Studio Saturday: How to Transform an Art Journal Page

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.”

How to transform an art journal page
The transformed art journal page. Wait till you see how it started out!

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.

How to transform an art journal page? Start with something you want to redo.
It just hurts to look at it.

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.

Sewing on an art journal page
Sewing on a journal page still attached to the book isn’t difficult at all!

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:

Sewing fabric and ephemera to an art journal page
To transform the page, you must add before you subtract.

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.

Covering a textured art journal page with gesso
When learning how to transform an art journal page, the gesso stage allows you to decide how much of the background you want to show.

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.

Mark-making with an awl on an art journal page
Inscribing into the wet gesso with an awl produces some great marks.

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.

When decided how to transform an art journal page, think about what the layers and textures look like
A tree was painted with acrylic paint, then collaged leaves were added.

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.

Painting and collaging an art journal page
More background was added, and more leaves.

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:

Inscribing on an art journal page
The inscribing resulted in some cool marks on the page.

And here’s a detail of the collaged leaves, with the lace peeking through:

Adding collage to transform an art journal page
The collaged leaves add visual texture and interest.

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.

Stenciling motifs on an art journal page
A few light stencil motifs were the finishing touches on this now-transformed art journal page.

Finally, really, done. This page has been successfully resuscitated, and the one underneath is just a dim, bad memory.

Transformed art journal page
Mandy Russell’s instructions on how to transform an art journal page made me a believer!

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!

July/August 2017 Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Learn how to transform an art journal page in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine!
Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures, with Chris Cozen
Discover how to use stamps, stencils, and mixed media to add texture to your artwork in the video Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures with Chris Cozen.
Art Journal Freedom by Dina Wakley
Create art journal pages you’ll love using great techniques for composition, color, and more in the book Art Journal Freedom by Dina Wakley.
Fun with Watercolor: Texture Effects video with Gina Lee Kim
Get 20-plus techniques for painting with watercolor and adding texture in traditional and non-traditional ways in the video Fun with Watercolor: Texture Effects with Gina Lee Kim.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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