collaged and painted art journal page with a blue background and a woman in a white dress

The Wild World of Beginner Art Journaling

Art journaling is a versatile and enriching creative practice combining traditional journaling elements with artistic expression. My art journals are personal spaces where I can explore my thoughts, emotions, and experiences through visual means such as drawing, painting, collage, and mixed media. It’s fun and also some work, but I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll be ready to start one of your own.

But what exactly is an art journal, and why should you consider starting one?

art journal page about New Jersey

What is an Art Journal?

An art journal is more than just a blank book filled with sketches and paintings; it’s a dynamic platform for self-expression and exploration. Unlike traditional journals, which typically consist of written entries, an art journal invites you to communicate and reflect on your inner world using various artistic (and some not-so-artistic!) techniques.

Art journals come in many forms, from store-bought sketchbooks to handmade journals crafted from repurposed materials, like old books, book pages, cardboard, and other packaging. Some artists prefer journals with blank pages, while others may opt for journals with pre-printed backgrounds or specific themes. Ultimately, the choice of journal is personal, influenced by your artistic preferences, creative goals, and budget.

fun advent calendar-type art journal page

Why Start an Art Journal?

There are countless reasons why individuals are drawn to art journaling, but here are some of the most compelling:

  1. Expression of Self: Art journaling offers a chance to express things that may be difficult to express in words alone. You can convey complex emotions and ideas through visual imagery, colors, and textures in a way that feels authentic and meaningful.
  2. Mindfulness and Reflection: Art journaling can be a meditative practice promoting mindfulness and self-awareness. By immersing yourself in the creative process, you can quiet your mind, focus on the present moment, and gain insights into your innermost thoughts and feelings.
  3. Creativity and Exploration: Art journaling encourages experimentation and play, allowing you to explore new techniques, materials, and artistic styles without fear of judgment or perfectionism. It’s an opportunity to push your creative boundaries, take risks, and discover your unique artistic voice.
  4. Therapeutic Benefits: Many people find art journaling a therapeutic and cathartic activity that promotes emotional healing and stress relief. Art journaling can provide a soothing and supportive outlet for processing emotions and fostering resilience, whether you’re dealing with anxiety, grief, or simply the stresses of daily life.
  5. Documentation and Memory Keeping: An art journal serves as a visual record of your life journey, capturing moments, memories, and milestones in a tangible and meaningful way. Whether traveling the world, navigating a significant life transition, or simply savoring the beauty of everyday moments, your art journal becomes a cherished keepsake to revisit and reflect upon in the years to come. This is how I use my art journal, pasting in receipts, movie tickets, and other scraps from my daily life.
loose art journal page of a dolphin jumping out of the sea

But What If I’m Not Artistic Enough for Art Journaling?

It’s a common misconception that art journaling is reserved for those with innate artistic talent or years of formal training. In reality, art journaling is an inclusive and accessible practice that welcomes individuals of all skill levels, regardless of their perceived artistic abilities. Find an art journaler…they will get excited and guide you on your art journaling journey. Here’s why:

  1. No Judgment, Only Exploration: Art journaling is not about creating masterpieces or adhering to strict standards of artistic excellence. It’s about embracing the process of creation, experimentation, and self-discovery without the pressure to perform or produce “perfect” results. In an art journal, there are no mistakes—only a chance to learn and grow.
  2. Freedom to Express Yourself: Unlike traditional art forms that may require technical skill or specialized knowledge, art journaling is inherently subjective and open-ended. There are no rules or limitations dictating how you should create or what your artwork should look like. Whether you’re doodling, collaging, or painting, your art journal is a space for personal expression and exploration, free from judgment or comparison.
  3. Focus on Process, Not Product: In art journaling, the emphasis is placed on the journey rather than the destination. Instead of fixating on the final outcome, embrace the joy of experimenting with different materials, techniques, and ideas. Allow yourself to play, make mistakes, and take creative risks without worrying about the result. Remember, the beauty of art journaling lies in the creation process and the insights gained along the way.
  4. Embrace Imperfection: One of the most liberating aspects of art journaling is accepting imperfection. Laugh at and enjoy your artwork’s quirks, flaws, and idiosyncrasies as unique expressions of your individuality and authenticity. Your art journal reflects your inner world, complete with its complexities, contradictions, and beauty.
  5. Focus on Personal Growth: Art journaling is not just about creating pretty pictures—it’s about personal growth and self-discovery. Use your art journal for reflection, introspection, and self-expression. Explore your mind, emotions, feelings, and experiences through art, allowing yourself to learn and evolve as an artist and person.
A display of art journals at the San Diego airport in November 2023

Art journaling is a deeply personal and transformative practice that invites you to embrace your creativity, cultivate self-awareness, and nourish your soul. Whether you’re an experienced artist or a complete beginner, there’s no right or wrong way to start an art journal—only the joy of discovery and expression that awaits you on every page.

So why not pick up a notebook (like a composition notebook) or sketchbook of some kind, gather your favorite art supplies (a set of colored pens, like the Pentel Flair, is a great starting point, plus a glue stick), and embark on a journey of self-discovery through art journaling? You’ll be amazed at the insights, inspiration, and beauty that emerge when you give yourself permission to create freely and authentically.

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