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Art Journaling Without Rules

{reposting this essay from March 2011}

Psyched to bring this post forward for The Buried Treasure project at The Altered Page! Seth Apter is coordinating a massive treasure hunt and I'm taking part.

this is a page from a book i altered a few years ago

{Info on the page above at Black Gesso & Stamps}

We're governed by rules and we impose rules {trivial and not so} on ourselves -- things like no coffee after 2pm or always vacuum on Mondays -- so it's not surprising that we make rules for our art.

A two page spread has to be one journaled as one big page.
Don't tear out pages.
Every page has to have some words or journaling.
The colors I choose have to "go" together.
A page has to be finished in one sitting.
You can't art journal on canvas.
Pages must be worked in order.
My pages have to look like those of {insert cool art journalist's name here}
Don't brag. Don't bitch. Don't be a downer. Don't get too personal.
Don't cut up your journal pages.
You can't work in seven journals at once.

All of the above are certified 100% without a doubt, officially, undeniably wrong. Art journaling has no rules. It is whatever you want it to be. It's not "having" finished pages but "having created" the pages that makes me happy. To put a rule on yourself misses the point. You CAN have a journal dedicated to something specific. You CAN have a journal of one style. You CAN finish a page in one sitting. But you don't have to.

I don't like to follow rules in general, and certainly not in my art.

The joy is in the play.

Please... tell me about your rules. I am curious to learn what constraints we put on our journals. What rules, spoken or un-, do you place on your art journaling or drawing? Do any of the rules speak to you? Do you have rules that you didn't realize you had? Let's chat.

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Reader Comments (33)

Funny that you said "you can't art journal in seven journals at once" because that is exactly how many I have going at the current time... and that doesn't include my altered book lol...I try to stick to one rule "have fun!"

i LOVE this. love, love, love. my rules for myself.. hm..

1) don't show a page on my blog or in twitter unless i like it. 2) don't let an ugly page be the finished page / always paint over something that i consider ugly (this is a big one, and i'm slowly working on it). 3) don't work in a journal unless i have a few hours, unless i feel creative. 4) don't be visibly, obviously angry, obscene, vulgar, etc. in case i ever want to show someone my journal later. 5) similarly, don't write things openly that i don't want anyone else to read. 6) only ever use two or three main colors.

i see that i have a list of prompts i can dedicate some pages to! and i'm sure that i have more, too..
this is wonderful. i'm going to share this!


- don't repeat yourself (if I've used a quote, photo or idea before, I'm reluctant to use it again later - or if I do, I feel like I've cheated)
- must be pretty (if a page isn't visually appealing to me, I tend to work it until it IS; because, you know, I might want to submit that journal someday - sigh)
- must have writing (I'm definitely with you on that one - can't seem to resist writing on EVERY page and pages without writing nag at me until I eventually go back to them)
- must never be finished (I have SUCH a hard time completing the last few pages of any journal - I always seem to have a newer better one waiting, so nearly every journal I've ever started has a few empty pages at the back)

love the idea of letting these rules be broken - thanks tammy!

03.21.2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelley

Tina, Let this be an area of your life where you play, where you don't tell yourself you must finish this before starting that. I look forward to hearing about your escapades in the new mixed media journal - before you finish the current journal - best wishes!

Sophie, Go girl, fly, be free!!! I'm wondering if it also takes some time spent art journaling to become more relaxed in our own pages.

April, You are right... the fewer rules, the easier to just jump in!!!

Nicole, It's such a great feeling to be able to jump in and play, isn't it? I do like to like my pages too!

Rose, I went back and added a link to the info about the page in the post; it is indeed black gesso.

Andria, I think you will like journaling *bigger* - more freedom to add anything you wish without focusing on space constraints. You can switch the focus of that small journal and use it for quotes or writings with simple backgrounds, something that works better in a small space.

Rachel, Seven journals? Wow, take a photo of that juicy stack of artwork!

Kirsten, I'm happy that this helped you reconsider how you work in your journal.

Timaree, An integrated "everything" journal would be cool. It could allow more freedom and less decision making as to what goes where, more flow while you are working.

LuLu, I found your comment about having a separate "test" journal interesting. It does show that you are giving more importance or formality to the "regular" journal. I hope you will go for it and break some rules this week! My favorite of your rules was the 8 layers rule!!! How interesting that our former jobs and lives impact our current artwork.

Ingrid, Lovely to see you here! Looking forward to your 21 Secrets workshop! I do follow your rules about vulgarity or not writing things that i don't want anyone else to read" -- my daughters look at my pages as I work on them - although I do write that kind of stuff in my writing journal.

Kelley, I do agree with your rule about continuing a page until you like it, not because I will submit it anywhere (I dont' even know how to do that!) but because for me it's about playing in my journal so there's no rush to leave one page and move on to another.

Great discussion!!!

~ Tammy

03.21.2011 | Registered Commentergypsy

never start an art journal without finishing the last one
never rip pages out you can gesso over it

other than that I love your pages and your blog, you are a great inspiration

03.21.2011 | Unregistered Commenterlee

Love this post! Go break the rules!!! Yes, I have rules, some I am ok with. I prefer to work my pages in order. I think of my journal as "the story of my life". I tend to be more of a visual journaler. I am trying to write more in my journals. Hanging out with Teesha & Tracy Moore taught me it's ok to write in my journals.

03.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Kasstle

Great post. My rules seemed to depend on my mood. Today I told myself I couldn't visit my bloggy friends or go on Twitter until I'd done x, y, z... Well I managed x & y but felt compelled to visit your blog (the first blog visit today). And look how your post fits in well. Oh and I did an art journal page early this morning & tried to tell myself that it couldn't be left looking such a mess - but I chased that idea right out of my mind. And again here I arrive at your blog as if to gain support!

Always a pleasure visiting your blog. Thanks.
Suppose I better get on with some work but so glad I broke my rules to visit you first :-)

Kat X

03.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatina Wright

It's interesting how most of us probably don't think of ourselves having "rules" in our art--until we actually stop and think about it! I never realized it, but one of my big-time rules is that I always have to say something. There's always got to be a big message in what I'm doing, and as a result I'm so set on my internal social commentary that I lose sight of just playing on the page and seeing what happens. Thanks for the insight; I'm a big fan of your blog!

03.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

I am new to art journaling and I am enjoying your blog. I'll love all the inspirational tips. I'm trying tobreak my rules, but I find I don't journal unless "I have enough time", I'm feeling creative and I find it very difficult to write in my journals. My colors never go together and my pages certainly don't look like those of {insert favorite art journaler here}. But I am experimenting, having fun and plan to make the time to try one of your prompts.

03.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

The most inhibiting "rule" I have is that all my journal pages should look original. This is obviously hopeless as I love reading jounraling books and blogs and have now seen probably every possibility that exists. It's also especially pointless as I have no plans to show my journals to anyone.

One thing that sometimes helps is to give myself permission to purposely do a page that copies a particular style.

03.23.2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggySu

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