Art Journal Technique: New Ways to Use Old Work

Discover exciting and creative ways to explore art journaling in the new book The Painted Art Journal by Jeanne Oliver. In this excerpt, Jeanne shows how to incorporate finished artwork into a fresh art journal spread. Jeanne is also our Artist of the Month for August—check out her exclusive kit below!

Oftentimes we come into our creative space and think we have to start from scratch each time. We reinvent ourselves, our art, our stories when perhaps what is already unfolding is right where we are supposed to be at that moment. Maybe we just need to sit with it a bit longer. I think I have learned the most about these kinds of art processes and the ebb and flow of being a creative (and living a creative life) by studying the masters.

“Being a creative person and living a creative life has far less to do with perfect art and more with being present and showing up.” – Jeanne Oliver (All photos by Cathy Walters.)

Have you ever thought sketching was a waste of time and you just wanted to get on to the main show in your mind, which may be painting, collaging, sculpting, etc.? I know there were years I felt that way until I intensely studied the life and works of Vincent van Gogh. He sketched with graphite, ink and charcoal for years before he ever picked up his paintbrush. Those brushstrokes that make me swoon and his authentic marks were developed and created in his practice. In fact, his style was born out of sketching the people and places all around him all of the time. He was constantly looking at his world and wanting to capture it. Those studies later became the works for which he is known. Nothing was wasted.

I have often created one piece of work that I loved and then felt the pressure to make the next great thing for myself. But then I studied Henri Matisse and saw how he used the same model for years, painted the same piece over and over, making adjustments each time and often using the same props but rearranging them. He actually studied his own works and improved upon them. Maybe staying put for a while and learning from your own work isn’t a bad place to be.

Secret Thoughts

Let’s take a look at the art that you already made and love, and use it to make something new! Using copies of your own work and some words that are just for your eyes, we will create a layout that shows new ways to use old work.

Just a few materials, such as gesso, vintage book pages, and string are all that’s needed to produce a beautiful art journal layout.

What You Need:

  • Art journal
  • Gesso: clear, black and white
  • Ink-jet printout of an existing journal page
  • Large paintbrush
  • Matte medium
  • Match
  • Mechanical pencil
  • String
  • Vintage book pages, paper and other collage material
  • Workable fixative

1. Apply a thin layer of clear gesso to a new journal spread and allow it to dry. Next, add black gesso with a large brush, leaving some areas where the journal page shows through. While this is drying, print out an image of your work on an ink-jet printer using photocopy paper. Spray the print with a workable fixative so you can add more mediums without smudging the ink. After the fixative has dried, adhere the print to your journal using matte medium. Add some white gesso to give the illusion that the piece is a part of the journal and to soften the sharp edges of the paper.

Mediums such as gesso (white, black, and clear) and fixative go a long way in transforming artwork.

2. Take a small stack of vintage book pages and on each page write some part of your story that made you who you are today. After you have added your words, bind it up with string and lightly burn the edges with a match. Hold this bound stack of pages over a sink while you are burning the edges. Using matte medium, adhere your secret thoughts to the right-hand side of the your journal.

Capture your secret thoughts in bound pages.

3. Extend design elements such as lines, shapes, color and values already within your reproduced art out onto the journal pages. In this piece I was able to extend the flowers and also some of the original sketch marks by mark making through wet gesso. (To find the step-by-step instructions for making the flowers, see Chapter 9 in the book.).

Add design elements to the pages using gesso.

4. Using the lines already strong in the original work of art, I brought in vintage ephemera to continue the lines and also to bring a stronger design element to the new piece. This was accomplished using vintage papers and book spines adhered with matte medium. Look for strong lines in your own reproduced art that can be extended by sketching, twine, vintage papers, paint or more.

Create a sense of cohesion to the piece by extending strong lines.

5. Using a mechanical pencil, create marks and natural scribbles that help connect the two pieces. If you get stuck, refer to your collected mark making and symbolism.

Marks and scribbles that are true to you help make your artwork unique.

Make what you love. Use what you love.

Take note of what you are doing that you love. What marks do you make that feel natural? What symbolism do you want to repeat in different ways within your work? What piece have you recently created that you could study, paint again and make better or different? Where did we ever get the idea that each piece has to be so different from the piece before? Don’t you want to know your brushstrokes, your palette, your subject matter? That comes with being comfortable in a creative space and letting it naturally unfold and grow.

Looking for a new way to approach your art journal? Get seven tips for mindful art journaling in this blog post!

Jeanne Oliver grew up in rural Illinois and now resides in Castle Rock, CO. She is inspired by our personal stories, travel, and nature. Jeanne uses art to tell her current stories and also those of growing up among gravel roads, cornfields and early life surrounded by open spaces. Through mark making, layers, and mixed media, she hopes to convey that we all have a story to tell. Jeanne is married to her dream maker, Kelly, and the mother of three funny and creative children. She homeschools her children, even though she has tried to get out of it a few times. You can often find her hiking, creating in her studio, and finding an excuse to have another cup of coffee. She speaks and teaches all around the country, and sometimes she even gets to cross the pond. She was told that she needed to find that one thing, but she doesn’t like listening to directions, so she embraces many loves. That has given her a sweet mash-up of family, art, and travel. Connecting with women and sharing that each of us has been creatively made is one of her passions.

See more about Jeanne on her website:

Discover amazing ways to create your own visual narrative in an art journal in Jeanne Oliver’s new book The Painted Art Journal.
Discover amazing ways to create your own visual narrative in an art journal in Jeanne Oliver’s new book The Painted Art Journal.
Get Jeanne’s new book, plus more art journaling techniques and a full-size art journal in this exclusive Creative Art Journaling Kit.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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