If you’d like to start art journaling but don’t know how, then I’m so happy you’re here! In the beginning it can seem overwhelming and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details about what supplies you will need – should you buy paint or ink? Or maybe you’re stuck on what type of book to use. What type of paper it should contain? There are so many factors to consider but instead, I’d like you to forget whatever ideas you have about what art journaling is, because at the beginning, art journaling is only:
A little space to be creative.
Isn’t that great? That’s so simple isn’t it? The best thing about art journaling is that it’s not what you do or how you do it, it’s about the process of spending a bit of time being creative. Much like going for a walk where you put one foot in front of the other – art journaling is putting one thing down on the page, and then another. You really don’t need a destination in mind. Artful journaling is about letting yourself play and explore. You can try new techniques or you can write the same word over and over. The result is that in allowing your mind to play in a creative way, with whatever materials you have to hand, something will be expressed and often that something wasn’t even on your radar.
Art Journals of the Past
One of the earliest forms of art journaling was in the works of people who painted on cave walls, or carved into stone. In essence, they were playing – there were no huge expectations for them to produce something worthy of Instagram. They found some pigment and went about seeing what they could do with it. They expressed what it was like to be living. You can do virtually the same thing all these years later. Yes it can get so much more in depth and technical but the act of expression and exploration is the same.
I’d like to remind you to not get too obsessed with the materials you wish to use. Over time, you will build up a selection of supplies because throughout the act of journaling you’ll get ideas about what techniques you might wish to try and that will lead you. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff up front thinking you’ll use it because you may end up having it sit in the drawer instead. Inspiration doesn’t come from supplies – it comes from you and the life and experiences around you.
In the beginning start with any book. A regular old lined school notebook will work. Use what you have right now in your desk. If you have nothing, find an old phone book or magazine and start there. It can be easier to start with pages that aren’t blank anyway. You can cover over images to make blank spaces for writing or drawing. Once you have gotten a feel for what you’d like to do in your art journal you can purchase a book that will suit your needs better. You might find you’d like a sketchbook with heavy paper for wet media like paint or maybe you’d like a really big one to explore size and space. Using a book is ideal over individual sheets of pages as it collects your work over a span of time. If you’d like to use individual sheets and then bind them together in the end then that would absolutely work!
The Mark Maker
Once you have your journal you’ll need something to make marks in it with. If you’re just starting out I’d like to remind you again to use what you have right now on your desk. Grab a pencil or a pen. Share crayons with your kids or get out the highlighters you use for work. Using what you have right now is better than putting off your desire to create until you have something ‘better.’ You don’t even need a stylus type instrument to make marks. You can cut things out of junk mail and glue them in, you can drag your paint dipped finger on the page or you can even make marks with a needle and thread! Start with what you have and go where it takes you. If you want to use stickers, use stickers!
Now you have your book and your mark making instrument so what are you going to make with these two items? Sitting down to a blank page can be so intimidating. If you have this itch inside you to create and then nothing comes out onto the page intuitively it can be incredibly discouraging. I’ve been there – so many times. Maybe you’re full of ideas and in that case I’d wonder why you’re on the web reading. But my hunch is that you could use someone pointing you in the right direction. Want to know the secret to getting started? You don’t have to have an idea. Just start anyway.
10 Tips for Starting your Art Journaling Practice
- Draw a shape – what does it look like? Can you explore that?
- Make some layers – Put down a background and build up from there.
- Focus – Do you have an idea for a focal element? Maybe you have a photo or word that can take center stage. What other elements can support it?
- Colour – Maybe you have some inspiration for a colour pallet. That’s a great place to begin, get those colours down on the page.
- Make some marks and then cover them over. I love the idea of writing a thought or feeling and then covering it over – it’s essentially still there but will become transformed.
- Say to yourself ‘today I’d like to explore…’ and see where that goes. Maybe you’d like to explore something you’re feeling. Or maybe an idea about current events or maybe you’ll want to explore a new technique.
- Use a found object and create a journal spread around it. Glue in a candy wrapper and create an image that describes what it feels like to consume it. Find a penny, pick it up and put it in your journal. Explore that.
- Trace. Trace an object, your hand, another image or a cookie cutter. Use that as a frame or a jumping off point to fill in the rest of the details.
- Repeat. Repetition of shape, line and colour is paramount in art. Explore what a group of triangles can be. Find out what happens if you draw 20 happy faces.
- Find a journaling prompt from this list that sparks some curiosity.
- You can write in your art journal. If starting with a paragraph of written text is what you want to do, then do that.
- You don’t need a bunch of stuff before you begin.
- Do it often – repetition will create your habit and habit will spur on your growth. The things you process, learn and explore in your art journal can carry over into other artful practices if you give them the chance to grow.
- Enjoy the process. Not all art needs to be angsty and meaningful. Having something that’s enjoyable to do because it’s fun is so valuable.
- You don’t need to label it. Maybe your version of art journaling looks like someone else’s scrapbook or junk journal – that’s ok. Just do what you want to do and don’t worry about what to call it.
Below are some examples from my own artful journaling practice. They are all a bit different from each other and none ended in a finished work of art but the process was enjoyable and I was able to explore feelings and concepts as I worked. I call that success!
Get a book and something to make marks with inside that book and just get started. There need not be a pre-conceived idea of what you’d like to make or how you’d like to make it. Just spend some time with your creativity and don’t worry about the outcome. You don’t need to post this work on social media and you don’t need it to be a finished piece of art. Use your art journal as a means for exploration. Explore materials, colours, your thoughts and feelings or a moment in time and if you’re really stuck, try the ideas listed above.