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Art Journals-The Basics


Getting Started in Art Journaling

Have you ever wanted to create an outlet that enables you to express yourself in mixed media, diary special things about your life, and scrapbook at the same time? Welcome to the wonderful world of art journaling.

An art journal is a place where you get to express your thoughts, ideas and feelings through any media that you want to use.

The basic platform for your art journal can be a sketchbook, a journal that you create, a notebook, or a book that you alter to create an art journal.

Sometimes these journals have a theme to them. Other times, they just are an expression or a cit of your daily life.

You can create a special book that tells of a specific time in your life, your feelings and emotions, a trip or vacation-just about anything that you can possibly think of. You can art journal an event, a trip, a person, or a time of your life. This is your art! Your books can be a legacy to future generations that tells your life story or who you were.

Any technique that you can use in stamping, coloring, or scrapbooking can also be used in your art journals. You can use watercolors, paints, chalks, and inks to give you that unique page that only starts in your imagination. You can stamp, draw, paint, zentangle, or use mandalas.

This is a very relaxing way to create something special and unique. You can combine all kinds to techniques to make something that no one has created before or will create again.

Let's get started with the basics! hopefully, you will get some ideas to get started creating your own art journal !

Art Journal Themes

So now that you have decided to get started in art journaling, what is your journal going to be about? in other words, what is your theme? What is your passion or hobby?

1. Garden Journal-I love my home gardens. Mostly I am a flower person, but my husband has a few veggies that he raises.Thinks about pictures, seed packets, pictures of flowers or plants from catalogs. Lists of what you love. Your timetables during the year could also be included. Do drawings, stamping-the sky is your limit !

2. Music- If you are a musician, why note journal about your musical passion? Include programs, pieces of music, lists of the music you have played, about your classes. etc

. If you are into a band or group why not journal about them?Ticket stubs, info, programs, album info and more

3. Sports- Passionate about a specific sports team? Why not create a journal? Pictures of course, tickets to the games, and stats are all part of what you can include. Program-s and information on specific players are also options

4. Gratitude -Journaling the things that you are grateful for is an excellent way to take time to meditate on your blessings.

5. Mandalas-Why not keep your colored mandalas in a journal. Add comments on each piece and you have a lovely art journal

6. Coloring or Art Classes- I take a monthly art class, so I take my pieces and make a journal of them with the class notes

7. A Tribute Journal- Why not honor someone with a art journal all about them? It is perfect for a special birthday or anniversary. Document things about them like what they love or like, their favorite things or people, special traits, any achievements they have won. Froom your heart, they will treasure it.

8. A Dream Journal- What are your dreams? What would you like to achieve or do?What is your bucket list. This journal documents your journey through life.

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9. Food & Recipes- Family recipes with the stories behind them are a great way to journal. Journal about the foods you would like to try, your favorites, and what you tried but did not like. Add clippings, old recipes that someone wrote down in the family and clippings.

10. Home Journals- This is where you keep all your ideas for your house. Clippings, magazine ideas, Pinterest ideas, you journal it all. Projects that you would like to do, pictures of before and after fixes, and hat the project cost are great to keep as you make improvements. You could add information and inventories of the things in your home, just in case.

These are just a few ideas to wet your creative juices. Just remember, you can art journal anything your heart desires

Everyone Needs A Set Of Fine Line Pens

Consider A Theme

Decide what your page or layout is going to be about. It could be a quote, a thought. something that happened that day or a holiday. The pages of your journal is only limited to your imagination.

Use lettering that wanders or use your own penmanship ! Add pieces of magazines, photos ,stamped images, even pieces of coloring pages, odds and ends that you have collected. Just go with the process !

Art Journal Themes

Garden Theme-Journal about plants that you have grown, your landscape, anything about what you have that is green and your journey growing them

Music Theme-Journal about anything musical. It can be about your favorite bands, your own musical journey, or your favorite songs or artists.

Book Journal-Journal about your favorite books or authors

Gratitude Journal-Journal about all the blessings in your life and the people who have shared in your journal

Beverage Journal- What is your favorite coffee, tea , wine or other beverage. Talk about what beverage makes you happy.

Dream Journal-Journal about your dreams, what ,makes them interesting and what it means.

Foods And Recipes- What are your favorite foods and recipes. Your journal could include favorite family recipes. Record special celebrations and what was served.

Home Journal-This journal is all about your home. You could include home improvements, the materials you have used, how the process went, who got it done.

Beach And Sea Theme-If you are a beach lover, this journal could be for you.

