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open blank art journal surrounded by watercolors, paint brushes and ink

Art Journaling For Beginners – A Complete Guide

Curious about art journaling? I’m sure many of you have had a sketchbook or journal or diary at some point in your life. Even if you haven’t, you might have doodles or little works of art lying around that you weren’t sure what to do with.

Compiling these pieces into one space is a great way to get rid of clutter, organize and create something beautiful in the process.

Sketchbooks and journals have been around for many years. A lot of people use them strictly as their names intended.

Art journals are a combination of both sketchbook and journal. A form of “journaling” that is more than just words.

Art journaling is a great way to express your creativity. Many people use art journaling as a way to work out their thoughts and feelings, dream, plan, set goals or just express their mood at a particular time using words and images.

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open art journal on a table with purple flowers, green leaves and a brown pen

The Purpose of Art Journals

What is an art journal? Art journals are essentially the same thing as written journals, but they use artwork to convey a thought, emotion, idea or even work out a plan for a new piece of artwork.

They can be mainly filled with writings that you embellish, or they can be full of your beautiful artwork.

There are many reasons to start an art journal. One of the ways I like to use an art journal is to  practice new techniques or new materials before moving on to a full size piece.

The bonus to practicing in an art journal is you can always go back through it to see what the new materials you bought look like, sort of like an in-person reference.

You can also see your progression as an artist as you begin to fill the journal up.

Art journals aren’t restricted to a specific medium, unless that’s what you intended it to be. You can use your journal as a way of exploring and experimenting with new mediums.

Whether it be charcoal or watercolor, the journal is yours to create! You can fill it with whatever you desire, content and materials wise.

Another use for art journals is as personal diaries. Sometimes writing how you feel can be hard. Art journals allow you to express how you feel through pictures, drawings, paintings, collages and so much more.

You can write or paint about your day, how you feel or even use it as a way to relieve some stress. Art journals can help you work your way through any thoughts and ideas you may have.

They are a great alternative for people who are simply not used to writing out how they feel or who feel a little uncomfortable doing so.

Art journals are a prime way of expressing your creativity. They are great for when you only have a few minutes but really want to create something.

art journaling supplies including a sketchbook, paint brushes, pencils and pastels


The first thing I’d like to note is that you definitely don’t have to spend a fortune in order to start an art journal. Art journals should be fun and shouldn’t make you feel like you have to buy “all the things”.

You can use whatever you have laying around your home or studio to contribute to it, or you can gather some supplies from this list below. These are just a few ideas of things you can use in an art journal.

  1. Paper, notebook or old book. You can use whatever is handiest to start your art journal, however I would recommend getting a sketchbook or a book of some sort that you can keep everything together in. Plus, the sketchbook makes it much easier to travel with.
  1. Painting supplies. If you decide to paint in your art journal, you’re going to need paint. Watercolor and / or acrylic paints, and some gesso would be great to use.
    Gesso is great for blocking out areas in your painting or covering up mistakes. It can be a bit pricey but a little goes a long way!
    Don’t forget, if you are using wet media such as paint in your art journal, allow time for your creation to dry before closing it!
  1. Pens and markers. There are a wide variety of pens and markers on the market.
    Copic markers are popular right now. They are wonderful to work with but can be a little pricey.
    You can use pens and markers for drawing, adding borders or designs, writing a note or poem or simply signing your artwork.
    Gel pens are fun to use in an art journal. White gel pens are awesome for highlighting and making that little twinkle in an eye.
    You can also use calligraphy pens in your journal as well, especially if you’re looking to practice lettering styles.
    It is a good idea to use water-proof or water-resistant pens and allow them to dry for a few minutes. That way you can ensure that your masterpieces won’t get smudged or ruined.
  1. Craft heat gun. A craft heat gun isn’t necessary, however, if you happen to have one, it is wonderful for drying your work before storing your journal. You don’t want to ruin your hard work!
    Don’t sweat it if you don’t have one, you can use a hair dryer instead.
    Air drying works just as well, it just takes a little longer.
  1. Colored pencils. Colored pencils are wonderful for drawing and creating great works of art. They are easy to travel with and will add lots of wonderful color to your art journal.
    You can buy relatively inexpensive colored pencils, or you can use lightfast artist grade pencils to ensure your artwork doesn’t fade. They make a great addition to your arsenal of supplies.
  1. Ink. You can use a variety of inks in your art journal. They make some beautiful colored inks now and you can get them in pads, spray bottles or just regular screw top bottles with a little eye dropper.
    You can use these inks with a stamp, a brush or have fun using household items such as combs or cotton buds to make unusual designs.
  1. Stamping. Something that often gets overlooked is stamping. Using stamps can make a wonderful addition to a collage, or any piece of work you are creating.
    They are fairly easy to travel with and come in a variety of different designs and styles.
  1. Stencils. Like stamps, stencils are an easy way to create different patterns and designs on your artwork. They are also even more convenient to travel with as they are usually flat and can be stored away easily.
  1. Glues and adhesives. If you’re planning on making collages or doing some decoupage, you’re going to need something to adhere it to one of the pages of your art journal.
    There are a variety of adhesives you can use including glue sticks, glue dots, tacky glue or a glue gun
    You can also use things like double sided tape to adhere your little extras to your book.
    * If you’re doing collages, washi tape is a very cute way to keep your photos or pieces of paper in place! *
  1. Parchment paper or glassine. In art journaling, wax or parchment paper or glassine is used to cover any artwork that may spread or transfer to the facing page.
    For example, I would place a piece of glassine over the top of a charcoal drawing, so that the fallout from the charcoal doesn’t disperse onto any other pieces I have in my journal.
    Glassine is a glossy, transparent paper similar to parchment paper usually used to wrap artwork in.
    It is acid free so perfect to use with artwork.If you are not concerned with fading in your art journal, then parchment paper or waxed paper is fine to use.
  1. Charcoal and graphite. Another great item to have is charcoal and/or graphite. They are great for black and white drawings and for adding shading to anything.
  1. Pastels. Pastels are another way to add plenty of color to your art journal. You can use chalk pastels or oil pastels, whichever you like to work with.
    Chalk pastels come in sticks, pencils or pans and can give a lovely soft feel to any piece and are easy to travel with.
  1. Spray fixative. Spray fixatives are used to provide a seal over pastels, charcoal or graphite. Fixatives can prevent smudging and transferring powdery mediums onto the facing page of your art journal.

