Doodling + Collage = Fun Art Journal Pages!

Need some new art journaling ideas? We have a fun one to share with you today from mixed-media artist Jenn Olson. Jenn likes to combine doodling and collage to make unique art journal pages filled with layers, depth, and color. Follow Jenn’s tutorial below to try it for yourself! This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine.

This art journaling technique from Jenn Olsen combines doodling with collage. (Photos by Sharon White Photography)

Add Some Layers to Your Zen: Doodling Over Collage, by Jenn Olson

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I discovered the way I had always drawn—with curves, curls, and interwoven lines—had a name. If you tend to draw this way, this technique might become a favorite. I typically use this method for creating journaling pages, but if you’re adventurous, try it on a canvas.


  • Journaling paper (I prefer something heavy enough to handle wet media.)
  • Gel medium (I used Golden® Soft Gel Matte medium.)
  • Foam brush, chip brush, or an expired gift card
  • Collage papers, a variety (I use catalogs, maps, book pages, envelopes, and more.)
  • Miscellaneous craft supplies (I used washi tape, masking tape, shape punches, doilies, etc.)
  • Tape runner (I used Scotch® 3M adhesive runner.)
  • Gesso
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paints (I used watercolors and thinned acrylics.)
  • Pens (I used Faber-Castell PITT® artist pens in a variety of tip widths.)
  • Optional:
    • Journal
    • Wax paper
    • Crayons, watercolor pencils, colored pens, etc.

1. Lay a thin coat of gel medium on your paper with an inexpensive foam brush, a chip brush, or an expired gift card. Adhere your collage papers to the gel medium. Apply more gel medium over the top of the papers as needed to hold corners in place or smooth out edges. Repeat for as many pages as you would like to prep. Set aside to dry. (Figure 1)


TIP: If you are working in a bound journal, place a piece of wax paper between the pages when using wet media.

2. Add some extra texture to the collage with washi tape, doilies, and punched shapes, (Figure 2) adhering them with gel medium or a tape runner.


NOTE: I often add stamping and stenciling for even more texture and depth.

3. Apply a whitewash over your collage with a very light coat of gesso, making sure that some areas of the collage are peeking through. I add another, heavier layer of gesso in areas I plan to doodle over. Set aside and let dry.

4. Add some color. Choose a few colors and make blobs, blotches, and washes over the gesso with thinned acrylic paint or watercolors. (Figure 3) I keep the paint very thin, and build up layers and washes of color slowly. Allow the paint to dry in-between layers to prevent muddying the colors. Step out of your comfort zone and pick some colors that you don’t normally use. Allow to dry.


5. Start doodling. This is where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. If you prefer traditional Zentangle®, use those familiar techniques. You’ll find they will look strikingly different with the addition of the collaged background. If you’re more of a free-form doodler, this is your chance to go wild. Think about what you’ll use the page for—journaling, an art page, photos? I build and connect the shapes (Figure 4), sometimes filling the page (Figure 5), sometimes just keeping to a corner or creating a frame. Once you’ve decided on your page layout, go back with a fine-tip pen and start doodling.


NOTE: My doodling is organic and very much in the moment. I usually start from a corner and let the drawing climb and spread until I feel satisfied that it’s complete. I have no rhyme or reason to starting or stopping. The art of putting pen to paper is therapy, and I am content to draw until I have worked through my current mood/issue/contemplation. Oftentimes, I let the underlying collage edges and images determine the shape and flow of the doodles. What’s nice about doodling is that there is no wrong way to do it.

TIP: If you have raised edges in your collage, they may interfere with your doodling. Reduce the edges by adding thin layers of paper, or work the edges into your doodled design. I like to use them as guides for straight lines or as journaling boxes.

6. Fill the entire page with doodles, leave white spaces, or incorporate lines for journaling. (Figure 6) I blocked in the general shape of my design using a medium-tip pen. I then added leaves, dots, and petals.


NOTE: I’m partial to swirl-type shapes, and I tend to lean more toward very rounded shapes versus straight lines. Most of my art has many scalloped and circular shapes. I also like to doodle florals, and anything leaf-like or feathered.

7. Optional: Once you’re finished doodling, add more color to your design with paint, watercolor pencils, colored pens, or crayons. (Figure 7)


NOTE: If you are using water-based media in this step, be sure to test the colorfastness of your chosen pen(s) before proceeding. You don’t want your doodled lines to bleed.

The true beauty of this process is that the steps are interchangeable and repeatable. Many times I’ve doodled and doodled, added more color, and then decided it needed more collage in the foreground. It’s never too late to add another layer of paint or a few more pieces of paper.

Jenn Olson is a crafter who has more ideas and projects than time. When not spending time with her family, you’ll find her doodling in her art journal or knitting.

Here’s another fun way you can incorporate doodling into your mixed-media artwork!

Both novice and veteran zen doodle artists will love the instruction, projects, and design ideas in this issue of Zen Doodle Workshop!
In this Zen Doodle Oodles of Doodles eBook, explore stunning doodle art from around the world with more than 100 original designs. Enjoy gorgeous patterns brimming with the latest tangles and techniques that will spark your creativity.
Tiffany Lovering’s book, Zen Doodle Unleashed, includes everything you need to know about freeform tangle art with patterns, coloring, and lettering techniques.
Create watercolor postcards spiced up with some zen doodle pattern drawing! Sandrine Pelissier shows you how in her Zen Doodle Postcards: Mixed-Media Texture Techniques video download.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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