What is an art journal?

An art journal is simply a creative space to use however you wish. It can include sketches, poetry, collages, tiny paintings, photography, mementos, scattered thoughts, dried flowers… Truly, the options are endless. It’s a place to store inspiration and try out new ideas or mediums. It can be silly or deep, a cohesive project or a hodgepodge of pages, intensely personal and kept private or a collaboration between friends.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s not meant to be perfect. Guard it as a safe place to explore and express yourself – and to make mistakes in the process. Remember, you don’t have to share it with anyone, unless you want to! Your art journal is for YOU and its purpose is for you to benefit from being creative. 

Step One: Gather your Materials

First, you’ll need to figure out what you would like to use as the base of your art journal. You can go with a more traditional sketchbook or journal, or you can create an altered book from a used book that you don’t mind destroying (the text in the background can add an interesting dimension). You can even bind your own book using paper, a needle, and thread (here is a good tutorial on YouTube: DIY Saddle Stitch Bookbinding Tutorial).

The materials you will need depends on the mediums you would like to experiment with, but I have a few recommendations for simple, inexpensive tools that have been game-changers for me! I highly suggest purchasing an X-Acto knife, which is key for precisely trimming elements to collage. I also recommend Mod Podge to glue or seal just about anything – it is versatile enough to both secure heavier objects like buttons and safely adhere dainty dried flowers. Alternatively, for even more ease and less mess, double-sided adhesive dots are super helpful (Glue Dots are the brand-name version, but I’ve also found them sold in bulk as party decoration supplies).

Some of my other go-to supplies include acrylic paint (the cheap kind is fine!), a few sizes of higher quality paint brushes, metallic markers (great for drawing on lots of surfaces), washi tape because it’s fun, stamps (homemade or store-bought), fine and ultra-fine point Sharpies, colored pencils (Prismacolor are the best but they are pricey), and thread for embroidering. Lastly, I am a big fan of collaging, so I recommend building a collection of magazine images, postcards, flyers, patterned scrapbook paper, maps, old calendars, and any other print media that appeals to you!

Step Two: Brainstorm Ideas  

If you want, you can choose a theme for your art journal, but this isn’t a requirement. I’ve used art journals to reflect on certain periods of my life – for example, I have an art journal created throughout my years of living abroad that holds the emotions of my relationships and experiences during that time. Recently, I worked on an art journal/travel book during a solo trip to California, collecting most of the materials for it along my way.

You can also just create pages as you are inspired, without worrying about a cohesive message. If you feel stuck, it can help to search for art journal prompts or challenges online. I’ve included a few that I made up below to get you started:                                     

  • Do you have one of those desk junk drawers full of random pens, markers, white-out, and a couple straggling crayons? Reach in – with your eyes closed, if you dare – and pick out 3 writing utensils (loosely defined) to use, exclusively, on a page in your journal.
  • Take your art journal along on a walk and stop to sketch any flowers that catch your eye. Pick a few and place them between the pages to dry (you may want to envelop them in parchment paper first to reduce moisture).
  • If you are using an old book, create “blackout poetry” by isolating words or short phrases to construct a poem then shading over the rest of the page with a black marker.
  • Commemorate an achievement by creating a page in your art journal celebrating something you are proud of. Alternatively, make a list of things that make you happy, complemented by tiny doodles (the cuter, the better). Return to either page when you are having a bad day. 
  • Choose a single word as the inspiration for a spread in your journal. Recently, I chose the word “connected” and the pages turned out like this:

My final piece of advice is to focus on layers while working in your journal. Create a background by laying down some paint or torn strips of paper or even purposely spilling tea or coffee on the page. Then build more and more layers, paying attention to how the different elements on the page interact with one another. It may be helpful to stick with a general color scheme and to play around with the position of images before gluing everything down. Give yourself grace if things don’t end up exactly as planned. And most importantly, have fun!!!


Cait Fogerty is an artist and educator in Atlanta, GA. You can find more of her brilliant work on her instagram and at her amazing initiative, the Atlanta Button Collective.

One thought on “The Creative Practice of Keeping an Art Journal

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