Should you launch an art journal?
Do you have a secret creative side? One you rarely make time for? Sure, maybe you used to be creative, but now?
Well – now, your life is different. You have so many responsibilities and demands. Taking time to do anything creative feels almost irresponsible. Besides, you don’t have the bandwidth.
At least, you don’t think you do.
But what if I told you there’s a practice that can not only reconnect you with your creative self, but can also help you develop it? And it can be done in minutes a day.
(Minutes you will actually treasure.)
Art journaling is an umbrella term for a variety of journaling practices that include a visual element. Like any form of journaling, an art journal is a capture of thoughts, emotions, and ideas, but it goes beyond simple words on a page to include artistic expression.
Similar to the way in which a hand-written diary might be formatted, entries in an art journal are incremental and can be reflective.
They are also highly personal, and something you create for yourself rather than something to be shown or exhibited.
If you want to learn to art journal, this is your ultimate guide. It’s a fairly lengthy and comprehensive post, so if you’d rather download it in ebook format, you can subscribe and download it here.
You can also navigate to the sections that interest you most through the following bookmarks:
- Art Journal Techniques
- How to Choose Art Journal Supplies
- Who to Follow on Instagram for Art Journal Inspiration
- Art Journal Prompts
- Why You Might Want to Art Journal
- Additional Resources for Learning to Art Journal
Art Journal Techniques
There are a number of art journaling techniques out there. You can experiment to figure out which one suits you best. (Or morph a few together and invent your own.)
Altered books are created by repurposing a normal hardcover or paperback book as a journal. The book is simply the starting medium. Some people black out all the words except the ones they want to show through. Others paint over the pages, decoupage ephemera, or cut and fold pages to make them multi-dimensional.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it might feel shocking that people would deface a book for an art journal. But Lisa Vollrath explains this well in a post for Mixed Media Club “Most altered book artists work in old books. Not museum-quality old. Back of the used book store, marked down to nothing, nobody has any use for them any more old. We work in books that, if not purchased for art, will be shredded for pulp.”
One of the fun things about taking an altered book approach to art journaling is that the book you choose works with you in creating the work. After all, the book is a certain shape, has a specific number of pages, and text and artwork already on the pages. And since you aren’t starting with a blank page, you might feel free to make mistakes and try different things.
Altered books can become a single art project, but for art journaling, you will want it to be something you can work on a little bit each day.
- An old book that can be defaced
- Paints, scissors, markers, inks, stamps, ephemera, decoupage medium, glue sticks
- A Crash Course On Altered Books by Lisa Vollrath
- Altered Book Techniques – My Top Five Lazy Artist Tips! by Karen Gaunt
- Altered Books Workshop: 18 Creative Techniques for Self-expression by Bev Brazelton
- Altered Books 101: Everything You Need To Know … ‘The Complete Guide’ by Beth Cote and Cindy Pestka
If you don’t enjoy writing, and aren’t that keen on drawing, gluebooking might be a good technique for you. Gluebooks rely on collage. You can also add text, drawing, or painting, but the main thing is gluing things to the pages.
If you are journaling about your life, this might just be about collaging ephemera from your day: pieces of paper like receipts, ticket stubs, flyers, postcards, labels, wrappers, etc. Or it might be about tearing words and images from printed material (like magazines) and pasting them to create new thoughts, ideas, and sentences.
Artist Lisa Vollrath says, “There tends to be only minimal writing done in these books, but visually, they do tell a story. Clearly, this is a type of journal for people who, like me, don’t want to write, but do have something to say about their day.”
Journal, adhesive (glue stick, tacky glue, sticky dots, or decoupage medium), ephemera, pen with rich, black ink
- Discovering Gluebooks by Lisa Vollrath
- How Discovering Gluebooks Changed My Life by Lisa Vollrath
- Glue Book Basics: Part 1, Part 2 – Kagedfish on YouTube
- Mixed Media Gluebook by Tori Weyers
Mixed Media Journals
Mixed media is a fancy way of saying “I’m using whatever art supplies I want!” Mixed media journals are all about layers: combining different types of paints and inks with layers of created by other tools (like stamps, collage, washi tape, etc.). You might start by painting a background on the pages. On top of that you might add a few ink sketches or some ephemera. Then finally, you would add your text. (At least, that’s one way to do it.)
The beauty of mixed media is that there are no rules, and the style you like best—your personal method—will develop over time. Taking a mixed media approach to journaling is a great opportunity to experiment and figure out what resonates most with you.
A journal with thick blank paper, a pen with black ink that won’t bleed, paints, ephemera (and an adhesive to paste it into the journal), stamps, stickers -and whatever else you want!
