Technique Tuesdays: 10 Awesome Art Journaling Tips

Art journaling is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of mixed-media art. In a journal you can play, try new techniques and materials, draw and do lettering, collage to your heart’s content—and you can keep everything private, or show it off to the world.

Whether you’re a beginner or have been journaling for a while, the tips and techniques below from Cloth Paper Scissors, Pages, and Faces magazines offer great ideas for making backgrounds, using materials, creating lettering— even how to find the perfect place to create. Share them with your fellow artists, and have fun!

Jacqueline Newbold art journals
Some of Jacqueline Newbold’s art journals. (Photo by Sharon White Photography)

1. Artists love drawing faces on art journal pages: soulful profiles, colorful self-portraits, joyful expressions. Dina Wakley enjoys drawing scribbly, abstract faces, and says the key is remembering that not all pencil lines are created equal. “Your darkest pencil marks should outline the main features—the eyes, the nose, and the mouth,” she says. “Once those features are drawn, pull back and add extra lines that are light and free. You want the extra lines to add visual interest, but not overwhelm or compete with the focus of the face.”

Dina Wakley scribbly face
When creating faces, vary pencil lines for maximum effect. (Art and photo by Dina Wakley.)

2. If you’re looking for some new mark-making tools to add a unique element to journal page backgrounds, Nathalie Kalbach suggests looking no further than your own home. Nathalie’s a big believer in repurposing household items to make art, and her arsenal includes hotel key cards, empty tape rolls, and tile spacers. She likes turning carpet tape into a mark-making tool by adhering a piece to cardboard, applying paint with a brayer or cosmetic sponge, and stamping onto a substrate.

3. Here’s a great idea for when inspiration is low: Become a tourist in your studio and try out some neglected or rarely used supplies. Carolyn Dube embraces the unknown to create an art journal page by choosing untapped materials, or ones she knows will deliver unexpected results, like gel printing plates. “Not every twist and turn when I’m being a tourist works out,” she says. “Sometimes there are duds. When that happens, I just say O.O.P.S., which stands for Outstanding Opportunity Presenting Suddenly. Saying ‘oops’ reminds me that in every dud there is an opportunity.”

4. Most art journalers have their favorite permanent artist pens, which don’t bleed or smear when they come in contact with water. Take a tip from Jacqueline Newbold and try pens that are water-soluble; she loves the soft, vintage look they give her pages. “I wanted to have the ability to incorporate ink drawings into my watercolor paintings,” she says. “I was looking for a pen that would maintain its line integrity but also allow me to soften and feather areas, a pen that would dissolve slightly with a touch of water and create dramatic darks.” Among her favorites is the Paper Mate Flair Felt Tip pen, but why not test-drive other water-soluble pens in various colors to see the effects they give?

Water-soluble pens
Jacqueline Newbold tested water-soluble pens in her art journal. (Photo by Sharon White Photography)

5. If you’re not working in your art journal as much as you’d like, maybe you need a change of place. Barbara Roth realized that not having a comfortable dedicated space in which to work was hampering her process, and her progress. She recommends trying out different locations around your house to see which offer the best features, such as lighting, privacy, and access to materials. When you find the perfect spot, you’re bound to see big changes in your journaling as well.

6. Carolyn Dube has another great idea for using your stash: create a set of dice that have prompts on each side. Roll the dice, and use the techniques or supplies in the prompts to create an art journal page. Cover the sides of the blocks with suggestions such as, “use stitching,” “draw a grid,” and “add tape.” You can even create some “no” dies, like “no paints” or “no stamps,” to prevent yourself from using comfortable go-to techniques.

7. Paint your lettering! Instead of using pens to create words on a page, grab a paintbrush, your favorite paint, and start writing. Joanne Sharpe likes this method because no special calligraphy training is needed, just your own handwriting. “The magic,” she says, is in how you move and manipulate the brush to achieve your desired letterforms.” Use the tip of the brush to make thin lines, and press on the bristles to make thicker lines. Vary the pressure for a variety of thicknesses. Practice, practice, practice—make lines, letters, and words on copy paper to build your confidence.

8. If you think that doodling and collage don’t belong together on an art journal page, Jenn Olson begs to differ. She loves combining the two techniques, building subtle layers and adding depth and color. She suggests starting with a base layer of collage ephemera in various shapes and sizes, then covering it with a light coat of gesso. After that, add washes of color with paint, building layers of color while letting the collaged papers show through. Add doodling, then a little more ephemera, a touch more gesso, and extra doodle details. The key is letting one layer dry before adding the next.

Jenn Olson doodle collage
Jenn Olson combined collage and doodling for this art journal page. (Photo by Sharon White photography)

9. Art journaling doesn’t have to be limited to your studio or workspace—take it on the road! Here’s what Barbara Roth keeps in a zippered bag when she’s out and about: a pocket-size journal, water brush, tiny palette, pencils, pens, and an eraser. Watercolor pencils and water-soluble artist crayons are non-messy alternatives to watercolors and work great with a water brush.

10. The color wheel can be your best friend when it comes to making art journal pages pop. Use complementary colors, says Dina Wakley, for a stimulating contrast that adds drama. “Complementary colors,” she explains, “are colors that are exactly opposite each other on the color wheel (like red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). Complementary color schemes are visually exciting.” One way to make that excitement happen: “When using complementary colors, choose one of the shades as your dominant color. Use its complement to accent your composition. If both colors are used equally, they may compete for attention and create confusion.”

Dina has tons more tips and techniques to share in her brand new series of DVDs (also available as digital downloads): Expressive Faces, Art Journal Animals, Playful Printmaking, and Awesome Acrylics. Have fun exploring!

Dina Wakley videos
Dina Wakley’s four new videos.

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Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog

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