How to start art journaling

Have you always wanted to start art journaling, but simply don’t know where or how to begin? In this article I’ll explain all about art journaling and give you some basic guidelines to get started!

What is art journaling and how can you benefit from it?

Art journaling is just another way of putting your thoughts and emotions onto paper, a bit like you would when writing in a diary (or writing your morning pages). However, an art journal is oftentimes a place where you would journal visually. You are not limited to writing, which can be extremely helpful when you don’t know exactly how you are feeling about something or when you simply can’t put it into words.

In many ways it’s a gentle though therapeutic check-in with yourself. It allows you to express your emotions (be it in awareness or without knowing exactly what you feel) which helps you to process them and move through any blocks.

Okay, but HOW do you start then?

If you’ve never created an art journal spread, the process can feel quite daunting. If you search on Google there are so many different ways of going about it. Which I personally think underlines exactly what strength lies in art journaling: there is no right or wrong way to do it.

First off, for many of us it’s probably helpful to work in a journal that’s inexpensive. Because if you buy an expensive, gorgeous looking journal… chances are you will feel the urge to “do everything perfectly”. Which is counter productive when it comes to art journaling. You do not want to feel any restrictions or pressure, you need to be able to creatively flow. So buy that cheap, flimsy notebook at the dollar store or create your own art journal from scrap paper that you have laying around.

What materials do you need?

The beauty of art journaling is that you can use ANYTHING you like. Old newspapers and magazines, quotes or words from a second-hand book, receipts, doodles, packaging, (dried) flowers and leaves, paint, ink, gouache, watercolor, pastel or oil crayons, pencil, stickers, washi tape, wrapping paper, really anything goes! It certainly doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; you might even want to check your kids’ art supplies while you’re at it.

Limit yourself

I know this sounds like the total opposite of what I just said, but hear me out! If you’re a little bit like me and have a bad habit of hoarding loads of art supplies and materials – you can easily get overwhelmed. It can therefore be very helpful to limit yourself in terms of a color palette and a selection of art materials. These can of course be changed (or let go altogether) over time, but when you are just starting out these “limitations” can really work in your favor.

Some prompts to get you started

If you are a complete beginner to art journaling, I’ll give you some ideas to kick-off your first art journaling session:

  • Print out a photo of yourself when you were a little kid. Stick this image onto the page and start doodling, painting or collaging elements around it. What colors, words or shapes come up? What feeling do you want that child to have?
  • Find a quote that really speaks to you in that moment and either write it down or make a collage with images that represent that quote. Dive deeper into what this quote means to you right now, by adding more layers of color, scribbles, etc.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Pick up a pencil (or brush) in the color that currently speaks to you and -whilst keeping your eyes closed- intuitively start doodling on the page. When you open your eyes and see what you have drawn or scribbled, try to feel if more layers are needed.
  • If you feel you are creatively blocked, it sometimes helps to just start writing on the page as if it was a journal. Write down all your thoughts and everything that is bothering you. When you’re done, start covering the page with colors that make you feel good.
Some tips to help you along the way:
  • When you are working on very thin (inexpensive) paper, it can help to lay down a layer of gesso (either white or transparent) first. This is basically a primer that helps to give paper some tooth and make it so it better handles layers of paint.
  • You can make stamps from cutting out halved potatoes, or cutting erasers. Stencils are also very easy to make: just fold a sheet of paper a few times and make some cut-outs on the folded edge (like when you created paper snowflakes as a kid). Use a kitchen sponge to dab paint on your “stencil” and voilà!
  • Some of my favourite art materials: Amsterdam transparent gesso, Neocolor I (oil crayons), Neocolor II (watercolor crayons), Stabilo Woody (water soluble), Derwent inktense pencils (water soluble), Kuratake Gansai Tambi watercolors,
  • Whenever I receive an order, chances are the products are protected by (brown) crinkly paper. I always save these pieces of paper (along with the cardboard box) for making my own cheap art journals.

Last but not least: keep reminding yourself that you are creating these pages for no-one other than yourself! Nobody has to see it. Heck you can even burn it if you like. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to BE. Don’t let yourself be discouraged by all the pretty (curated and edited) art journaling pages that you see on instagram or pinterest.

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