So, you bought your first art journal… now what? If you’ve been staring at that book for days not knowing where to start or afraid to mess up that first blank page, I’m here to help you fix that. Here are some first steps on how to start art journaling and ways to help you make journaling part of your regular routine.
What is an art journal?
If you landed here by accident, let me explain exactly what an art journal is and how it can improve your life. Art journaling is a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings through art. It can be a therapeutic outlet to release pent-up emotions, reduce stress, or simply a fun way to document your life. The best part about art journaling is that there are no rules – you can be as creative as you want. You don’t have to be a seasoned artist (or an artist at all for that matter) to enjoy art journaling.
How to start
If you’re not sure how to get started, there are plenty of resources available online or even at the library (or right here on this site). If you need inspiration, start by taking a look at some examples of art journals to get an idea of what others are doing. Then, set aside some time each day to work on your own journal.
Don’t worry about being perfect – the point is to get started. Accept that you are just starting out. You’re not Picasso and no one expects you to be (so you shouldn’t expect it either). Everyone starts somewhere. Just get something on paper and get your hands moving. Let those creative juices start flowing.
Grab the right journal
Choose a journal that speaks to you. There are many different types of journals available, so find one that you connect with and suits your needs. Consider things like size, type of paper, and binding when making your selection. For a more detailed break out on journals, see my in-depth post here.
Gather the basic supplies
Really all you need is a pen or pencil. However, if you’re not into just sketching, here are a few must-have items for getting started in your art journal.
Paint. Start with some inexpensive acrylic craft paint like FolkArt (which can be found at any local craft store like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby). They usually run about $1 per bottle on sale. These are inexpensive and are perfect for getting started. Pick out the colors that you’re drawn to. If you’re having a hard time making a decision, go with the basics first – red, yellow, blue, black and white. You can always mix these colors together to get more colors.
Paintbrush. Start with two basic brushes, a #6 or #8 round and a ½” or ¾” flat brush. For now, the brand doesn’t really matter. Just get a brush moving across the page. These two brushes will do most of what you need.
Tape. I prefer washi because it’s small… and cute. However, every day tape or even masking tape will work just fine. Or glue. A glue stick works perfectly.
Markers. Grab any markers you have lying around the house and put them in one place. Even sharpies can work great. If you don’t have any, a trip to the dollar store can get some cute markers for starting out. I personally love paint pens like Posca but get what you like and what you can afford. These aren’t critical to your journal but is great for adding detail and interest.
Ephemera, photos, and bits from magazines. Before throwing those magazines out, flip through them and tear out anything you find fun, interesting, or pretty. Even if it’s a big blob of your favorite color or some text you find interesting. Find a little shoebox to store any bits and pieces you find.
Rules. The only rule is to have fun! Because there really are no rules when it comes to art journaling, so let your creativity flow. This is your book, you do you.
What to put in your art journal
Like I said, there are no rules. However, if you need a boost to get started, here are some steps to help you get started unblanking that blank page.
Prompts. If you’re not sure what to draw or write about, start with prompts. You can find prompts online or in books or come up with your own. These are very helpful on days when you’re not feeling all that creative but want to stick with daily journaling. I love prompts. They often make me step outside my comfort zone and work on things I’d never consider before.
Create a background. Start with just one color. Grab a bottle of paint and pour a little on the page. Now brush it around with your flat brush. All different directions to give your page some texture. This will just help get you warmed up and used to your page.
Add another color. Grab another bottle of paint. One you think looks good with the first color you used (for instance, if you used blue first, try using a light blue or pink). Put a dab in three different spots across your page. Now smush that around with your brush. There. You just started your first page!
Add subject(s) or ephemera. Use your journal as a way to document your life and daily thoughts. Write, draw, or collage whatever comes to mind. Dig through that shoebox and find one thing you like. Somebody’s face or a fun quote or a word in bold text. Now glue or tape that to the page somewhere you think you’ll like. Look how far you’re coming along!
Experiment with different mediums and techniques. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
Add detail. Grab your pen and make some doodles on the page. Stuck? Draw a line all the way around whatever you just put on your page. Now make some dots. Go on… make some dots.
Add words… or not. What are you feeling right now? Excited? Encouraged? Impressed with yourself? Inspired? Grab your marker and write that word on your page. As big or as little as you want.
Make this practice part of your routine
Set aside some time each day to work on your journal. Create something every day. Take just 10 minutes. It’s only 10 minutes… it’s not like I’m asking you to go to the gym.
If you find it difficult to carve out time for journaling, try doing it first thing in the morning with your coffee. Once you get into a habit of journaling, you’ll find that it’s a great way to relax or destress.
Make an effort to keep an eye out for inspiration throughout your day. It could be the side of a building, it could be someone’s sweater, it could be wallpaper in the local coffee shop. Take a photo, or better yet, sketch it in your journal (or even on a napkin) to think about and complete later.
The key is to make it part of your daily routine, so that it becomes a habit. By working on this, or any form of art really, will help improve your mental health, your self-esteem and creative growth.
Art journaling is a great way to express your creativity and make it part of your daily routine. It can be as simple as setting aside some time each day to doodle in a notebook, or as involved as creating elaborate mixed-media compositions. Either way, art journaling is a great way to document your life and thoughts, write down words of encouragement or inspiration and to get in touch with your creative side. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!