Of course, you do not need to run out and pick up all of these supplies from the store. They are simply suggestions, and you should certainly use what you have in your art supply stash to start your art journal.

You can also use scraps of colored paper, old pictures, dried flowers, buttons, little keepsake charms, anything you want to add. Keep a basket handy that you can use to store things you find for future journal pages.

coil bound art journal on a wooden table

Types of Journals

When creating an art journal, you don’t have to restrict yourself to using one exclusive medium. Certainly, you could, if that is the look or type of journal you’re seeking to create.

Don’t think that you’re limited especially if you feel it may look odd to have multiple different kinds of mediums in your journal. Art journals look messy! It’s normal.

However, if you are still a little uneasy about having multiple mediums in one journal, you could always get several journals and use a separate medium in each one.

You can have one that is just for acrylic, another for just pen and ink, and so on. It is completely your journal (or journals) and your choice!

Before you go out and buy your journal there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Size:  You are going to have to determine exactly what size you want. There are a variety of different sized journals you could get.

What I would suggest is to go to your local art or craft store and have a look. Pick them up and see which one feels like the best size to create in.

It’s kind of like Goldilocks. You don’t want one too small, but you don’t want one too big either. You want one that is just right.

Quality:  Quality is very important as well. Choose the best quality for what you’re planning on using it for.

Will it withstand glue, paint, markers, gesso? Think of the mediums you’ll be using when choosing your journal.

Higher quality paper is generally the best to get, as it can withhold the test of time (and water if you’re using watercolour).

If you’re going to be sticking to one medium, look for the paper and quality that matches your medium, for example if you’re going to be doing exclusively watercolor, choose a sketchbook that can stand up to wet media.

If you’re not sticking to one medium, multi-media paper would be a good choice. A sketchbook with heavy paper is also a good choice. I have a post on How to Keep a Sketchbook if you are interested in having just a basic sketchbook.

Binding:  How the book is bound can be important for you as well.

If you’re rough on journals or sketchbooks, a sewn-bound book is better for you. They can withstand a lot of wear and tear; however they are a little more expensive than spiral books.

Spiral (or coil)sketchbooks are the more common sketchbook. They are a lot more flexible than sewn and have the advantage of opening up completely flat. They are cheaper than the bound sketchbooks as well.

Be mindful of how many pages you want in your sketchbook as well. Sketchbooks with higher quality or heavier paper, tend to have fewer pages than the rest.

The number of pages is completely personal preference. If you intend on having a theme to your art journal, something with fewer pages may be more convenient as it may take a long time for you to fill out your sketchbook.

Again, that is all personal preference so be mindful of exactly what you want when you’re flicking through sketchbook options.

Price:  Your budget plays a role in deciding which sketchbook to get. Sketchbooks and journals can vary in price depending on quality and brand.

If you believe it may take a while to fill out your art journal, springing for that expensive journal is worth it.
If you think you’re going to blow through your art journal quickly and intend on starting another and so forth, maybe getting cheaper ones are in your best interest.

Most importantly, do your research before deciding on a journal. You’re going to want to get the best bang for your buck, while trying not to sacrifice quality.