- Art Journal Courage : Fearless Mixed Media Techniques for Journaling Bravely by Dina Wakley
- Mixed Media Journal for Beginners – Art Journal Tutorial Start to Finish (Susanne Rose on YouTube)
- Mixed Media Techniques for Art Journaling: A Workbook of Collage, Transfers and More by Kristy Conlin
- HOW TO: Mixed Media Art Journaling (DecoArt, Inc. with Mark Montano on YouTube)
Junk journaling is also primarily driven by collage—making it similar to gluebooks and mixed media journaling; however, the term is more about the style of the journal. Materials for a junk journal are always found or recycled, and many times hint at a bygone era with an antique store or steampunk feel.
Rather than purchasing a journal and pasting things into it, you createthe journal itself by binding found items together (like old folders and ephemera). Junk journals frequently have foldouts, pockets, windowed pages, and other dimensional features not found in off the shelf journals. (Although, if you do want a pre-made junk journal, there are many people who sell them on Etsy.)
That said, one unique thing about junk journaling is that the craft of making the journal is integral to the journaling itself. Both the journal and journaling develop together – resulting in fascinating works of art that tell a story about the person who created it.
Cardboard to create covers, old books and magazines, sheet music, maps, sewing patterns, junk mail, postage stamps, playing cards, old postcards, greeting cards, travel brochures, clothing tags, cereal boxes, fabric scraps, ribbon/lace, bar coasters, vegetable netting, binder clips, adhesive, and something to bind the pages together (like ring clips or bookbinders tape)
- What is a Junk Journal? Junk Journaling 101 for Beginners (Art Journalist)
- 27 Ways to Use a Junk Journal (Compass and Ink)
- How To Make Junk Journals (Vintage Junk Journals)
- A Beginners Guide to Junk Journaling (The Olden Chapters)
Pen and Ink Art Journals
Pen and Ink journals are all about handwriting—often, but not exclusively—with a fountain pen. The thing about pen and ink journaling is that the ink and the handwriting are at the center of the practice. The art is in the beauty of the written words on the paper.
While much of journal writing is about spilling words onto paper as quickly as they come to you, the method for pen and ink art journaling is different: it is careful, deliberate, and planned. In fact, you might even lay out the page lightly with pencil – drawing headers and guidelines – before you begin adding ink.
The process is meditative: you capture what you want to say slowly, deliberately, and with great care as you ink the pages. Mistakes become part of the artwork or are masked with whiteout.
This slower form of journaling can create books that you will want to keep and refer to again and again.
(Some of the most inspirational examples of pen and ink journaling are by Jose Naranja. Check out The Orange Manuscript on his blog.)
A journal with thick pages – Try Moleskine’s Art Plus Notebook
Fountain pen and ink – If this is new for you, check out A Primer on Fountain Pens (Art of Manliness)
- How To: Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners! Tutorial + Tips! (AmandaRachLee on YouTube)
- The Art Of Bullet Journaling With Fountain Pens (Bullet Journals)
- Creative Lettering Journal by Lisa Funk
- Paperfinger Calligraphy Tutorial by Bryn Chernoff
Sketchbook journaling is about capturing what you see—quickly. Of all the art journaling methods, it relies the least on text and the most on drawing. It also becomes a training ground for you to develop your skill.
While it may be fun to have a large sketchbook to practice in, for a journaling practice, having something small you can keep with you (along with a few pencils) means you’ll have easy access whenever you have space in your day to capture something.
The most important thing about sketchbook journaling is that it is a practice. This isn’t about creating great art. It’s about getting better at drawing quickly in the moment. And while your sketchbook is highly personal, don’t be surprised if strangers engage with you about it. After all, the practice of sketching is uncommon;it makes people curious.
(For great examples of sketchbook journaling, Joshua Boulet is highly interesting to follow. He’s a world traveler who takes his sketchbook with him everywhere and captures the scenes around him.)
A small sketchbook and drawing pencil
- Sketch the World (Joshua Boulet)
- How to Make a Sketchbook Journal (and Why You Should!) by Lindsay Bugbee (The Postman’s Knock)
- How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal by Claudia Nice
- Tips for Keeping a Sketchbook or Visual Journal by Lisa Marder (Thought Co.)
Sketchnoting is a technique that combines handwriting and doodles into visual notes. The technique is called many things: scribing, graphic recording, visual journaling, graphic notes—and there are probably other terms—but the main idea is that it is more than just handwriting. Headlines, call out boxes, simple drawings, arrows, bubbles, and doodles give added dimensions to information on the page.
Sketchnoting is often used in the corporate world on whiteboards to facilitate brainstorming and presentations. As a journaling form, it can help bring clarity and creativity to the capture of your thoughts.
