Art Journaling: Tips & Tricks

[Image description: Journal collage of images of pencils, pens and a hand holding a paintbrush. Bubble writing overlaying it read: "Create (even when it feels pointless).]
Article by Amelia A J Foy

I started an art journal in 2015 because I thought it would be a fun outlet for me. I hadn’t done something like that before, and the prospect of keeping it up and finishing it was quite daunting - I wanted to make it look good, but also complete it, and was worried about compromising one for the other (the perfectionist struggle, right?). Now, at the beginning of 2018, I’m starting my third journal and I would absolutely recommend you giving it a go if you’re considering it!

To get you started, I’ve put together some tips and tricks I’ve picked up around starting an art journal and filling it up. I hope you find them helpful!


Getting Started

1) Choose your fighter journal

When I first decided to start a journal, I was searching for ages for a decently sized, plain-paged journal. I ended up using a nice book I’d had laying around for years, but looking back, I would not recommend using it because it was far too big, the spine broke and the pages were not good for watercolouring or ink. Here are a couple things to think about when selecting a journal:
  • Size - I would recommend A5, as you can carry it around easily and still have enough space to draw what you want in it. However, you could always use a A6 mini-journal if you like to draw small things, or feel you can fill that up easier, or an A4 sketchbook-type journal for all the creative needs an A5 journal simply can’t fulfil.
  • Paper - Are you using pens? Make sure the paper is thick enough for the ink not to bleed through! Paints? Make sure it’s watercolour paper - it won’t curl at the edges and is more resistant to bleeding through and peeling. Planning to do a lot of writing? Maybe invest in a ruled-paper journal instead of a blank one. The choice is all yours!
  • Pages - You might want to start off with a thinner journal of ~100 pages or less if you are worried about completing it. Personally, my current journal has ~250 pages, but my first had ~400. It depends on how frequently you think you will journal, or how long you want to have your journal (people have kept one journal for three years, or three months - anything goes)!
  • Spine - Make sure your journal opens flat! This will make whatever you plan to do in it so much easier. Also, if the journal is designed to open flat, that means its spine is probably less likely to break.

A common brand of choice for journals are Moleskine journals - though these can be quite pricey, they are durable and tried-and-tested. My personal brand of choice is Leutchturm1917, which you can find on Amazon. Their journals have all the above qualities I need, are a decent price, and come in funky colours. Check them out!
Image result for leuchtturm1917
Image courtesy of
[Image description: Journals stacked on top of each other, ranging from blue to red in colour.]

2) What do you want to do with it?
Decide what approach you’re going to take to the journal. This will help you set some realistic expectations for yourself. Is it going to document the important parts of your life? Then you shouldn’t force yourself to use it each day, and instead collect some things to put in it that are symbolic to you (e.g. cinema tickets, photos etc.) Are you going to use it as a coping mechanism? Then you might want to use it more often as an outlet, or keep it to hand for when you need to get something out. Is it more for art practice? You might want to tell yourself to do something each day if so, and use it to track your improvement or test out different styles. Just be realistic for your needs and your schedule! No two journals are the same - the personalization is the best thing about them!

Filling The Pages

1) Switch it up
The best way I’ve found to beat the “ugh everything I do is the same and I suck” phenomenon is to use different materials. If I’ve been sketching for a while, I’ll do some collaging to break it up when I flip through - and the perks of doing collaging means you can paint and ink and destroy the next page without it bleeding through. However, if your medium of choice is just pencil, for example, a journal full of your drawings is perfectly okay!

[Image descriptions: Pencil sketches of hands and a naked woman’s top half and bottom half with flowers and fruit, boxed in by pink watercolour (top) and collage of well-lit living room on purple tissue paper with the words “COLLECT YOURSELF” overlayed (bottom).]

2) Not every page has to be perfect
The perfectionist within me makes me want to rip out spreads that I don’t like, but that isn’t the point of journaling or art generally. What you hate, another person will love - and you are under no obligation to share what you do, either. Embrace the pages you hate! It’s all a part of the process. E.g.: I don’t like this spread but I accept it.

[Image description: Yellow post-it notes with a face doodled on them in biro, next to a biro self-portrait from the knees up.]

3) Carry it with you
I love journaling in coffee shops or on long train rides. If you use it for art practice, it’s great for people-watching and sketching scenery in public. I use my journal to doodle and as a coping mechanism, so going out of the house to get some air and bringing it with me as something to do is one of my favourite things to do.

[Image description: Black brush pen sketches of a woman, entitled “Cute Starbucks Gal”. Arrows point to her appearance saying: “rocking the bowl-cut”, “cute round glasses”, “sweet roll-neck”, “warm af :)”, “(i rly hope she had funky socks on)”.]

4) Bookmark pages to come back to later
Stuck on a spread you just can’t get right? Mark the page and move onto the next, then come back with a fresh pair of eyes. This way you won’t get stuck in one place and can continue filling it up, and the perfectionist within you won’t get too upset.

5) Find journal inspo online
There are so many art journal Instagrams and Tumblr blogs. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, you should definitely look online for inspiration. Some of my favourite places to look are thejournalclub and art journal tumblr tag, and these accounts on Instagram: journalbebe, shaaards, drawnbyjovanna, wishwanderer, katelouisepowell, natillustration, joey.friend, plxntae, okaymontana, floralhomo, sorgie_artwork and ngrigni. It’s also fun to draw people and to look up art journaling videos on YouTube!

6) Get a friend to do a spread
If you’re really, really stuck and comfortable enough to let someone touch your journal, get someone to doodle across a spread. It fills up two pages and bam, you have a cute sentimental spread in your journal. It’s a win-win. Here’s one my girlfriend did in my first journal:

[Image description: Drawing of my girlfriend and myself with our eyes closed on blue paper, neck-up with our hair filling the space around us.]

7) Keep note of your ideas
If you’re not in the journaling mood but are still buzzing with ideas you can’t quite realise, take a note of what you want to do a page or spread on in your notes app or on a small piece of paper. You can even pencil it in to your journal to rub out once you’ve done it. Again, you don’t have to journal frequently! Sometimes I won’t journal for weeks, then the inspiration and motivation hits and I bang out four spreads in one day. Be patient with yourself.

Happy journaling! Tag your art with #risewithrisen to be featured on our Instagram!