Art Journaling Basics

Before I knew I was an artist I was already keeping an art journal. I?m on my 26th such journal created over the span of 18 years, but it was years before I met anyone else who kept a journal the way that I did?I keep pictures, sketches and clippings in my “journal.” Finding other artists who record their creative life in books has opened my eyes to new ways to use my art journals to enhance my art.

The most valuable thing about an art journal from a creative point of view is having a permanent place to record your inspirations in their infancy where they don?t yet need to be perfect. I use my art journals to work through creative issues, exploring subject matter that I don?t yet have enough knowledge about to create a more substantial piece. They?re also where I record color combinations and store clippings from magazines that have inspired me. I also use tools like rubber stamps, metal and fibers that I don?t generally use professionally. I have absolute creative freedom.

To begin keeping an art journal ?

  • Find or make a book that?s inspiring to you. Because you?ll likely paste or tape materials into your book, get one with a strong spine. Many artists like spiral-bound sketchbooks because of their flexibility. I started out using 8×10 sketchbooks, but I now prefer an 11×14 journal. There are many paper choices, so make sure you get a book that?s appropriate for the media you work in and that?s most practical for your art and lifestyle.

  • Remember that there are no rules for art journaling. The books are meant to be a personal record of your experiences and reflections related to your art. Most artists? art reflects their lives, so your book may be intensely personal. My artist journal looks something like a cross between a sketchbook and a scrapbook. I fill it not only with paint, sketches and writing, but also with ticket stubs, Polaroid photos and letters.

  • Take your time. You?re not in a race and there are no deadlines. Allow each page of your book to evolve until the day you declare the book finished. For instance, over several months I may work on several different collages throughout my journal.

  • Follow a mood. Your art journals will vary as your own work evolves. My early books had a lot of sketching and collage work. A few years ago, as I become more heavily involved in painting, I began to put fewer and fewer sketches in them. I?m now trying to reincorporate sketching into my journals since it?s important to me again. If you?re interested in learning more about art journals, you can find mailing lists and Web pages on the subject. Simply search for the term using your favorite search engine.

    Jane M. Mason is president of the Saint Louis Watercolor Society and the former president of the Greater St. Louis Art Association. She teaches locally and exhibits in galleries across the country. More of her work can be seen on her Web site:

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