How to Start an Art Journal Even If You’re Not An Artist

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If you’re reading this page, I’m going to assume you accepted my invitation to give art journaling a shot.  I promise, you’re going to love it.

Wondering why you should start an art journal? Here’s why.  In that post, I mentioned all the reasons I love art journaling.

To recap:

  • It’s easy to keep up with.
  • It encourages me to have a more positive outlook.
  • It helps me see prayers that have been answered.
  • It gives me a creative outlet.

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I’ve kept a journal like this since May 2013. I started shortly after I got married, and I can’t believe it’s been three years! I love having these journals to look back on.

So, how do you start an art journal?

Let’s start with the supplies you’ll need.

A sketchbook

Handbook_journal
Global Art Materials 8-1/4-Inch by 5-1/2-Inch Drawing Book, Large Portrait in Ultramarine Blue

Like the blogger who first inspired me, Jennifer Frith (link), I’m in love with Handbook Journals. The pages are nice and thick so you can paint or even collage, and pen doesn’t show through too much.

I also love the binding.  My first art journal was a spiral bound one, and though it was a great way to get my feet wet, I didn’t like how the page was broken in the middle. I like that I can do artwork spanning the entire page in this one because it’s bound like a book. It’s also harder to accidentally tear pages out.

One of these books lasts me a little over a year.

A pen

Ohto_Liner
OHTO Graphic Liner Needle Point Drawing Pen (CFR-150GL01)

I’ve had a hard time finding a pen that works. You definitely don’t need to be as picky as I am. You can use any pen you’d like. Maybe different pens throughout. I can see liking a more eclectic look.

For me personally, though, I wanted the writing to be uniformly black. I want to be able to write neatly and as small as I would like without the color bleeding together. I didn’t want a pen that was going to smear easily, and I wanted to be able to use it over watercolored pages.

After a few rounds of trial and error, I’ve found the perfect one: the Ohto Graphic Liner in Size 1. It’s everything I wanted. I’ve replaced it three times so far with the exact same one. I’ve only had to replace it after accidentally crushing it in my purse.

Oops.

Other than its apparent fragility, it really is my favorite pen for journaling.

Art supplies

Okay, here’s where I remind you that this journal is YOURS. Do with it what you want.  Crayons? Colored pencils? Watercolors? Acrylics? Cut up magazine pages? Stickers? They’re all fair game.

 

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My most used medium is watercolors, followed closely by colored pencil. Sometimes I even go crazy and use watercolor pencils. I just personally like the look of these mediums best.

But seriously. Go nuts! Have fun! This is a creative enterprise in which you can experiment to your heart’s content. You really can’t screw it up.

 

That’s it. That’s all you need.

Okay, so you have a journal. You have a pen. You have art supplies. Now what?

Step 1: I divide my pages into 7 boxes: three on one side of the page, four on the other. Sometimes I think far enough in advance to make sure important days (holidays, birthdays, etc) land on the side with three boxes and that’s always satisfying, but it doesn’t really matter. The difference in space is negligible. I always draw it in pencil first and go over it in pen later.

 

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start an art journal open page

Step 2: Here’s where you get artsy. Don’t be scared!  I’m going to give you a few easy ideas to get started.

  1. Paint washes of color and/or simple designs in each box.

    washes of color start an art journal
    This one took me all of five minutes. The best thing about this is that even if your patterns turn out a little wonky, you’ll be writing over them anyway!
  2. Write out the dates in bubble/other artistic lettering and color them in.

    I do this one a lot when I run out of other ideas.
  3. Draw a small picture and fill in the dividers around it (this is what I do most of the time).

    A pretty simple idea to start with.
    Here’s something you can draw. You drew rainbows in elementary school right?

These certainly aren’t your only options, but hopefully these will get you started and build your confidence! I know making the first mark on your new, clean journal can be the scariest. Just do it.

Once the artwork is done to my satisfaction, I fill in the details of the page: I mark the dividers between the boxes in pen and write out the numerical days (if I haven’t already.) I sometimes write the month, but not always.

In the beginning, I wrote both the number and the day of the week, but I found I didn’t like that. Besides, my weeks always begin on Monday and end on Sunday. It’s easy for me to tell based on the location of the box what day of the week the entry was written.

I also sometimes add quotes that inspire me, but I also occasionally add them later. And sometimes I don’t add them at all.

Step 3: Write in your journal!
shark week journal page IMG_5000 IMG_4999

Typically, I try to have pages done at least four weeks in advance. Before I had A, I had them done more than 12 weeks out, because I knew things would get crazy with a newborn. I wanted to give myself some leeway for getting new pages added.

If you start an art journal, post below! I’d love to know. Feel free to ask whatever questions you might have, as well.

Be sure to check out more ideas for your art journal here!

Ahh, this is so awesome! I want to get in the habit of journaling, but it's hard to stay excited. Maybe keeping an art journal would help keep me interested;)

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About The Author

Leah

I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.

  • Terri Jo

    Wonderful. I appreciate your tech “savyness.” The links are helpful. I remember your shark week page.

    • Thank you! I’m glad they were helpful.
      What’s funny is that’s not the Shark Week page you’re remembering; I’ve done two more since then. I love Shark Week!

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  • I love the idea of art journaling but have always been intimidated because most I’ve seen are very chaotic. I love the idea of dividing your pages up like you’ve shown here. Wonderful idea!

    • Oh good! I’m so glad my tutorial made it seem more doable 🙂 I know what you’re talking about with the crazy art journals you see on Pinterest. They’re beautiful but I couldn’t do that regularly!

  • Wonderful! I don’t consider myself an artist either but feel this is definitely something I could do. Thank you for the ideas!

    • Of course! I’m glad it inspired you 🙂

  • Kim

    What fun! I’ve never had an art journal. I like to sketch or color and journal so I bet I would love this! Thanks for linking up at Life is Lovely!

    • Oh you’d love it!
      It’s my first link up: it was fun participating 🙂

  • I love this creative way to journal. I love to doodle and I have fallen in love with Bible Journaling so I feel as thought this would be one step from that. This is an idea I really look forward to trying out. Thanks for linking up at #lifeislovely 🙂

    • I’ve never considered bible journaling before, but what a great way to study scriptures! I’m always looking for new ways to get scripture study in that actually holds my attention… otherwise I read and by the time I get to the end I hardly remember what I’ve read!

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  • Love it! My son in law is a first responder (Federal Fire Fighter) so I know a bit about the quirks of that lifestyle. Kudos to you for being there for others in your shoes. I’m a “second generation parent” but the lessons are the same (actually better the second time around). Please visit my site! Blessings to you.

    • Oh how cool! Be sure to tell him thank you for me 🙂

  • This is so cool! Made me want to try too! Your illustrations are super awesome btw. You ARE an artist!
    Loved the post! 🙂
    http://www.loveandeverythingblog.com

    • Oh thank you so much! That’s so sweet of you 🙂

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  • Thanks for sharing my page, Leah. 🙂

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