The best thing about sketchnoting is that it is an easy technique to learn—and you don’t have to be an artist to pull it off.
A journal, pen with black ink that writes easily, and something to add color. (Markers, colored pencils, or crayons.)
- How to Create Sketchnotes with No Artistic Ability at All (Your Visual Journal)
- The Simple Guide to Visual Journaling by Cathy Hutchison
- The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde
- The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown
Watercolors are perfect for journaling because they dry quickly, allowing you to add ink on top of the paint without a long wait. The soft edges of watercolors look good on a page that transitions into text.
The other reason watercolors are popular with art journalists is that there is some serendipity to the medium. Watercolors are unpredictable:there are lots of “happy accidents” and unexpected movements where the media co-creates with you, and you will often be pleasantly surprised by the results.
While you can use the watercolors in pans (like you probably used as a kid,) watercolors also come in tubes, or in inkwells with droppers, and there are even watercolor pencils and crayons (which allow added control).
A journal with thick paper – Try Moleskine’s Art Plus Notebook
An ink pen that doesn’t smear with water – Try PITT Artist Pens
A watercolor set – Try Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Paint Sketchers’ Pocket Box
- Watercolor Journaling (Gay Kraeger)
- How To Create an Easy Watercolor Art Journal Page by Torrie Gass
- Beginning Watercolor Journaling (DVD – Christina Lopp and Gay Kraeger)
- 8 Fun & Easy Watercolor Painting Techniques (Art Journalist)
How to Choose Art Journal Supplies
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities when you are art journaling. So it’s best to choose a few quality supplies to focus on first, and then add to your collection from there.
1. Choose a journal with paper that is thick enough to support your media (or journal on loose paper, and bind the pages later).
Paper is a big deal when you are art journaling. Paper that works just fine for a ballpoint pen may allow bleed through when you use a marker. But the thicker the page is, the fewer pages will fit in a journal.
Paper thickness is often described by manufacturers in terms of “weight.” Here’s a quick guide to what that looks like:
20 lb – Tracing Paper
24 lb – Cheap Copier Paper
32 lb – Nice Copier Paper
65 lb – Poster Paper
80 lb – Business Cards
110 lb – Manilla Folders
140 lb – Super Heavy Cardstock
Both Moleskine and Leuchtturm make sketchbook versions of their A5 (8.5 x 5.5) journals that feature 110lb paper. One of the reasons these two brands are so popular is that they lay flat when open–which means you don’t have to wrestle with the journal while creating in it.
Field Artist makes journals specifically for watercolors.
One of the most affordable lines of journals made for art journaling is the Strathmore Visual Journal which comes in versions for mixed media, watercolor (90lb and 140lb), and drawing.
2. Choose a black pen with ink that doesn’t run when it gets wet.
Art pens are usually labeled with the thickness of the line they draw in millimeters. So a 2.0 pen will draw a thicker line than a .35 pen.
One of the things I love about the PITT pens is that there are also brush versions in a variety of thicknesses. Brush pens offer the capacity for varying line weight as you draw—much like a paintbrush.
Fountain pens can produce truly beautiful results, too, once you get the hang of them. You can buy one that you dip in waterproof India ink, or you can purchase one that uses cartridges. The LAMY Safari and the Pilot MR Retro Pop are good starter pens that use cartridges.
Jet pens has a nice tutorial on how to learn to write with a fountain pen. At the very least, writing with a fountain pen is fun to practice and a great way to put your junk mail envelopes to good use while you get the hang of it.
3. Choose how you will add color—if desired
There are a number of ways to add color to your journal. Any kind of paint, marker, or crayon will do. However, here are some ideas for products that play nicely on journal pages.
Alcohol inks are highly pigmented and dry quickly. Historically, they are used on non-porous surfaces, but you can put them in a spray bottle and get tremendous results creating backgrounds in your journal. Liquitex Acrylic Ink is another favorite of art journalers.
Brush markers allow you to paint without the mess of a brush. They also create really beautiful lettering. Watch a tutorial to get the most out of the brush marker experience. Tombow Dual brush markers are a favorite of journalers for a balance of quality and price.
Colored pencils are great because they don’t bleed through paper. The Prismacolor Colored Pencils lay down a lot more color than their school supply counterparts and glide easily across the page, making them worth the extra money.
Watercolors come in pans, tubes, and ink droppers. Two favorites for journalers include the highly portable Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Paint Sketchers’ Pocket Box and the less portable—but really fun to play with—Dr. Ph Martins Fine Art Watercolors come in droppers which allow you to easily dilute with water to your preference.