There are dozens of different brands and styles of sketchbooks you can get, so be sure to shop around and find one that meets all of your needs.

open blank art journal on a bed of fall leaves

Getting Started with Art Journaling

On to the fun part! Now that you have all of the necessary information to start an art journal, let’s get into it.

1. Gather Supplies

First you are going to want to gather up your supplies. Whether you already had the supplies you needed, or you had to go out and buy them, a great tip would be to keep them all together. That way, you’re not scrambling to find what you need each time.

Baskets, plastic bins, totes or even a cardboard box under your bed will help you be ready to journal whenever the mood strikes.

2. Prepare Your Workspace

This is important because if you’re working with something messy, you’re going to want to protect the surface you’re working on.
Lay down a towel, an old sheet or a garbage bag if you’re working with messy materials. If you’re simply just sketching or doing something moderately clean, you don’t have to prep anything, just get ready to create!
Keep your creation station in order. Knowing where everything you need is can help you complete your masterpiece smoothly. Arrange your materials in a way that is most convenient and organized for you.

3. Create Your Background

You can start on one page or open your book out and do both pages. The background will become the basis for your story or idea.
Some suggestions for a background:
Paint the page all one color or variegated colors with acrylic or watercolor paint.
Glue torn paper all over the page. You can use newspaper, tissue paper, scrapbooking paper, etc.
Write random words, song lyrics, poems or just draw doodles with graphite, colored pencil or colored pens.
Use markers or colored pens to draw shapes or designs all over the background.
If using paint or markers, be sure to let it dry before adding another layer or closing your book.

journals with rainbow colored background and pen and ink flowers.

4. Layer

Once your background is dry, you can start layering over it. Use paint, stickers, markers, inks, dried flowers, pictures and anything that you feel like adding.
You can layer one element on top of the other in whatever style pleases you.
Make collages or highlight one element with embellishments or boarders.
Make it colorful or monotone, whatever your mood or focus is for that page.
If you want some tips on drawing, check out my post on How to Improve Your Drawing Skills.

Art journal collage with magazine clippings of words and flowers and pink, blue and yellow marker doodles

5. Dry and Protect

Remember to let everything dry and cover it with a piece of waxed paper or glassine to prevent the pages from sticking together. Covering it is not 100% necessary, but I like to be safe rather than sorry.

sketchbook with drawing of a calla lily in graphite and an abstract shape in blue marker.
art journal with grey swirl on page surrounded with reading glasses, pen clips and succulents

Art Journaling Ideas

If you don’t really know where to start or what you should put on that first page here is a list of ideas to get you started. You can use them for one page or as a theme for a whole art journal.

I have also included a link to a printable PDF if you want to print it out and keep it for future reference.

Art Journaling Ideas

1.  About Me Page:  Draw a picture of yourself or past a photo. Add your favorite colors with paint or markers. Paste pictures or drawings of your favorite places, favorite foods, favorite flowers. Add pictures of your family and friends. Drawings or other things to represent your career and coworkers. Make this page or pages all about you.

2.  Botanical Page:  Add dried flowers and leaves from your garden or neighborhood. Use dried foliage from places you visited or flowers you were given.  You can also use patterned paper with flowers or greenery. Pictures or drawings of gardens or forests are also nice.

3.  Favorite Quotes Page: Write your favorite quotes or song lyrics all over the page. Use markers, colored pens or calligraphy to cover the page. Clip snippets from magazines or print off pretty quotes and add them to your pages.

4.  Pets:  Make a page or a whole art journal devoted to your pets. Draw pictures or doodles of them or add photos. Decorate the pages with cute pet stickers, funny sayings about pets or funny things your pet did. You can even use the journal as a record of their growth and add information about them in pictures and words.

5.  Vision Board:  You can use your art journal as a vision board for goals or projects you have in mind. It’s a great place to gather ideas for future paintings or maybe even a room remodel. Save colors that you have seen and liked. Pictures of scenery you would like to paint. Snippets of fabric or paper you would like to use in your project. Doodles and notes about ideas you have for the future.

Click on the image below to download a free printable idea sheet to save as a reminder when your are stuck for ideas. 😊

an infographic of art journaling ideas
Art Journaling Ideas

Art journaling can have many purposes. Use it in whatever way you want and feel most comfortable. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun so let your creativity run wild!

I hope you found some of these tips helpful, and if you have any suggestions about art journaling, leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. 😊

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

2 thoughts on “Art Journaling For Beginners – A Complete Guide”

  1. Thank you so much for this free and excellent information. I love your site and I signed ou to receive other topics, etc from you. This was very helpful!

    Thank you for sharing your information with the world! It’s obvious you have out a lot of time and love into your website.

    Durham, NC

  2. Barbara J Ford

    wow you are amazing and this is an excellent , informative start up for journaling. It had given me some great ideas. Thank you

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