Travel Journal-The perfect place to journal all the stories, ideas and facts about your travels

Holiday Journals-All About your family celebrations during the holidays

Pets And Animals-This journal tells all about your pets and your favorite animals

What You Need To Get Started

You really don't need a lot of materials to get started in art journaling. In fact, you may have many of the supplies to get started in your home or in your craft stash already.

  1. An unlined art journal or book - I like to use an artist's spiral bound notebook. The cover is strong, and it has plenty of pages to journal. If you are planning to use a lot of watercolor techniques, you might want to consider a watercolor journal. The paper in these types of journals is a heavier weight paper and will take the paint and watercolor techniques.
  2. Gesso-Use a thicker gesso to create texture and a thinner gesso to prep pages
  3. Paint (Either watercolor or acrylic)- You may have some paint in the house
  4. Brushes in different sizes
  5. Foam Brushes-used to apply gesso and other media where you want an even coat with few lines
  6. Palette Knives-Used to apply paint and other media.
  7. Fine line markers or artists pens-Used to doodle and add details to faces and other images.
  8. Colored pencils- Art journals are multi media so I really like using colored pencils too
  9. Glue-Pva Or Gel Medium-Lots of people like to use these to adhere paper and other materials to their Pages, Mod Podge is another popular medium to collage on your pages.
  10. Stencils- Add a lot of interest and texture to your pages. They are often used with modeling paste; texture paste and thicker gesso
  11. Dye Sprays-Can be used alone to create backgrounds or with stencils to create patterns.
  12. White Pen-A white pen is very handy for outlining and writing. The white Signo broad white pen is a favorite among a lot of art journal artists
  13. Tissue Paper-There are so many ways to use tissue paper on your art journal pages. I like to reuse paper that I get at Christmas and other holidays. Check out your local dollar store for lots of colors and patterns.
  14. Stamps And Inks-More than likely if you are a paper crafter, you have a lot of these in your stash. Stazon inks are the best to use. They will not run when other mediums are added.

You can put together your own journal using either cardstock or watercolor paper but to your size. You will want to punch some holes in the paper and use some binder rings to hold your paper together. I would use cardboard or foam board for the front and back cover.

Keep a folder just for your art journals. Your folder can hold a treasure chest of materials for your art journals. You can clip [pictures from magazines, little left over embellishments from your scrapbooks, a few colorful envelopes that will enhance your pages and hold items. You can also save momentos from trips, pictures, and odds and ends of paper that you might like to use

More About Different Mediums Used In Art Journaling

You will read or hear about different mediums used in art journaling. It is fun and rewarding to both learn and experiment with these different mediums. I get the same satisfaction playing with them as I did when I was a child playing with fingerpaints.


Gesso is used to seal and prime a page in your art journal. It also prevents any paint or other material from bleeding onto other pages. It can also be used to cover something that you don't want seen, like when you use an old book as a base and need to cover the writing.

I have tried a few different gesso options, but Liquitex is about the nest on the market. It dries to a nice matte finish so is great as a base for colored pencils or any type of paint.

Clear gesso is a transparent binder with a grittier substance added. When it dries the surface feels like fine sandpaper. It is great to use over a surface that other mediums won't stick too. If you have used glossy paints, then a coat of clear gesso will allow pencils to work on them or soft pastels and chalk.

Gel Mediums

You really cannot be without this product! They can be used as glue, for adding texture or changing the surface texture to either matte or glossy (it should tell you on the bottle if it is matte or glossy) Some gel mediums have different additives like fiber, pumice, grit to create textured backgrounds.

Gel mediums are perfect to add those things like tissue paper to your pages. Sometimes gel medium will cause your paper to buckle. I would suggest that you pre-tape a couple of pages together before you use get medium. Adding the gesso to the pages will also increase the strength of a page. There are several gel mediums on the market, so take a few minutes to think about which ones are right for you.

Always apply gel medium with a foam brush. If you rinse your brushes out, you can get several applications with them. You can buy then by the bag and they are very reasonable

Once a page from your journal has dried, keep a piece of wax paper between those pieces for about a week. That will allow time for the gel to cure. Otherwise, your pages will "stick together"

Glossy gel medium doesn't color as easily as matte and can be used as a resist in areas that you don't want colored. Glossy medium also gives you a little time to wipe paint away if you want to create a distressed look because the paints take longer to dry over them

Modeling Paste Or Texture Paste

These add dimension and texture to a page and are most often used with stencils to create raised areas on a page.

Prepping Your Pages

You want a strong paper, especially if you are planning to use mixed media techniques. One of the ways to add strength to your journal is to add a layer of gesso to the page. Another way to strengthen the paper is to glue two pages together to create a stronger page.

