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Art Journaling 101

How to Start an Art Journal

“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, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

When you open your art journal, you get to play like a little kid again, using invisible pixie dust and magical glitter. Whether you are middle school teacher, professional artist, chemical engineer or a tax accountant, you can be an art journalist too.

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

Art journaling is not all about the art. Journalists love to pull together collage elements, words & images on paper, whether that’s sturdy paper, a bound journal or even a cardboard cereal box The goal is to do the work, no matter where it winds up. And so it follows that imperfection is OK, because we’re not concerned about reaching a perfect result. 

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

The rules of play

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 just paint or just imagery or even just words... or no words whatsoever, or words as texture. In other words, any combination thereof!

You can keep an art journal without in-depth knowledge of composition or color theory. Art journaling is play, exploration & experimentation wrapped into one. An unstructured form of art typically on a paper-like substrate. 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! 

Art journaling is play, exploration & experimentation wrapped into one.

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. 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 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.

I love to work in my journal, and just as much, I love to write about art journaling & creativity. If you want to look at your process from a very colorful macro level get an issue of the Daisy Yellow Zine.

 

Art materials

After you work in your journal for awhile {and you define that}, you may choose to expand your repertoire with additional inks, a wider variety of brushes. You might start with watercolor and switch to gouache. You might start with plastic stencils from your favorite artist and then switch to carving your own eraser stamps. That's the thing. You won't know until you try! When you find something that fascinates you, that engages you, that makes you happy, THAT's your medium. Go with it. Explore it. Get to know it in depth. Understand it.

Put together an art journaling starter kit

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. To become an art journalist you really just need to start! And you can start anywhere.

So here's my suggestion for a starting point. 
Also... Art Materials to Take on Vacation

a) 1 Strathmore 300-series wire bound journal {more @ paper below}.
b) 5 bottles of Golden fluid acrylic paint. Something like this: black, white, magenta, ultramarine blue & lemon yellow. If you wish, green & orange & red too. 
c) Collect imagery, interesting text, etc. from magazines, ticket stubs, etc. {more @ ephemera below}
d) 1 PITT artist pen, black, medium nib. OK, maybe a white pen too. A white Sakura Gelly Roll or a white Uniball UM-153. These are the absolute best white pens for difficult surfaces.
e) 1 jar Golden fluid matte medium {adhesive for collage} *or* UHU glue stick

Materials for Art Journaling

All of the materials are absolutely optional. You can be an art journalist with a journal and a black pen. And be completely happy and satisfied for years of designs and patterns and sketches. If you want to try some other things, get into mixed media work, here are some of the basics to contemplate. 

a) Collect ephemera & journal fodder

These terms 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.

b) Paper substrate/surface

This is the base for your work and can be heavy paper, a bound journal or cardboard. There's a ginormous detailed list of suggested papers further down on the page!!! 

In mixed media art journaling, artists incorporate acrylics and collaged papers. In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a simple grungy grid, a technique which can be altered and transformed in so many ways.

In mixed media art journaling, artists incorporate acrylics and collaged papers. In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a simple grungy grid, a technique which can be altered and transformed in so many ways.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

 

c) Paint, acrylics or watercolor or gouache to add color to your pages.

Acrylic Paint. Intense & opaque and... wild. After it dries, you can add more acrylic paint or adhere papers without altering the original layer. The paint can be layered or it can be partnered with layers of paper. On my mixed media art journal pages, 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, like ink.

There are a variety of mediums that you can use to alter the way that acrylics work. For example, you can make acrylics more transparent by mixing them with fluid matte medium. 

Artist quality acrylics are more intense and consistent and have a higher pigment load, but they are also more expensive than student or craft quality paints. Craft acrylics are less expensive than artist quality paints but also less vibrant/saturated; lightfastness and consistency also differ. 

Watercolor & Gouache Paint. These water-soluble mediums are peaceful and relaxing; they can be used to paint abstracts of lush color or to embellish inked drawings or doodles. In my abstract watercolor work, I use Winsor & Newton watercolor paint. For gouache work, I use several different brands. 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! Details about the watercolor and gouache paints that I use in my journals.

d) Brushes, to apply paints and to apply adhesives.

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, depending on the way you use them. Try short-handled round or flat synthetic hair brushes in various sizes. Tiny brushes are lovely for lettering. Clean with warm water and dishwashing liquid immediately after you are finished working, before the paint dries. When your acrylic brushes get yucky or bent, use them for adhesive or gel medium. That's the lifecycle of an acrylic brush! Start with size #2 round {for tiny 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 generally invest more in watercolor brushes than in acrylic brushes, because I go through fewer per year. Rinse gently with tap water after you are finished working. 

For adhesives, use ultra-cheap-o brushes or your old, worn-out brushes because they will be trashed!  Clean with warm water and dishwashing liquid immediately after you are finished working.

e) Adhesive to attach the papers/ephemera to your surface.

Liquid adhesives can be used to attach papers to your whatever base you are using for journaling. Two useful adhesives are Golden Fluid Matte Medium and Golden Soft Gel {the glossy version is clear when dry, slightly shiny}. Simply paint the adhesive on the reverse side of the item you’d like to adhere; press it to the background. You can adhere papers directly to a background of acrylic paint or you can add layers of paint or more paper on top.

