When is an Art Journal Page Finished?

Is there
that I want to...
(cover up}
{take away}

How do you know when a page is finished?

What is the trick, the secret? When should you leave a background alone? When should you take a break and give it some time to ponder? When should you approach it from a fresh direction? When should you add, subtract, multiply... or simplify?

There is no magic formula or potion.

Here's how I look at it. I hope this helps you frame your own response to these quandaries! Art journaling is a very personal and expressive art form - it is about the DOING rather than the perfect end result. So my perspective is… a page is finished when I no longer want to add or subtract anything. I might let a page sit for a few days or weeks or even months! I might add something small and see if it adds interest. I might want the previous iteration to be a way station in the path of this particular page.

In my experience, the more pages I do, the more willing {and OPEN} I am to keep going and see what happens. The more pages I create, the less invested I am in a specific page.

An art journal page with acrylics and collage and gel image transfers in an altered book by Tammy Garcia. https://daisyyellowart.com

I'm not an art journaling minimalist. I like layers and mystery and all sorts of nooks for exploration and curiosity. Yet some pages are finished [to me] with barely anything there - they just feel good to me. I painted this altered book page with heavy body acrylics, added [failed] gel image transfers, collage elements, and it felt good and I didn’t wish to add or take anything away. Sometimes the elements just come together like that, without lots of layers and iterations.

Questions to ask yourself!?!

  1. Do I feel a desire to work further on this page?

  2. Am I so invested in the finished page that it's stopping me in my tracks?

  3. If I squint, do I see a pleasing balance of lights and darks and shapes?

  4. What if I turn the page upside down? Does anything call my attention?

  5. Do I feel like working on this today? Does the page confound me? Bore me?

  6. If this page could be regenerated in B&W, would I still like it?

  7. Is there some technique or idea that I could explore on this page?

  8. Is there a launching point here? A corner of mint green that you adore? Could that be fodder for a fresh starting point elsewhere?

  9. What worked well on this page? What do I want to do MORE of?

  10. Could I let it sit and leave that decision for another day?

  11. Am I scared to mess it up?

  12. Am I uncertain as to what I want to do next?

  13. Do I feel pressure to work on it?

  14. Could I just drizzle, spritz or splatter paint on top?

  15. Do I feel like taking a creative risk today?

Here's the deal. I create pages for my future self. But I also like it when my pages have a visual balance. It's not something that I can quantify, it's more a feeling or peace that I feel when I look at a page. It might tell a story or send a message or have hidden symbolism. It might just be full of rainbows. 

It's not that the end result is better or worse by some objective definition. It's that I no longer feel that I need to add or subtract anything. It feels more harmonic and balanced. Like I'm OK with it. 

Working on several art journal pages simultaneously. Mixed media art journaling in altered hardback books. https://daisyyellowart.com

The before + after in creating a chaotic art journal page in an altered book. https://daisyyellowart.com

As an example, I’ve included an AFTER/BEFORE comparison of a page spread from an altered book that I use for art journaling.

The final version is on the top. It’s quite PINK and includes stitching, washi tape, heavy body acrylics, magazine clippings, and Neocolors.

The first iteration is on the lower half of the image. It’s quite GREY and includes a grid of collaged papers on the right page, scribbly acrylics on the left, along with the words “intentional political misunderstandings” and "mind the generation gap." So although those sentence fragments are covered up in the final version, they still EXIST on the page, and that’s kind of cool. It’s not known to someone who sees the final page.

Writing on my pages is always fraught with problems because I know I’ll look back later and read them — what do I want to say to myself? As an aside, you might like 27 Ideas for Getting Words on Art Journal Pages, about the physical ways to incorporate words.

I know from years of art journaling that layers add interesting and unique depth and invisible story… to my pages! Those divots from the paint, those dots, the original grid, the rough patches, the indentations and edges from the torn papers… all contribute to interestingness and texture and all of the good stuff we love about art journaling. I love the feeling of disorganized chaos!

Anyhow, I wanted to keep those original grid elements peeking through, and I liked the polka dots… so I added pink paint, tore off and switched out some of the collage papers, added free-style stitching on the left page, washi tape, Neocolor edging around the collage papers… and it felt {to me} finished. But it is an individual decision — not based on what I think other people would like but what I wanted to do.

Please know that it wasn’t that I HATED the original spread. It wasn’t wrong or bad and was absolutely fine as it was. It was that I WANTED to work on it further. So I don’t evaluate how good it is — but I consider my relationship to the page itself — whether I want to change it. Or whether I want to keep it as it is. I hope that makes sense :)!

Curious? Want to dig deeper into this kind of work?

I share my approach to free style mixed media art journaling techniques in my Novel Approach and Groovy Grunge workshops! Grab your acrylic paints + paper collage elements and jump into Novel Approach or Groovy Grunge. You’ll find lots of interesting ideas + techniques for using collage and layering in your art journal practice!

The beauty of working with collage & acrylic paints? You can keep going on a page as long as you wish, covering, uncovering, layering, scraping, painting, tearing, edging, writing, scribbling, doodling, adding images, changing colors by simply painting over another color. Or adding collage elements. Or taking them away. 

art journal, 1bestDaisy Yellow