Using Gesso To Strengthen Your Pages

  • Art journal
  • Gesso
  • Foam brush or paintbrush or an old credit card
  • Clips or paper clips
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Place pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper behind the pages you plan to glue together. This will prevent the glue from getting on other pages.
  2. Use clips to hold back other paper and keep the book from closing
  3. Apply the gesso onto the paper and spread with a brush, the brayer or the credit card
  4. Set aside and allow to dry

Gluing Pages Together To Strengthen Pages

  • Art journal
  • PVA Glue
  • Foam brush, paintbrush, brayer, or old credit card
  • Clips
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  • Paper towels
  1. Placed waxed paper or parchment paper to cover pages you are not working on.
  2. Apply glue between two pages
  3. Spread glue until it covers the entire page. Use the brayer or paintbrush to cover a thin layer of glue from page tip to page tip.
  4. Press the two pages together and use clip or paperclip to keep pages t

Start With A Background

That white paper staring back at you calls for a splash of color! The more messy your background is the better! Grab a brush or a marker and just let go! Be a kid again and enjoy the process! Mix colors! There is no right or wrong way! It's just your way !

Ideas For Your Background Base

  • Spray paint-you can use glimmer, ink refills, acrylic paints
  • Water Colors
  • Distress Inks, sprays, and stains
  • Gesso in white, black, and colors
  • Distress crayons
  • Stencils
  • Embossing Paste'
  • Paper to decoupage
  • Add dots! who does not love dots! use the end of a paintbrush and add random dots where your heart leads you.
  • Background stamps can also be used.

Let your imagination go wild!

Let your background dry before going farther

More Art Journal Background Ideas

Decoupage Ideas

Use any and all kinds of paper including papers from magazines, catalogs, old book pages. printed papers, cardstock, envelope liners. Whatever you have works. Edge some papers with distress inks to make them stand out. Flick paint over the layout. Make sure to add some words too.

Using Acrylic Paint
Without giving it much thought, think of a color, paint a base coat of that color, and /or color variants of that color in completely random patterns on your page or double page layout. Add some stenciling. You can use embossing paste or paint, It is your choice. Use different tools to create different dimensions to your paint. You can use anything your imagination brings to mind. Forks combs, knives, q tips, cotton balls-be creative. Allow to dry, Then feel free to add doodles ir any embellishments you may have.

Watercolors And Words

Create circles of watercolors all over your page. As your circles dry, create words in them. Write short quotes, if you like, Create a theme for your page. Make sure to gesso the page first unless you are using a watercolor journal or paper.

Watercolor Backgrounds

Again you need to gesso the page unless you are using watercolor paper. Select three colors of watercolors. Put a bit of water on the page. Then color in a burst of watercolor with your three selected colors. Start with the lighter colors and then add the darker hues. Think of a word or a quote to add to your page. You can print something off of your computer if you feel shy about using your own writing.

Blend Distress Inks

Both the distress inks and the oxide distress inks are a perfect blend for an art journal page. Choose m many colors as you would like. Three colors make a good balance, Blend them in any shape or pattern that pleases you. You can use a brush or a pad to apply the inks to your paper. After you have applied them, drop small droplets onto the ink to create a design. You can also use a spray bottle.

Different Brushes For Different Effects

There are a few different acrylic brushes to get familiar with. They will provide you with the best results. Understanding different brushes will help you create beautiful art journal pages.

  1. Acrylic Wash Brush-This is one of the biggest brushes-Acrylic wash brushes are best known for covering large parts of canvas or paper quickly. Paint can be applied using a dry brush, but most artists will use a wash brush by first dipping it into some water to achieve maximum coverage quickly. You may also notice these brushes are also thicker than most other brushes – allowing for the brush to pick up the most amount of paint and water. These are great brushes to use if you need to “pick up” a little excess paint or water off the canvas or paper you are working on.
  2. Angled Brush-This type of painting brush has an angled or slanted tip, which is why they are sometimes also known as slanted brushes. A slanted tip is useful for curves and to create lines.
  3. The Flat Brush- Very closely resembles a was brush, except it is not as thick and the bristles are not as rounded. It covers a lot of space but gives you more control.
  4. Fan Brush-Great for painting grass, trees, and shrubbery. They are good for blending, creating skies, and shading.
  5. Round Brushes- They are typically smaller than flat or angled brushes. They have a soft round edge. These brushes are perfect for adding details to your pages.
  6. Liner Brushes-This is a thin brush with long bristles, These brushes are used for fine detail. You can also use these brushes for lettering. You can use ink with these brushes.
Handmade embellishments always enhance your art journal pages. These were made with ink and glitter

Handmade embellishments always enhance your art journal pages. These were made with ink and glitter

Adding Embellishments To Your Art Journals

Because art journals are mixed media, almost anything goes when it comes to adding embellishments. This is the place where you let your imagination go wild ! The only thing that you might want to think about is not making your page too bulky or heavy. Here are some things to consider adding to your art journal ages:

Stickers...Dazzles...string....bakers twine...washi tape,,,.stamped from magazines...chipboard pieces,,,buttons.....ribbon...tags

I'll bet you can think of more ! This is a perfect time to get out all those odds and ends that you have in your stash !

