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Art Journaling for Beginners

Updated on June 7, 2007
Moleskine journals are available in an array of types and sizes.
Moleskine journals are available in an array of types and sizes.

Written By: Jaclyn Popola

An art journal is a type of altered book that is created using mixed media (paint, pens, crayons, rubber stamps) and ephemera (magazine clippings, ticket stubs, matchbooks) to turn a regular book into an exclamation of inspiration. The beauty of art journaling is that it's much cheaper than scrapbooking because virtually anything can be used as an art journaling tool. Most supplies can be found around the house, including the journal itself. If you don't want to go out and spend $15-$20 on a brand new Moleskine journal (Moleskine is the current favorite among art journalers), find a sketchbook or journal you already own that only has a few pages written on and, if you can't design around them, tear them out and start fresh. Another option is old books. Thrift shops and flea markets usually sell hardcover books for less than $1, and be on the lookout for libraries giving away their old books to make room for new ones. It's okay that the pages are printed on, you're going to be covering them with your own writing and ephemera anyway. Thrift shops and flea markets can also be great for finding photography, poetry and children's picture books, all of which are great for cutting up and using in your journaling.

Zig Millennium archival ink pens from EK Success
Zig Millennium archival ink pens from EK Success
Think twice before throwing away magazines you've finished reading. Magazine clippings make up about 75% of many artist's homemade journals. Cut out anything that catches your eye and is pleasing to your aesthetic sense--quotes, phrases, models, children, objects, advertisements, etc. I keep my clippings in a 3-ring binder that has pockets on the inside front cover. If I tear out a whole page from a magazine, I punch holes in it with a three-hole puncher and place it in the binder rings. The smaller cut-outs I fasten together with a paper clip and store in the front cover pocket.

Invest in some good archival ink pens like the Zig Millenniums from EK Success and use these to write your entries with. They come five to a pack and each pen has a different thickness nib. Paint Pens by Decocolor come in a variety of colors and are great for writing on thick, porous surfaces and hard book covers.

Crayola Washable Watercolors work great and they're so affordable
Crayola Washable Watercolors work great and they're so affordable
If you're altering an old book, watercolor paint sets sold for $2.99 by Crayola make great backgrounds and they dry pretty quickly. If you're using a blank book, try tearing the pages out of a dictionary and gluing them in to make a background, then paint over with a light coat of watercolor. If you don't want the background to be as translucent, use acrylics instead.

Use ModPodge or another similar, archival-safe adhesive to glue your photographs and magazine cut-outs onto the pages. Krazy Glue also works wonders, especially if you're glueing something thick or heavy.

Place torn masking tape around the edges of a photograph to create a border, then write a caption or quote on the tape itself. Rubber stamps in the shape of letters are fun to use to create titles or make a certain word pop out at you. Stamping ink is a great tool as well--ink the edges of photos, cut-outs, or even the page itself to create a distressed border. Altered journals are supposed to look aged, so never cut with scissors when you could tear with your hands!

Label Buddy by DYMO
Label Buddy by DYMO

Another fun toy is a label maker--I prefer the older models like the Label Buddy from DYMO which retails for $7.99. This website offers a quick tool to help make your own tapewriter labels:

I have seen some art journalers who write entire entries using a label maker; others just like to use it for a title, quote or a caption.

Other items that make great ephemera are ticket stubs, brochures, clothing tags, matchbooks, glitter, fibers, polaroids, negative strips from a developed roll of film, napkins, ribbon, metal charms, beads and much, much more.

If you're having trouble getting started, take a look at the links I've listed below to see some amazing examples of art journaling. "The Creative Journal" by Lucia Capacchione is an invaluable tool. I also recommend reading anything by Sabrina Ward Harrison or Dan Eldon. There are no limits in this land of creativity, so find a cozy spot with lots of light, put on some music, spread your supplies out in front of you and let your imagination take flight!


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      Cheryl 3 years ago

      Thank you so much, this was very helpful. I've been wanting seeing a lot of art journals on You Tube, but I didn't fully understand what they were and how to start. I did go buy a mixed media book today so I can start mine. I am so excited!

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 5 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I love your hub! I'm an avid art journaling addict as well as hub-pages author!

    • whitneywpanetta profile image

      whitneywpanetta 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks for all the great info! I've been journaling for the past three years, and thought I had done everything, but apparently not! I love the label maker idea, I will be using it! I recently started a blog about visual journals and would love for you to take a look at it!

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      Erica 8 years ago

      Thank you for these tips! I just bought an art journaling book by Violette. It's very inspirational, as is your page!

    • profile image

      Lisa 8 years ago

      Thanks for the book recommendations. My local library has many in there collection from your list, so now I can't wait for my holds to come in.

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      Sylvia 8 years ago

      Thanks for the helpful tips. I've been art journaling for a year now and I love it!!

    • nightcats profile image

      June Campbell 9 years ago from North Vancouver

      What a great idea for an altered book. I have made many altered books but until now I haven't considered making an art journal

    • soulfly84 profile image

      soulfly84 9 years ago from San Diego, CA

      i love, love, love sabrina ward harrison! :)

    • MasonsMom profile image

      MasonsMom 9 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks for the tips! I just love art journals!

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      Shauna Lynch 10 years ago

      thank you for this. now i'm going to start one.