Crayons are my favorite. The Crayola brand puts down better pigment than bargain brands, and Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor II Watercolor Crayons are a beautiful blend of the crayon experience and watercolors.
You can also experiment putting down a gesso primer on your pages and painting on top of it. (A favorite of people who work with altered books.)
4. Choose an adhesive.
If you want a faster route, here are some ideas:
Glue sticks are a quick way to apply ephemera and photos to paper, but the type of glue stick you use matters. (You probably remember the glue sticks from elementary school that had no sticking power at all!) Try Elmer’s Glue Stick Extreme or another acid-free glue stick.
Double-sided tape is straightforward and easy to use. You just put it on the back of whatever you want to put in your journal, and press. Glue dots—a product created for scrapbookers—work much the same way. (Be sure to get the kind for permanent projects; there is also a version that is removable.)
Washi tape is a thin, patterned masking tape that can be used to create borders and designs on pages, and it can also just anchor things on a page.
Who to follow on Instagram for art journal pages and inspiration
@andyfunnygi – Ariane posts from her altered book journals. Her Insta shares mixed media and watercolor pages. (Also, the text is in Italian!)
@art.journal.girl – Robyn’s account is a steady stream of journal inspiration that will make you want to pick up a paintbrush. Her art journals are mixed media, and feature watercolor, drawings, and stencils.
@austinkleon – Austin Kleon is an author who writes books that inspire creativity. His journals are part sketchnote / part altered book / part gluebook. Check out Kleon’s wildly popular Steal Like an Artist, or his latest, Keep Going.
@boraaskyy – The journal pages shown have a unique aesthetic, and if you happen to be a BTS fan, you will particularly love following this account.
@caffeinated_creator – The Caffeinated Creator shares mixed media journal layouts with a wide variety of materials and styles including stamps, marker, stickers, and collage.
@cathialpha – Ren is a self-taught watercolor journalist whose pages include handwritten text with watercolor artwork. She journals in a Hobonichi Techo, taking a planner and turning it into an art journal.
@feebujo – Federica Santaroni has a distinct black and white style with watercolor highlights that will inspire you to try handlettering and drawing.
@hopedreamjournal – Allycia Lee shares journal layouts that incorporate watercolor and stickers to add depth and texture to the journaling practice.
@ilgirasoleviandante_ – Vanessa’s journal is black ink, brush marker, and watercolor with a distinct style. Following Vanessa will inspire you to draw more, and to experiment with communicating your ideas in pictures.
@jijielephant – Elizabeth is focused on bullet journaling with an artistic flair. If you want to combine art journaling with productivity, this gram is full of ideas.
@jose_naranja – Jose Naranja’s journals are works of art and incredibly inspiring. Because Naranja travels the world, the topics of the journal pages feature glimpses of life everywhere.
@journalbydesign – Jennifer uses ink pen and marker to create layouts that are full of hand-lettering and doodles. The uniqueness is in the layouts, and the way Jennifer partitions the pages.
@mashaplans – Masha’s art journals are ink and sketchnotes with a simple, airy style that leaves a lot of white space making content easy to process.
@notebook_therapy – This account is a mix of page layouts and notebook supplies with an East Asian flair.
@plslars – Lars works with brush markers and does beautiful things in his approach to color palettes. If you want to go deep with hand-lettering and brush markers in your art journaling, follow Lars.
@rediscoveranalog – Jestine’s journal pages are all about the handwriting and the ink with simple artistic embellishments. If you are curious about fountain pens, follow Jestine.
@rttdraw – Random Things to Draw shows you how to create simple doodles. Each post is a drawing lesson for something simple and quick to create in your own journal.
@tea.stained.and.tattered – Tea Stained and Tattered is dedicated to junk journals with a Victorian flair. These mixed media creations are full of aged paper, ephemera, drawing, ink, and texture.
@thedoodleguide – Apsi is from Sri Lanka and inspires people to doodle and create hand-lettering. She started her account to reconnect with doodling—which she loves. It’s an awesome “how to.”
Art Journal Prompts
The following articles are full of art journal prompts to experiment with.