You also might want to think about personalizing them with ink markers, watercolors, and glitter

Acrylic Paint In Art Journaling -Tips

Yes, you actually can use acrylic paints in your art journals. You may have some paint in your craft stash. If not. you can always get some at your local craft store. They are inexpensive and there are a lot of colors to chose. Here are some tips to get you started with acrylic paints in art journaling.

  • Only use a little at a time because this paint tends to dry very quickly.
  • Wash your brush as you change colors. Otherwise the paint will dry quickly. The brush will be difficult to clean
  • Acrylic paints can cause the pages of your journal to stick together, so place a piece of wax paper between the pages. Or dust a small amount of baby powder on your acrylic pages after the paint has totally dried.
  • Texture the paint with common household items. experiment with different brushes, stamps and tools to create one of a kind pages
  • Using acrylic paint over gesso will help the page be stronger
  • Put a pice of wax paper under the page that you are applying acrylic paint to. That will prevent the page from "bleeding "through

Acrylic Paint With Flower Background

This journal is about my gardening and love of flowers. So I used acrylic paint and added some abstract flowers as a background

This journal is about my gardening and love of flowers. So I used acrylic paint and added some abstract flowers as a background

Pages With Gesso

I used gesso on these pages then used Modge Podge to glue the page to the page behind it for extra strength. Wrinkles are OK. It adds a nostalgic feel. I will be adding some distress ink to make the pages look like old paper

I used gesso on these pages then used Modge Podge to glue the page to the page behind it for extra strength. Wrinkles are OK. It adds a nostalgic feel. I will be adding some distress ink to make the pages look like old paper

Tea Staining Your Art Journal Pages

Tea staining is another technique that you can use to create very unique pages It's easy to do and makes a lovely retro journal page.

What You Need

Your journal or loose pages

  1. Tea bags or loose tea or instant tea
  2. Small amount of water
  3. A shallow pan
  4. Some brushes or sponges
  5. Some wax paper, aluminum foil or plastic wrap
  6. Paper towels

Separate the pages from your other pages. Place either wax paper, aluminum foil or plastic wrap below the pages of those you are staining to prevent the other pages from getting wet. Brew your tea and allow it to cool a bit. Apply the tea by either dipping the paper into the tea, or brushing it onto the paper. Soak a bit of the water from the paper and allow to dry.

  • To prevent other pages from getting wet, place a couple of sheets of wax paper blow each page as you stain them. If you are using hot tea stain, then use a heat resistant material like aluminum foil or plastic wrap to protect other pages
  • You can apply the tea with a regular brush, a foam brush, a sponge or a toothbrush. You can even use the tea bag itself as a brush if it's not too hot
  • If your pages a loose, you can submerge them in a tea bag bath
  • Use loose tea to create a variegated effect. Color the page with the tea infusion and leave the leaves on the paper to create a variegated effect
  • Your tea stained pages may be lighter than you think depending on the strength of the brew that you made. You may want to re dye it a second day to get a richer color.

Using Stencils In Art Journals

Stencils add a little design touch that makes a page special

Stencils add a little design touch that makes a page special

Stencils are a perfect way to get your art journal pages going, especially when your creative process feels dry.

When you look at the stencil closely, you will see there is a front side and a backside. The front side has a clear raised line around the stencil design. Using this site will get the least amount of bleed-through beyond the edges of it. You can mark the upside with a permanent marker. You can also print the name on the stencil.

Tools That You May Need

  • Palette knife-spreads the product on the stencil
  • Brayer can also spread the medium
  • Low tack tape or Pixie spray to make the stencil stick to the paper

You can stencil the whole page or just part of it It's your art, your way!

