Mindful art journaling goes beyond the creative act of putting paint, pen, or collage to paper. This increasingly popular practice involves being aware of and expressing your mood, thoughts, and surroundings, as you create artwork in a safe place—a journal. Artists have long used art journals as a refuge, a place where they can express their most intimate feelings in words and images.
The goals of mindful art journaling are diverse; some people want to reduce stress, while others seek to work through a specific issue. Whatever the reason, the therapeutic aspect of this experience can be powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. Even a few minutes a day of mindful art journaling can go a long way in improving mood, lowering anxiety, and fostering a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. All creativity is good, but adding a thoughtful component takes it even further.
These seven tips for mindful art journaling from top artists will help you fuse creativity with reflection, helping you produce meaningful artwork.
• The decision to share what’s in your journal is yours. There may be pages you want to keep to yourself, and others you’d like to reveal. Cathy Johnson has great advice for this in her book Artist’s Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures. “Try not to censor yourself,” she says. “You need to feel free to put whatever you want into your journal; it’s therapeutic.” If you do want to show select artwork, Johnson has some tips: Clip pages together to keep them out of sight. Write very small, making the text difficult to read. To share pages on a website or social media, blur words or put a patch over them with photo-editing software. Another great piece of advice: “I sometimes use my journal pages to express my anger at vandalism or meanness or to deal with the anxieties life hands me. Pages like these provide an effective means of expressing feelings and, if you choose to share those pages, you can raise awareness.”
• Being aware of your surroundings is a great way to tap into your senses for mindful art journaling. This is more than just visual observation, as Nathalie Kalbach points out in her book Artful Adventures in Mixed Media: Techniques Inspired by Observation and Experience. For example, to truly experience nature she suggests first seeking out a suitable spot—and urban areas are not off limits! “You can even find consciously planned natural environments within a big city,” she says. While there, observe the flora and fauna and take stock of the geography. Self-guided nature trails and guided tours are great ways to explore, each offering unique glimpses of the environment. Nathalie adds that she’s constantly inspired by color combinations found in nature: “Seasonal changes, such as nature’s bounty in the form of flowers and leaves, present color ideas as if on a silver platter.”
• Freewriting is a technique Quinn McDonald suggests for writing in your journal, and refers to an unrestricted flow of words. In Inner Hero Creative Art Journal she suggests using a comfortable pen that allows you to write quickly and steadily. Writing by hand, she says, “creates a totally different feeling than writing on a computer. Your writing slows down, and you engage both parts of your brain: the left in the mechanical process of writing and the right in creative thought.” Seek out a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and avoid distractions like phones and television. When you’re finished writing, look for a sentence or phrase that distills the wisdom and meaning of your words.
• Inspirational card decks are great alternatives to working in a traditional sketchbook, and perfect for mindful art journaling. In Art Journal Art Journey, author Nichole Rae says she uses the deck to focus on positive affirmations. You can work on one card at a time or several, and use artist trading cards, playing cards, or business cards as a substrate. Nichole starts by adhering decorative paper to one side of the cards, then adds words and images to the other side. Words can be cut from book or magazine text or stickers can be used, and designs can be stamped, stenciled, or drawn. “You are creating these cards for you; quiet the voices inside that may be holding you back from creating freely,” she says.
• Landscapes are great motifs to use for art journaling, since they can express so many ideas and feelings. No need to accurately render cityscapes or pastoral scenery; Quinn McDonald says your imagination will do just fine. In Raw Art Journaling she says imagined landscapes can come from dreams or daydreams, and can be combined with real and emotional landscapes to “create a world you designed yourself.” So draw three suns, a star tree, or anything else: “This is your landscape, and you can invent what pleases you,” she says.
• Another powerful image that can be incorporated for mindful art journaling is a silhouette of a figure. “A silhouette is interesting because it is both a presence and an absence,” says Dina Wakley in her book Art Journal Courage: Fearless Mixed Media Techniques for Journaling Bravely. She recommends using your own silhouette in your work; choose a whole-body photo and cut around it to create a mask. Lay it on a page and use spray ink to color around the figure. Using more stencil images, words, and collage adds depth and interest to the piece.
• Mindful art journaling may sound like serious business, but don’t forget to include time to play in your journal. “Play is what takes us to those new ideas because it allows for exploration and discovery,” says Melanie Rothschild in her book The Art of Mistakes: Unexpected Painting Techniques & the Practice of Creative Thinking. “It’s a chance to work things out in a context that ‘doesn’t really matter,’ so we feel free to roam. Instead of being in a restricted zone where we tend to do familiar, safe things again and again, being in a state of play allows and encourages us to think up and try out new stuff.” That state of play will undoubtedly foster new discoveries and lead to more self-confidence and happiness.