How To Start Your Art Journal

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When I first learned about art journaling, I was in grad school for Art Therapy. One of my teachers was an avid art journaler, and her pages were intricate, expressive, and had so much depth. At the time, this type of visual journaling frustrated me because I couldn’t get my pages to look like hers. I thought mine looked boring in comparison, and I somehow concluded that I was “doing it wrong.” I decided to stick with regular old journaling instead.

It took me a couple years to realize that there’s no wrong way to do art journaling, or therapeutic art-making in general. The reason it felt like I was doing something wrong was because I was trying to mimic my teacher’s style. A style which came from her unique inner experience. I tried so hard to mimic it, in fact, that I was cut off from my own internal experience.

The point isn’t to make something that looks “good” or put-together or finished, but rather, to express whatever’s inside you. And since we all have different internal experiences, our art is bound to look different.

It’s totally fine (and normal) to be inspired by others’ artwork. Try out a technique that you learned, mimic a color scheme that you’re drawn to; but at the end of the day, realize that the art that comes from you will be epic and beautiful in its’ own right.

Getting started

I know starting something new can be really intimidating, especially if you’ve never expressed yourself in this way before. Just remember, starting is the scariest part. Know that your pages probably won’t look how you want them to look right away, but it’s about consistency. The more you try, the more you’ll get the hang of it. 

You’ll learn what techniques and materials accurately express your unique experience. You’ll learn what feels best for you. But you won’t learn if you don’t try, so my best advice is to just start.

Choose your journal

Before you embark on your art journaling journey, decide what you want to use for your journal. Some people use old books, others use previous writing journals, and some use blank notebooks. Right now, I’m using a Canson 6x6” mixed media bound notebook, because I’m really into square format art, and I like blank pages. 

A tip on using old books: rip out up to half of the pages, because once you start adding paint or texture, it’ll get pretty thick.

Start where it's easy

Remember I said I stuck with regular old journaling when I felt intimidated by art journaling? That’s because writing out my feelings in narrative form has always been easy for me. So when I decided to give art journaling another try, I started by writing. Just as I would in any other journal, I wrote about what was on my mind; I vented. 

Then, I added color on top of the words in the form of watercolor paint. I chose the colors based on how I felt while writing my entry, and suddenly, it seemed more expressive. From there, I started experimenting with thicker paints, collaging, and drawing on top of my writing.

How do you easily express yourself? Start there. And when you’re ready, add another element. And then another one. Experiment. Play. Be curious. There’s no wrong way to create your art journal - it’s YOURS.

Here’s 20 prompts if you ever get stuck:

  1. Using lines, shapes, and colors, describe how you feel.
  2. If your mind were a landscape, what would it look like right now?
  3. Draw yourself as a flower.
  4. Draw yourself as a tree.
  5. Choose a color to fill a blank page; use it as a background.
  6. Write whatever comes into your head for a full minute - no matter what.
  7. Choose a simple shape and repeat it to fill up a page.
  8. Clip from magazines/newspapers to create a collage based on how you feel.
  9. Write a journal entry, then layer paint over some or all of your words.
  10. Tape/glue photographs, tickets, or receipts on a page to commemorate an event.
  11. Scribble for 10 seconds, then try to find an image in the scribbles; color in the image.
  12. Write an inspirational quote.
  13. Write/draw your perfect day.
  14. What does stress look like?
  15. Experiment with paint and glitter.
  16. Write down everything stressing you out.
  17. What does stuck look like?
  18. What does freedom look like?
  19. Using lines, shapes, and colors, how do you want to feel?
  20. Glue found objects (buttons, paper clips, string, etc) to a page to add texture.

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