What Is an Art Journal?

What Is an Art Journal?

Most of us have heard of journaling in general. Maybe you kept a diary as a child, or spend time writing your inner thoughts today. Art journaling adds a layer of doodling, collage, painting, or other art to that journaling. I find that an art journal allows my subconscious ind to communicate with me more easily. Because it works in symbols rather than words, just quieting my talking brain and drawing or painting “without thinking” gives me insights that just writing doesn’t. It also helps me calm down and become more coherent if I am having a bad day.

If you’re a stitcher, it can give you a place to explore color and texture and design without taking the time to work in thread.

Where do I start?

When I first heard of art journaling I did what I always do — I went looking for directions. And immediately became overwhelmed. Everyone had an idea about how to go about it. And there were a lot of fantastic artists creating a lot of beautiful art that seemed more gallery-worthy than anything *I* would relate to the very personal world of journaling.

So I would say your very first step in journaling should be to take a deep breath and decide NOT to compare your work to other people. Drop your perfectionist tendencies (I know, much easier said than done!). An art journal, like a sketchbook, should reflect where you are. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be perfect.

Your art journal is a way to communicate with yourself. Of course you can show it to others if you want, but you don’t need to. You can include words with your art, but you don’t need to. Sometimes just the use of color will accomplish what you want to do.

How do I use my Art Journal?

For the most part, I use my art journal as a way to center myself. And then I sometimes use it to try out color schemes or new techniques for my final artwork. It’s a great and easy place to play with handling things like color in your designs before you use them in thread or on canvas. It takes a lot longer to stitch them, and trying things out in paint can save you time with the evil Frog! And it saves me time on full size paintings, too, because it’s an inexpensive, safe way to play and test things out with no consequences.


Below are a few resources I like for art journaling. So many books can get you overwhelmed. Start small. Don’t buy a lot of expensive supplies – you can make art with a ball point pen and a bunch of highlighters. Or crayon! Or junk mail and a glue stick.

NONE of the following resource links are affiliate links. They are just people and books I find useful.


Kelly Kilmer offers inexpensive online classes in her unique method of art journaling. Many include prompts. This is actually where I REALLY started. She has a way of making things a lot less overwhelming, and giving you ideas to play with in your own voice.

Ardith Goodwin uses her art journals as a step toward her large artwork in her Land of Ardithian. She’s a fantastic inspiration. The link goes to her art journal/sketchbook page, but explore her site and her art. She also teaches all ages and runs retreats from her outdoor studio in Alabama.

Kristal Norton is a mixed media artist who offers both a beginning art journaling class and several e-classes, as well as lots of inspiration on her blog. Because she is a mixed media artist, you may find she uses supplies you don’t have on hand yet if you’re just starting out. My advice – if you want to buy stuff, go SMALL and inexpensive first! I still use cheap craft paints in my journals…


Journal Junkies, by Eric Stout and David Modler – This book can be overwhelming if you like a step by step approach. But if you want to just have at it and dive into a bunch of techniques fast, it’s got a huge amount of them to try out! (The authors also have a web site at JournalFodderJunkies.com)

Journal Spilling, by Diana Trout – This book is a good, step by step starter book. She likes to do a lot of full journal writing and then obscure it with paint…

But Really?

As Nike said in an ad campaign, “Just Do It.”

Do you already keep an art journal? How does it help you with your art, daily life, or embroidery?


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