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What is an art journal?
Picture a journal or a diary. It has paper, a cover, and a person takes it to the privacy of their little space. They fill it up with sentences, thoughts, how they felt. Sometimes doodles, or even stickers accompany the pages of words.
Now, picture a sketchbook. An artist has taken it around town. Filled it up with quick drawings of people, eyes, trees, perspective.
Art Journaling is an Adventure
Our journey is just beginning. Let’s think of a scrapbook, with stickers and fun paper. And go crazy and think about a wall inside an artist studio full of paintings, and his table full of discarded drawings, or ideas mingled with spilled paint.
Let’s take all of it, mix it around, add some magic and you have an art journal.
It’s a bit hard to define because an art journal is defined by the creator.
An art journal page can be a pretty picture, a mixed media adventure, or a collage. You can simply take colors that make you happy and splash them across the page for the sheer pleasure of the act, then sit back and look at the colors and smile.
An art journal is an exercise in creativity. It’s about creating, experimenting, and making art for the sake of making art
Why You Should Start an Art Journal
Do you love creating art? Do you want to create art but don’t know where to start? Are you a highly visual person? Do you have a lot going on in your life either good, stressful or a mix of both? Do you want to document your thoughts and feelings but don’t like to write them down in word form? If you answered yes to any of these then you should start an art journal.
Art Journals are free of rules
Art journals aren’t about rules, or judgements. There is nothing strict or overwhelming with an art journal. You don’t even have to share it with anyone. Art journal is an expressive form of creating, documenting, and exploring your art and feelings. Some people have themes, some people use it as a sketchbook, the options are endless.
It’s a little collage, a little scrapbook, a little painting and a whole lot of creative joy. It’s a personal adventure through color, shapes, and feelings. You can be as wild and crazy as you can imagine.
Art Journals help you find yourself
When I first got into art journaling I had just gotten out of a really bad situation. I hadn’t been able to create my art for some time and I was at a bit of a block. I missed the my art. Yet, I wasn’t sure what my art was anymore or where to start. I was almost like a beginner just starting out. Art journaling for me was extremely freeing.
There was so much freedom in art journaling. A freedom I craved. It let my art explode out of me in new and exciting ways.
You can start an art journal in any type of book
Let me also take a moment to mention that you can art journal in just about anything. You can use sketchbooks that are in journal form. You can turn old books into art journals. You can read how to turn an old book into an art journal here.
I have a couple different tutorials on how to create art journals. You can check them out below:
Art journaling is very cathartic
Getting those emotions down, seeing your art spread across pages, its a release of all those feel good chemicals in your brain. I love to sit down, look through images I may use, colors that I love, doodles and drawings that make me happy and making them all come together in their own little world.
Art journaling is deeply therapeutic, and liberating. It helps stimulate your creative nature.
An art journal is a creative journey. It should be done with joy and wonder.
Sometimes the first step is the hardest. So, let’s look at how to choose an art journal and how to start your first page.
Choosing an art journal
I have kept art journals in a ton of ways. I adore them all. I choose an art journal based on my current mood.
There are some factors to keep in mind when choosing an art journal
- Type of Paper
- How it is Bound
Size of the journal
What size do you like to create in? Maybe you need to push your comfort zone, maybe you need to brew a cup of coffee, put on your sweats, and embrace the comfort. Choosing the right size can really help get the art started.
I love square sizes. Sometimes I want a smaller journal, less to fill up, but cute, and fun. Sometimes I want large, mo room to go wild and thrown around paint in.
Play with sizes. Don’t trap yourself into thinking you have to use a certain size or shape.
When choosing an art journal you want to keep in mind what type of art supplies you will be using.
Certain art supplies such as watercolors need certain paper.
Watercolor paper is the best option for watercolors and inks. The paper will absorb the water correctly and allow the colors of the paint to show through.
Mixed Media Paper
Mixed media paper is great for watercolors, acrylic paint, and markers. Your watercolors will react a bit different. The water tends to stay on the paper a little longer and the colors can look a bit different due to this. But, I still use mixed media paper and I just take the difference into account as I paint.
Regular sketchbook paper is not the best for watercolor. You can use it for other mixed media supplies, especially if you cover it with gesso first.
To be safe, I always opt for either mixed media or watercolor. I suggest at some point in your art life playing around with both types of paper. That way you can see for yourself how the paper reacts to your style of art making.
Types of Art Journals
The most common form is to purchase a bound journal, usually one without a spiral binding, but bound as a book. It’s important to choose a paper that can handle water and paint.
Part of art journaling often involves mixed media and playing with different art supplies. So, when choosing a journal look for either mixed media paper or watercolor paper. Here are some trusted art journals
Now, you can start a journal in a spiraled journal. The reason most don’t is because its common to open the journal, lay it out and work on both pages. It gives you more room to work and it’s just plain fun.
However, it’s your journal. As you begin to create, you’ll soon be inspired to create more and the type of journal you choose may change. You may even come up with more ideas of how to keep your journal.
