Art Journaling Exercises to Help You Learn and Evaluate Your Art

Do you like your art? Does it make you happy? Would you buy it if you didn’t know it was yours or pick it up and take it home if it was left out for free?

handmade journal page by cate prato
My art journal workbook page, focusing on exploring
a monochromatic color scheme, inspired by
Creating Art at the Speed of Life

I ask because most of the time, I don’t like my art. And I wonder if I’m alone.

I know part of the problem is that I don’t make enough art. You’d think that with a job like mine, I’d be making art all the time. But usually I’m spending so much time writing about art that I don’t have much time to make it. (Don’t get me wrong-I love writing about art and art techniques.)

I also know that I don’t usually take the time to evaluate my artwork. I look at it, feel dissatisfied, think, “If only I’d done this,” or “I shouldn’t have added that,” or simply, “Ugh.” But I never really analyze what went wrong or what I could do to make the piece of art please me.

A lot of people get over this hump by doing art every day or by art journaling. I’ve tried doing that, but life seems to get in the way. I need structure, and a way of giving myself feedback–and recording it–that I can sustain from day to day and project to project.

Enter Pam Carriker with a solution. Her new book, Creating Art at the Speed of Life: 30 days of mixed-media exploration is a month-long guide to creating and evaluating your own work, through art journaling, workshop-style. You start by creating a handmade journal in which to do the daily exercises and evaluate them each on a two-page spread. Then there are exercises to do each day.

For example, in the chapter entitled “Playful Palette: Exploring the element of color,” there are five lessons: Color wheeling, Colorful language, Analogous analogy, One color at a time, and It’s complementary.

I decided to try the one color at a time lesson, the objective of which is to use a variety of media in one color to create a cohesive, monochromatic journal page.

It’s been hot as blazes in my part of the world lately, so I decided to focus on a yellow palette and call the page “Summer Afternoon.” I created a spread with a sheet of watercolor paper and started with a wash of Golden fluid acrylic paint in yellow oxide topped with a spritz of Dylusions Ink Spray in Pure Sunshine from Ranger.

After the paint dried, I used a No. 2 pencil to write “summer afternoon” over and over again across the page, then glued on some found papers. I had a photocopy of a picture of my grandmother and great-aunt sitting on a blanket from back in the ’60s. To me, that’s what “summer afternoon” is all about, so I cut it out and used it.

There seemed to be a lot of space to fill, so I stamped over the page in white ink and then drew a sun umbrella to shade the ladies. While I was digging through my found papers I spied some fabric daisies and glued them onto the journal page with gel medium.

handmade journal page by cate prato
The journal page spread with the evaluation on the right.

I wanted to include the quote by Henry James, but hate my handwriting, so I stamped it on. I wanted to do more with the top of the page, but just couldn’t think of anything to balance it with the bottom.

When I decided I had was done, I filled out the evaluation “form” on the right-hand page. I really liked the way I created the monochromatic color scheme; yellow is not a color I’m usually drawn to, but once I was focused on it I realized I had quite a few supplies that have a yellowish cast.

My least favorite part of the collage is the top. I really need something up there. Maybe I should have started the quote higher? Next time I would plan out the words more carefully and take my time.

How will I use this exercise? I think sometimes I’m afraid to “go big” in my images, patterns, and writing. Plus, I tend to fall back on the same color schemes. I’ll use the lessons I learned here in future collage work and art journaling.

I really think Creating Art at the Speed of Life is a terrific tool for any artist who is exploring media, needs structure to keep at their art, and wants to get better.

By using it, I may even come to like my art more often.

P.S. Now I’d like your feedback: What would you have done differently? What could I do to balance the top and bottom better? Lay it on me!


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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