An Art(ist’s) Journal

Accordion style journal
Art Doll project journal – handmade accordion style.

Journals and planners are trending now, just like memory crafts (that is, scrapbooking) was trending a few years ago. Instead of papers, ephemera and stickers being aimed at embellishing our memory book pages, they are now in smaller scale for our planners and journals. There are specific stamps designed to make your day easier, like a bulleted to do list stamp, instead of a journaling tag.

I suppose the main difference between a planner and a journal, is that first is focused on the future, the latter the past, making the “Bullet Journal” something of a misnomer. You can turn a notebook into a bullet journal/planner or purchase one of the highly functional and flexible design systems. You can make your planner as pretty as you wish, or keep it entirely pragmatic and functional, like mine.

However, what I am talking about when I say “artist journal”is the use of an art journal as a creativity tool, which might include jumping on another current trend – hand lettering. Art journals can become art objects in themselves.

They can be shared or kept private. In my creative practice I have art journals that are private, and ones that am happy to let others see.

Types of Art Journal – by function

Sketchbook type to explore different techniques, experiment and jot down project ideas – I am drawn to this type of journal, to keep ideas that may one day become something, in my case an art doll or a larger sculpture. I also like to use a blank sketchbook page, or graph paper style page, to do my mindstorming.

Bargain priced sketchbooks

Decorated diary – your life and thoughts with your personal illustrations, photos or collage. Here’s a Pinterest board with some beautiful ones.

To hold your ATC’s or art tags – take the theme or motifs from the ATCs (your own or those gained in trades) and make book pages around them. I once set myself the task of making an ATC a day for a month. Some days I made a small set, while other days I completed individual cards. At the end of the month I had more than enough ATC’s to bring to trades. However, I still keep my cards in baseball card collector sheets – divided clear pocket pages. Not nearly as fun.

Travel journal – this can be a combination of sketch book and scrapbook (temporary holder of tickets and images, or their permanent home). Many people make simple drawings, and add more later with their paints or markers, while others bring a small art kit with them.

Commemorate an event or person – history, family. I have made mini-journals with vintage images of family members as gifts. I like to leave space for people to write their own recollections – although it does seem that a prompt is necessary for people to feel comfortable marking the book.

Single project plan and execution record – this would be a combination notebook, sketch pad and journal with images and ephemera related to the project. For example, I have participated in two round robin art doll projects. Each doll had a journal, where both the doll’s “story” was described, its character and aspirations, and each artist noted what they had done and how they had achieved any particular effects. Another single project could be a recipe collection.

Research for different purposes – when I wrote a biography recently, I kept all the research in one school composition book – until it was full and I needed to start another. I could affix printed material or clip things to the pages or cover. I wrote down the information I found in a library that didn’t permit pens (only pencils) and limited the amount of photocopying. It was possible to trace images. Depending on the research, there might be more or fewer words, more or less drawing. Mine wasn’t particularly pretty. But keeping your research for a single project in a single notebook makes it easier to keep track.

Personal development – perhaps you write morning pages or are taking a self-development course with drawings or writing prompts. BTW, I will be offering a mini-journal course very soon! Stay tuned.

Illustrate writing or poetry – if you have an interest in calligraphy you can start with a favorite quote, poem or story – including ones that you have written – and then illustrate them in any style you like. Alternatively, the words can be stamped, or printed and glued before the illustrations. These can make beautiful gifts.

Types of Art Journal – by media

You can buy an existing item to adapt and alter or start from scratch. You can even really start from scratch and hand-make your own paper. Here’s a link to an adorable basic paper making video. Here’s another video for a fancier paper incorporating natural elements. (It is a promo for her small business – but that is a good type of business to support.)

Sketch book – ready made. I prefer spiral bound, to lay flat and be able to flip sides. The best ones have thicker (heavier weight) paper that will support mixed media and wet media without bleed. If you purchase one that feels too thin, join your pages first.

Hand-made mixed media type – these can be various loose pages that are later bound in a number of ways, or a paper bag journal, which is a great way to add pockets to hold letters or ephemera.

Hand-made books from scratch using bookbinding techniques – here’s a nice video describing making signatures and how to use Coptic stitching to realize a lay-flat journal.

Mini-journal – from small ready-made notebooks, or a 6-page mini-book from a single sheet of folded paper with one cut. Here’s the simple template and instructions.

Upcycled existing books or adapted notebooks – some people like to reuse an old bullet journal or morning pages notebook. One way is to cover the old pages with washi tape – which is also a way to “cross out” your done items on a list. Another is to go ahead and gesso your pages, which is also a good way to repurpose an old book or paperback. Sometimes libraries give away old dictionaries or redundant encyclopedias that nonetheless have nice thick pages with interesting fonts to be the basis of your journal.

Handmade notebook with altered pages

Here’s a week long art journal/meditation exercise:

Prep day: Fold a light colored sheet of paper, following the template to make a mini-journal. Choose six inspirational words. Examples include: Kindness, Light, Serenity, Beauty, Focus, Joy, Childhood, Love, Pleasure, Delight, Hope, Remember, Stillness, Distance, Closeness, Friends, Work, Contentment, Family, Strive, Relax, Jump, Reach, Universe, Home, Grounded, Create, Build, Make, Garden.

Write down your six ready to go, thinking about what each one means to you. Let the words you have chosen percolate around in your mind for the rest of the day. This means resisting the temptation to move on at once.

The word Peace
First word in the mini-journal – Peace

Day 1-6: Each day write or stamp your chosen word onto one page of your mini-journal. If you write it, use a sharpie or other permanent marker, so the word won’t smear later (unless you want it to!) Then decorate the word with paints, stamps, pencils or markers. It can be simple or complex, a zen tangle type sketch or a color wash, an image cut from a magazine. You could write out a small quote that uses your word. You can play with the actual lettering itself.

Each page can be in the same style, or different. They are small pages, so hopefully not too daunting.

Day 7: Decorate your cover/s. You might put your name or a phrase like “Words to Live By” on the cover, or an image that fits. You could make an altered paperclip to add to the journal, or add a string or ribbon and beads bookmark.

Video coming soon!