Stencil Tips

  1. Remember, whenever you are using heavier mediums on an art journal page, you'll want to cover the page with medium Gesso. This gives a good base for your page.
  2. To see the stencil clearly, place a black sheet of paper behind it.
  3. Don't be afraid to mix colors and experiment. Have fun with the process.
  4. Allow time for the page to dry if you are using multiple mediums. An alternative is to use a heat tool to get the page dry faster.
  5. Layer stencils. Use one stencil. Then after the page dries, use a different stencil on top. If you use lighter colors on the bottom, use darker colors on the top. And of course, if you use darker colors first, you want to use lighter colors on top.
  6. Use markers to highlight areas of your stencils.
  7. Tape down your stencil with low tack tape or Pixie Mist. That way your stencil will stay put and you will get a clear stencil.
  8. Put some parchment paper or waxed paper behind the pages that you are working on. That way you will not get mediums on other pages.
  9. Always wash your stencils right after using them so that the medium you use does not stain the stencil
  10. If you chose to heat dry your project with the stencil on the paper, remember the stencil is plastic and may melt.

Materials That You Can Use With Stencils

  • Gesso
  • Acrylic paints
  • Texture Pastes
  • Distress inks or oxide distress inks
  • Spray inks

More Stencil Techniques For Art Journal Pages

There are a number of easy techniques that you can use with stencils on your art journal pages

Baby Wipe Technique

  • Your page that has a coat on Gesso on it
  • Distress inks or distressed oxide inks
  • Ink applicator
  • Baby wipes
  • Craft Heat gun
  1. Apply the distress inks in your choice of color.
  2. Allow to dry or heat dry the surface with a craft heat gun.
  3. Apply the stencil to the paper
  4. Rub the paper with the baby wipes
  5. Remove the stencil
  6. Allow drying

Gesso Stencil

  • Medium to heavyweight gesso
  • A palette knife
  • Stencil
  • Low tack tape
  1. Secure the stencil to the paper
  2. Apply gesso on top of the stencil
  3. Remove the stencil and allow it to dry.

One Thing You Really Need

More Art Journal Ideas

Add Some Doodles To Your Art Journal Pages

Doodling is fun and anyone can do it with a few pens or markers

Doodling is fun and anyone can do it with a few pens or markers

Consider Adding Some Thread To Your Pages

Sewing techniques add some new dimension to your art journal pages. I especially like the sew easy system to add those elements especially in a book with pre-bound pages. You could use a sewing machine but it might be difficult with bound pages. With a loose sheet art journal you could easily add some stiches. Consider a border or some fancy stitching to highlight some art work. You can also get some stamps that actually stamp a stitch like design. It's your choice !

Add A Border To Your Pages

I love using washi tape to add a colorful border to my pages, but there are also other things you could use. Strips of patterned or solid paper works just fine, Really nice if you use scissors that cut with designer edges. Ribbon will also work. Think about a glitter border too. You can edge completely around your page or only on one side. There are no rights or wrongs or rules. It's your call

Art Journaling Tips


Remember your art journal is your expression of what you are feeling. You don't have to be a master artist to create one. Here are a few tips to help you along the way

  • Select something with a simple shape. You can always add details later
  • Work on something that you like rather than what someone else would like
  • Draw one thing-one cup, one flower, one shape
  • Add a border or frame to your page
  • Add dimension to your page
  • Use scribbles and doodles
  • Add lots of color-don't be afraid of color

Need More Inspiration?

A Final Thought

Remember, art journaling is not about perfection, it's about the experience. It's about having fun with all kinds of supplies. It's about telling your story in your way ! It's about sharing your thoughts and ideas with color and thought. It's about finding the creative part of your personality and expressing it in a way that only you can do. It's a craft that you can do for your own enjoyment or you can enjoy as a together project with your family. I wish you well on your journey !

Share Your Thoughts On Art Journaling

We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and tips on art journals.

© 2015 Linda F Correa


Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on February 18, 2016:

This sounds like fun to do. Some of my members of my writers group have been art journaling--that's the topic for next month's writing group meeting. I might consider giving it a try. Thanks for sharing.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on September 30, 2015:

Excellent information. I just discovered art journaling and find it extremely fascinating. I like the idea of using tea to stain the paper. I'm not a very artistic person so it was good to read that I don't need to be a master artist to create an art journal.

Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on June 15, 2015:

I use tea stained paper for all sorts of projects. It's a fun and inexpensive way to get a real vintage look

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 14, 2015:

I like the idea of tea stained paper. Now I'm thinking of all the ways that could've useful.

Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on May 25, 2015:

Once you get started, you will find out how addicting it is. The nice thing about it is that I get to use my left over scraps, my stamps, paints, and just about everything in my craft room

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on May 25, 2015:

I love projects like these. I like to journal. I have done some of scrap booking, but so far have not thought of painting designs on the pages. It's a great idea to put the two together. Voted up.

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