Explore mixed media art journaling with acrylics & collage in an altered hardback book in my Novel Approach workshop.

Explore mixed media art journaling with acrylics & collage in an altered hardback book in my Novel Approach workshop.

Energize your daily creative work in my Circle workshop.

Energize your daily creative work in my Circle workshop.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

 

f) Pencils & pens to write words on your pages.

Two of my favorites? Faber-Castell PITT artist pens. These are fiber-tipped pens that contain permanent india ink, dry quickly and don't tax my hand. You can watercolor on top and they won’t bleed. Sakura Gellyrolls. Available in an array of fun, vividand sometimes sparkly colors. The line is smooth and consistent. They dry quickly and are permanent.

At Daisy Yellow you'll find a bunch of guides for pens & writing tools: 

g) Colored pencils, markers & inks to add doodles & patterns to your pages.

Water-Soluble crayons and pencils. Caran d'Ache Neocolor II wax crayons. For edging, doodling & more. I love them so much I wrote a guide to Neocolors.

India ink. 2-3 small bottles. Try both permanent and water-soluble inks, as they work differently. Ink can be applied to your page with a tiny brush, a dip pen or a chopstick.

 

h) Stamps, stencils, inks, sprays, any sort of mark-making tool.

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

Found objects. Make marks by using found objects to stamp acrylics or ink on your paper. Found stamps include lids, medicine cups, cookie cutters, old brushes, play-doh tools, clay-carving tools, twigs, leaves, feathers, etc.

Rubber stamps. Any sort of stamp can be used to create repeating patterns and textures in your journal. You can stamp with ink, acrylic paint or stamping ink. Don’t forget alphabet stamps to stamp your words. 

i) Water-Soluble crayons and pencils.

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II wax crayons. For edging, doodling & more. All About Caran D'Ache Neocolor II Wax Crayons

j) 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. 

k) Misc

Old gift cards. Used for smearing paint, smoothing paint, stampinglines, scratching off layers, and more.

Parchment Paper. Find it in a long narrow box in the baking section of the grocery store near aluminum foil and wax paper. After a page has dried for a few hours, place a sheet in on top of the page {or between the pages of an altered book or bound journal} and put a bunch of books on top. Like the full Harry Potter series in hardback. The parchment keeps the pages from sticking together and the weight of the books help your pages dry flat. Keep in mind that with lots of layers of paper and acrylic paint can take weeks 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

 

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.

Follow Creative Prompts

There's an index to ALL of the creative prompts

Muse30. Art journaling prompts. Start with Muse30 #1: Print.
Prompt60. Art journaling & writing prompts. Start with Prompt60 #1: Start a documentation journal.
Art Journal Tutorials. 15+ videos for beginners to experienced artists. Start with #1: Starburst.
Daily Paper Prompt. Art journaling prompts. Start with DPP #1: Paint a Rainbow.

Read books about art journaling and the creative process

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]

Take the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge {ICAD}

The goal is to create one index card each day for 61 days. A fantastic way to re-start or kick-start your creative endeavors. The 7th annual  Index-Card-a-Day Challenge runs June 1- July 31, 2017. 

Take a Workshop

Energize your daily creative work in my Circle workshop.
Explore art journaling with acrylics & collage in my Novel Approach workshop.
Play with abstract watercolor  in my Tiny Museum workshop.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Art journal, artwork by Tammy Garcia.

Explore More @ Daisy Yellow

Art Journaling for Kids/Teens
When is an art journal page finished
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
Tammy's Top Twelve art journaling posts

Paper

You can work on loose paper or in a bound journal. The options are endless, so my suggestion is to pick somewhere and simply start. It doesn't have to be perfect. You will gravitate towards specific types of paper and paints and brushes as you refine your lines and brush work, collage and painting techniques. Ahead, you'll find metric tons of details about paper. 

Generally you want to match the type/thickness of the paper with the medium you plan to use on that paper. For this reason, the paper section is categorized by what you plan to DO with the paper.  Each medium interacts with each paper in a different way. So if you are frustrated with the particular combination you've selected, try a different type of paper. Or try a different brush. 

For 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}
Select paper greater than about 180gsm. You can start on loose sheets of watercolor paper or heavy card stock. Loose paper allows you the freedom to play without committing to any particular journal. You can bind it together later using book-binding techniques or simply store in a large flat archival box. You can also make your own journal from any paper in the universe. 
  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
Standard writing journal will be sufficient, but if you plan to adhere collage elements and use acrylic paint, the thin paper of a typical {even if beautiful} journal from the bookstore won't hold up to acrylics and other wet media.
  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
Use loose or bound 300gsm cold-pressed watercolor paper.
  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.

Or you can go entirely in the other direction and use an old book! 

 

Original post 2008. Updated September 2016. Amazon + Blick links are affiliate links; if you purchase through these links, I get a tiny commission and you help support the abundant free content at Daisy Yellow. Thank you.