I think I should create a book just for my regrettable art journal pages. You know the ones—you start out with such good intentions, and then it goes horribly, miserably, wrong. If you’re wondering how to transform an art journal page you don’t like, I have a solution that is enjoyable, rewarding, and really works.
The techniques come from artist Mandy Russell, whose Jumpstart feature in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, “Art Journal Reboot,” is all about giving less-than-great art journal pages a second chance. Mandy writes of her disliked journal pages, “There was no connection to the real me. They were just plain awful. Before I ditched the journal, I decided to take another look, and I thought of a way to save it and start fresh.”
Thank goodness she did! I love Mandy’s techniques and decided to try them on one of my art journal pages that was especially hideous. Now, I’m all for keeping old work, because I think that’s an important part of the artistic process. But let’s face it—not everything is a winner. Including what I’m about to show you.
This is the first journal page I did in my new Ranger Dina Wakley Media Journal. I was so excited when I got the book, and I couldn’t wait to start working in it. Unfortunately, this is what happened. As you can see, I had already started to rip it apart because I hated it that much. The page is overdone to the point of torture, and I think it wanted to be put out of its misery. Just…yikes.
When I read Mandy’s article on how to transform an art journal page, I knew this was the page I wanted to revive. To begin, I attached more stuff. I know that seems counterintuitive, but that’s part of the genius of this process. I grabbed a bunch of fabric, lace, ribbon, and paper scraps, and positioned them randomly on the page. Although you can plan this out if you have a layout in mind, I wanted to experience the serendipity of the haphazardness. The pieces were tacked down with glue stick, and then it was on to the sewing machine.
I’ve sewn on paper before, but I have to admit, I’ve never sewn a book page while it’s still attached to the book. I trusted Mandy’s process, and I wasn’t disappointed. I simply removed the extension table on the machine, placed the page under the sewing foot, and voila! I was off and running.
You can definitely do this part by hand if you don’t have a machine, or you can simply glue the pieces down. I like that the stitching adds another bit of texture and interest, and the stitching on the reverse gives me a great starting point for that page. If my free-motion capabilities on my machine were better, I probably would have done that. But I’m totally okay with a straight stitch. Here are the results:
For the next step, you’ll take this page back to a blank slate by covering it with white gesso. You can control this part, too—make it white-white, or pull back and let some of the prints, patterns, and colors show through. This is one of the key elements for how to transform an art journal page. I chose a mixture of both.
I also inscribed into the wet gesso with an awl. Knowing I would apply paint to the page, I thought this might make for some nice added texture.
The gessoed page became something of a Rorschach test. I stared at it until something appeared. That something was the trunk of a tree, sitting smack in the middle of the page. Remembering how previous iteration was all over the map, I thought a tree would be a nice, solid image I could focus on.
For the first stage of painting I added burnt umber acrylic paint to the trunk, painted in some branches, and mixed up shades of green paint in different values for the leaves. I also sketched in a background so the tree wouldn’t be floating in space. For an extra collage element I painted some book pages with acrylic paint and used them to cut some rough leaf shapes, then glued the leaves to the tree. The nice thing about the gesso is that if you want to remove paint, that’s easily done with a baby wipe.
For stage 2, I filled in the background and added some shadows. Although the paint pretty much covers the page, I like that you can still make out the textures and patterns underneath.
Here’s a detail of the inscribing I did with the awl; it’s more noticeable now that dark paint has settled into the grooves:
And here’s a detail of the collaged leaves, with the lace peeking through:
I added a collaged flower to the composition, and a little bit of journaling. Highlights and more shadows were added with Stabilo Woody crayons. Done. Or…was it? I had a feeling this page needed one more element, but I wasn’t sure what that was. Should I risk stepping over the line, as I did before? Or should I throw creative caution to the wind and follow my heart?
Yeah, I went for it. I added just one more tiny, itty-bitty layer by stenciling a few pale motifs on top.
Finally, really, done. This page has been successfully resuscitated, and the one underneath is just a dim, bad memory.
Be sure to read Mandy’s article and get the full instructions for how to transform an art journal page, lots more tips and tricks, and see her gorgeous artwork. Even if you love each and every one of your art journal pages, you can still use these techniques on new pages…I won’t tell!
We have so many great resources for art journaling and for creating cool textures in your artwork, so I hope you check them out. Remember—you have the option of adding these to your digital library with just a click, so you can start creating today!