- 365 One Word Art Journal Prompts For Journaling & Creativity (Art Journalist)
- 50 Art Journal Prompts (Blacksburg Belle)
- Art Journal Prompts (Felt Magnet)
- 10 Art Journal Prompts to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing (Udemy)
- Cultural Heritage Art Journal Prompt (Tangle Vermont)
- 27+ Ideas for Using Words in Your Art Journal (Daisy Yellow)
- Art Journal Every Day: Seven Journal Prompts (Balzer Designs)
- Art Journal Prompts & Inspiration (Art Journalist)
- 10 Art Journaling Prompts to Try Out This Summer (Jerry’s Artarama)
- Summer Art Journaling Prompts to Capture Summer Sweetness (Page Flutter)
- 15 Autumn Art Journal Prompts (Birch & Button)
- Fall Into Art Journaling! (Amy Oestreicher)
- Art Journal Prompts – 101 Words to Think About (Art Journaling for Beginners)
- 15 list prompts for your art journal (Roben-Marie)
- Top Ten Art Therapy Visual Journaling Prompts (Psychology Today)
- Three Sure-Fire Art Journaling Prompts (Cloth Paper Scissors)
- Muse30 – Prompts for Your Art Journal (Daisy Yellow)
- Art Journaling 101 – Using Prompts (Kristal Norton)
- Wild Soul Art Journal Challenge (Linda Matthews)
- 16 Art Journal Prompt Ideas For Music Lovers (Art Journalist)
- Posts & Prompts Blog Series (Susie Stonefield Miller)
- 3 Art Journal Ideas You Can Do In Under 10 Minutes (Joyful Art Journaling)
Why You Might Want to Art Journal
Art journaling engages our brains in different ways than our normal daily routines. It taps into our internal creative resources—which brings them more firmly online. This is my personal story of the impact this type of playing has on our brains…
One evening, I went to a freestyle mixed media class. I’d left work exhausted, burdened by some logistical problems I wasn’t able to solve. Quite frankly, the only reason I went was because I had committed to attend with a friend; if I’d been going solo, I definitely would have skipped the class.
Everyone worked on the same large paper canvas and we shifted around the table each iterating on each other’s contributions in five minute increments.
The instructor pointed out that the purpose of the exercise was to create—not to make “art.” After all, we were simply working our way around the table, focusing on a different part of the canvas, layering on top of each other’s work. There was no plans; we simply contributed to the paper with ink, marker, paint, stamps, and ephemera (bits of printed paper like flyers, receipts, postcards, labels, etc.)—whatever we were feeling in the moment.
It was a giant creative mess.
When I woke up the next day, I had three new ideas about how to solve my business challenges. Something about letting myself play artistically the night before prompted my mind to find creative solutions.
Studies show that there are many health and well-being benefits to creating art. Why wouldn’t we want to engage it daily?
Additional resources for learning to art journal
- Art Journal Freedom: How to Journal Creatively With Color & Composition by Dina Wakley
- Words to Live By by Dawn Nicole Waarner
- Journal Sparks: Fire Up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking by Emily K. Neuburger
- The Complete Decorated Journal: A Compendium of Journaling Techniques by Gwen Diehn
- No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity by Gina Rossi Armfield
- Art Journaling for Beginners by Rachel Ramey
- 101+ Creative Journaling Prompts: Inspiration for Journaling and an Introduction to Art Journaling by Kristal Norton
- Create This Book by Moriah Elizabeth
- Create This Book 2 by Moriah Elizabeth
Video Tutorials & Online Courses
- Lettering Worksheets (Tombow)
- How To Use Watercolors In Your Planner – A Simple Water Brush Pen Tutorial (Little Coffee Fox)
- Starting a Creative Journal (Helen Colebrook on Skillshare)
- Get Creative with Me: Letter A (Plslars on YouTube)
- How to Start a Journal (Seaweed Kisses on YouTube)
- Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course (The Postman’s Knock)
- Art Journaling: Mixed Media on Paper (Creative Bug)
- Step-by-Step Guides (Oops A Daisy UK)
- Free Art Journal Inspiration E-book and Online Starter Course (Schulman Art / The Inspiration Place)
- 100 Days of Art Journal Therapy (Expressive Art Workshops)
- Art Journaling with Photos (Tombow)
- No More Excuses Journaling Series (Gina Rossi Armfield – No Excuses Art)
- Art Journaling Exercises: 15 Creative Prompts Streaming Video (Artist’s Network)
- Daily Drawing Challenge: 31 Art Journal Prompts with Dawn DeVries Sokol (Creative Bug)
- Start Art Journaling! (Susie Stonefield Miller)
- 30 Days of Art Journaling (Determined to Shine)
- Introduction to Handmade Art Journals (Kiala Givehand on Skillshare)
- Meditative Art Journaling (Creative Bug)
- Art Journal Prompts (Big Picture Classes)
- Art Journaling: Simple Techniques to Express Your Creative Self (Fanny Achache on Skillshare)
- Sketchbook Practice: Create Freely with Ink and Watercolor (Ohn Mar Win on Skillshare)
Ready to get started?
Did these resources spark your neglected inner creative? Daily practice can reignite that part of you.
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