This is currently my favorite type of journal. It seemed intimidating at first, but once I got over the initial fear, I couldn’t get enough. Don’t let fear steal your art!
To create a hand sewn journal you first choose the paper you want. I usually go with a mixed media paper. However, my next one is going to be with hot-pressed watercolor paper.
I choose a paper that is long enough that when it is folded in half will be the perfect size. I usually by Canson’s XL Mixed Media pad for this process.
Having a few book binding tools can be sooo amazing for this process. It’ll also make you feel kinda cool owning these tools and having them on your art station. I use this amazing bookbinding kit.
Step 1.) Create Your Signatures
To start you fold your papers, smooth the edges with a one folder if you have one, if you don’t try using something with a smooth flat edge.
You will creat signature. Signatures are groups of pages that get sown in at the same time.
How many pages go into your signature and how many signatures you choose are completely up to you.
Step 2.) Bind Your Signatures
Once you have them all folded you’ll need to decided on what stitch you’ll use to sew them. I use either a kettle stitch or a Coptic stitch. Here is the difference. I find both lay flat for me when opened. I’m a little partial to the kettle stitch.
Once you choose your stitch you need to make a pattern for punching the holes you will sew. Once the template is made punch holes through all your signatures.
Then, it’s just a matter of sewing them together. I used a tutorial from YouTube for my kettle stitch.
Once it’s sewn together you are the proud owner of a handmade journal! Yay!
This is the Youtube tutorial that I learned from.
You can add a thicker paper or even fabric to make a cover, you can cover the spine, or leave it and decorate the front page however you choose.
Once you start making your own journals you’ll probably want to make even more art books. The possibilities are truly endless.
Three ringed binder
You can also work on loose papers and then bind them in a three ringed binder, or any kind of binder. Do you have an old trapper keeper? Bonus points if you do! You can use that.
Old Book Journal
Oh my goodness, how I love journaling in old books. This type I feel needs a disclaimer.
It’s okay to modify books. Im a huge book lover (hoarder). I have a collection of over 2,000 books and I keep buying more. I love books, and I love being an artist.
The famed painter Robert Henri said when everyone else is trying to close the book the artist says wait, there are still more pages. That’s how I feel about repurposing a book for a journal.
You can use any book, just be mindful of the binding. If it’s a glued binding you may need to use some tape to reinforce it.
Children’s book are often a great size, and have fun images that can add inspiration. Though, I really like using old books, as well. Let’s look at choosing the right size, because size does matter.
You can read my tutorial on how to turn an old book into an art journal here.
Now, let’s look at how to get over the fear of the blank page and start your first ever art journal page!
5 Ways to Begin Your First Art Journal Page
Whether you are a beginner at art journaling or if you have been art journaling for a long time these ways can help and inspire you.
I’m going to go through 5 ways to start your first page. These are only suggestions. Helpful ideas to get your creative sparked. You are free to alter these ideas and make them completely your own.
1.) Through down gesso and paint
It’s really that simple. This works perfectly for old book journals, too. Take some gesso, drizzle it across your pages, then choose some colors and add drops across the pages. Take a nice big brush and spread around the gesso and paint. Make swooping, swirling movements. Let the color guide you as you see how the colors blend and the shapes they create.
Once satisfied, let it all dry. You can use a blow dryer or a heat gun to speed up the process.
You now have a fabulous background to create in top of.
Collage is addicting. You’ve been warned. You can buy paper packs, thin paper that already has a collage image printed on it, or use ephemera you have or find in antique stores.
I use either matte medium or gel made medium as glue for my collage.
I apply the medium to the page and then usually rip bits and pieces of paper and arrange it however I see fit in my page. Sometimes I cover the entire paper, sometimes just the edges.
Take a pen, a marker, or pencil, and start writing. Things that you can write to help inspire you are:
You can write large, taking up the entire page, or randomly write in sections. Now, once you have written you can either paint around the writing, paint over the writing.
You can paint a background as mention in the first step and the write or write then paint the background. You can paint a picture over the words letting the words leak through. The creative act if writing should help get loosen you up. To make art you have to throw off the shackles of being self-conscious and worried about what other will think.
Stencils are super popular with art journal enthusiasts. They are a fun way to create depths and interest in your page. You layer them, you can use them to add words. They can create entire pictures or just be used to accent to page.
You can also find objects around your house to make your own stencils. Do you have bubble wrap? You’ve got a stencil.
This is a fun technique that you can spend hours experimenting with. To create a page just start apply your stencils and see what happens.
5.) Watercolor Backgrounds
Creating watercolor backgrounds for art journaling is actually very simple and very fun.
There are many, many ways to create these watercolor backgrounds. This is a simple way that can instantly add color and interest to your page.
Watercolor splash background
For this method you can do it on any paper. The idea is to get color and textures and interesting patterns.
Firs, get your watercolor paints ready by adding water.
Wet your paper where you want your background to go
Splash your colors across your page alternating between colors. Let the colors blend and feather into each other.
Starting an art journal is a fun and amazing adventure. Art journaling lets your imagination truly run wild and try all types of art and art supplies.