwise attached to your journal pages. 

Things to collect for your journal: Ticket stubs, museum maps, pages from old textbooks, receipts, product packaging, clothing labels, 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, tarot cards and images cut from magazines. 


b) Liquid adhesive

Golden fluid matte medium and an old junky brush. Used to attach papers to your paper/cardboard surface. Paint the adhesive on the reverse of the paper you want to collage, then press to the background. 

c) Paint

An art journal page created with acrylic paint and collage. 

An art journal page created with acrylic paint and collage. 

Acrylic paint

Quick Tip: Start with Golden fluid acrylic paint, five 1 oz bottles. If buying individually, consider: black, titanium white, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue & hansa yellow. If your budget allows, add a green, an orange, a red and dioxazine purple. A splurge? A metallic like stainless steel, iridescent light gold or iridescent copper. 

Acrylic paint is intense & opaque. When dry, you can add more paint or adhere papers without altering the original layer. I use Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, Fluid Acrylics and High Flow Acrylics. Heavy Body acrylics are thick and opaque; fluid acrylics are more fluid. High Flow acrylics are the most fluid, almost like ink. 

For art journaling it's lovely to have the color you want directly at hand, and you don't need to be able to mix every color in the universe. Acrylics start to dry quickly on the palette, so mix just a little bit of paint as you work. 

Artist quality acrylics are more intensely saturated and have a higher pigment load than craft/student acrylics, but they are also more expensive. Craft acrylics are less expensive but also less vibrant/saturated; lightfastness and consistency differ. I would suggest buying the best quality paints that your budget allows, even if that means buying fewer colors. 

Watercolor or gouache paint

Watercolor and gouache are peaceful & relaxing. They are water-soluble and can be rewet. Paint abstracts of lush color or embellish inked drawings. I use Winsor & Newton watercolor paint and 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, so there's no need to buy every color! Generally I would suggest starting with a kit of artist quality half-pan watercolor paints. You can gradually expand the colors in your kit with your experience and budget.Details about the watercolor and gouache paints that I use in my journals


d) Brushes

For acrylic paint or gesso, use a brush made specifically for acrylics. Acrylics are hard on brushes, so a brush may only last a few months. Tiny brushes for lettering. Try short-handled round or flat synthetic hair brushes size #2 round {for details} and #10 round or flat {for everything else}. 

For watercolor or gouache. Use a brush made specifically for watercolor, not a generic brush. Try flats and rounds. I invest more in watercolor brushes than in acrylic brushes. 

e) Pens & inks

Faber-Castell PITT artist pens. Fiber-tipped pens with permanent india ink, dry very quickly and don't tax my hand. You can watercolor on top and they won’t bleed. Get one in black, with a medium or brush nib {or get a set of all nib sizes in black}. For writing words on your journal pages including acrylic painted backgrounds. 

Sakura Gelly Roll pens. Metal-nibbed pens with permanent gel ink. The line is smooth and consistent. Dry quickly. Guide to Sakura Gelly Rolls.

Uniball UM-153. Metal-nibbed white pen for lettering on dark backgrounds. The line is smooth and consistent. Dry quickly.

Water-Soluble crayons and pencils. Caran d'Ache Neocolor II wax crayons. For edging, doodling & more. Guide to Caran D'Ache Neocolors

Dr. Ph. Martin's India Inks. Pigment-based inks in vivid colors. Use with a tiny brush or dip pen. Guide to Dr. Ph. Martin's India Inks.

f) Everything else

Hand-carved eraser stamps. Carve your own unique stamps from erasers or linocutting materials. There's a stamp-carving tutorial hereRubber stamps. Alphabet stamps.

Found objects. Use as stamps with acrylics or stamping ink. Medicine cups, cookie cutters, clay-carving tools, twigs, leaves & feathers.

Scissors. The ONLY scissors I use are Fiskars Softouch Scissors. They do not tax my hand, and that's a huge deal because I've had hand and elbow surgery. The scissors are extremely sharp, with a precise tip. 

I'm rewriting my post on paper and journals, so pop back at the end of October and I'll link up to the new page. Thanks!


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