Art Journal Basics


NOTE: Some portions of this guide are from the 24 page self-published how-to zine, “Art Journal Basics” (available here as a .PDF instant download)



An “art journal” can be any type of journal, diary or sketchbook used by a creative or artistic person.  An art journal may capture or record a specific event or subject like a scrapbook, or it may capture the artist’s life during the time that they are using it, like a diary. For most people, it’s a mix of the two!

Art Journal Pages

Sometimes, Art Journals are used as part of a self-care routine – they may use their journal as a tool to help the artist cope or deal with an emotional struggle or as a place to explore their thoughts and feelings as they work through their own creative process.

Some people may get very “deep” and personal in their art journal pages, and others may keep it very light.  Each artist should connect with their art journal in the way that makes the most sense and “feels right” to them.

The words “journal” and “journey” are derived from the same root, the French word, “jour,” which means “day.” The original function of a journal was to record day-to-day living which often included business transactions, weather, nature and travel observations, births, deaths, etc. Later, as the “age of enlightenment” emerged and more and more people had access to education, journals became much more self-conscious, including personal commentary and reflections on social and political issues, events, feelings, and ideas.

The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I might suffocate.

— Anne Frank

Tips + Tricks

Remember: There’s no WRONG way to use an art journal. This guide is intended to give you ideas and get you started. You may like all of these ideas, or only a couple of them. Whatever works for you is ok. There are no rules!

Art Journals May Contain:

  • drawings, sketches, paintings or illustrations
  • photos: (go get ’em printed!)
  • words, narratives, stories.
  • lists of things
  • poems & lyrics
  • quotes
  • book, newspaper or magazine clippings
  • found objects
  • good ideas & brainstorming sessions
  • secret plans
  • dreams, goals,
  • anything you can think of!


Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.

— Isaac Asimov

Art Journal Dos & Don’ts

DO: Choose an Art Journal that you really like.  Personalize it by writing your name inside the cover. (You may want to write your phone number or email address inside as well, in case you misplace your Art Journal.)

DO: Carry your Art Journal around with you.  You never know when inspiration will strike!

DO: Dedicate time to spend working on your Art Journal in a quiet and comfortable place without distractions.

DO: Allow yourself to “break the rules”. Work on pages out of order if it feels right to you. Skip around the book.  Work on several pages at a time.

DO: Experiment.  Make mistakes.  Try new things.  Vent.  Be honest.  Be open.

girls read comics, too.

DON’T: Feel pressure to make your Art Journal pages look “good”, “fancy” or even “finished! Don’t worry about “messing up” a page.

Instead, try to own and accept your “mistakes” or cover them up. You may find that the act of covering up artwork or words that you’re unsatisfied with is a positive feeling, while the act of ripping out a page is a negative one.

DON’T: Worry about choosing a “theme” for your Art Journal.  Instead, allow a theme to evolve, while still giving yourself the freedom to work outside of the theme if the mood strikes.

DON’T: Share your Art Journal with anyone else, unless you feel comfortable doing so.

DON’T: Feel like you need to “finish” the Art Journal or complete every page.  When it’s time to move on to a new Journal, you’ll know.

Art Journal Pages

Writing is its own reward.

— Henry Miller


Art Journal Supplies

There is no need to spend a lot of money to get started.  You probably have most of these things already.
You can use any art, office or paper crafting tools & supplies that you like.  You may choose to have a lot of art journal supplies, or may use only one or two. Here are some of the supplies that I find myself reaching for the most frequently when I’m making my own art journal pages:

  • An Art Journal.
    The journals shown here are PAPERCUTS handmade‘s signature 4.5” x 6” Wire-Bound Recycled Art Journals, but literally any type of journal, notebook or sketch book will work.  You’ll want one with a sturdy binding and a paper-weight that will work with your art supplies.
  • Scissors or an X-acto Blade.
    I use scissors more frequently, but if I’m cutting out illustrations or silhouettes I also like the X-acto craft knives that swivel 360 degrees, to cut out curves and tight corners.
  • Adhesives.
    I like a glue stick, but I’ve also used “Scotch” tape, packing tape, and masking tape throughout my own journal.  Cute Washi Tape is decorative and functional.
    The craft store has all sorts of fancy tape and glue dispensers in the scrapbooking aisle, although I find them to be more expensive.
  • Writing implements.
    Pencils, Markers, Colored Pencils or whatever you like.  Use the tool that you feel the most comfortable with, to help you write and draw your “stream of consciousness” without being slowed down by your tools. I personally like Sharpie and Prismacolor Markers, but they do tend to bleed a bit on thinner papers.
  • Paper for collage.
    I keep a stack of 3” x 4” mixed papers next to my desk that I use throughout my art journal.  Sometimes they’re used as a space for writing, or to cover up mistakes. (This is also a great way to cover up ink or marker that has bled through from the other side of the page!)PAPERCUTS handmade sells Recycled Paper Packs, but you can also collect your own, of course! I especially like to use discarded paper that would be otherwise meant for the trash. It’s amazing how much you can save from the recycling bin once you get in the habit.

    I like to use:

    • illustrations and drop quotes from book & magazine pages
    • maps, graphs and charts
    • old planners or calendars
    • vintage ledger papers
    • sheet music
    • comic book pages.
    • junk mail and security envelopes
  • Labels and Stickers.
    Plain old white address labels or fancy ones from the stationery section at any big box store.  You’ll find lots of options with Scrapbooking Supplies, as well, though you may pay a little bit more for them.
  • Ephemera and Found Objects.
    I mentioned a few types of found or re-purposed papers above, but I also like adding little spots of interest throughout my Art Journal with random bits of found ephemera, both vintage and modern.

    • A few ideas:
      • Postage Stamps
      • Stickers from Produce
      • Tags and Labels from clothes or other product packaging.
      • Dried or Pressed Flowers

Waxed Paper Sheets.
Cut a few sheets of waxed paper just a little bit larger than your Art Journal – place these pages in between your art journal when you have wet ink or paint, to help keep pages from sticking together.  You can re-use these pages over and over!

Anything that is flat can be glued into your art journal!

Art Journaling Supplies

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.



Some portions of the above guide are from the 24 page self-published how-to zine, “Art Journal Basics” (available here as a .PDF instant download)