As part of the “Find your voice, tell your story” series, I’m going to start with a step-by-step walk through everything that I do to create my own art journals. Now, I realize that you can buy journals, or blank books, or sketch books, or note books, or composition books, or any other number of ready-made books that you can use for an art journal. All of those things work great!
However, if you want to start right from scratch (so to speak!) here’s one way that has worked for me. I also realize that there are professional artists out here, as well as profession book designers and creators, who probably have easier, better, quicker, or faster ways to make your own art journal – you know, the “right” way. But since I am none of those things – actually by vocation I am an instructor in the fields of writing, Medieval history and theology, and philosophy with absolutely no professional training as an artist – so my way of doing this project is just that – my way.
I’ve experimented with lots of different techniques, tried this one and that one, and will continue to try different things as I discover them, but this is what I’ve come up with that has worked really well for me so far. Feel free to add your own creative twist to your art journal and then be sure to tell me how it works out!
I’ve received several emails from readers saying that they really want to start an art journal . . . they have been planning to start an art journal . . . they realize how peaceful and therapeutic it can be to create art, especially during times of stress, or anxiety, or turmoil in life . . . but for some reason they haven’t started. It seems they just don’t know WHERE to start or HOW to get started. So that’s what we are going to do in this series of blog posts. We’ll get started, at the beginning, of a simple art journal project, and walk together through each of the steps, until we have created your very own book about you and your story, whatever that might be. So let’s get going and kick-start our creativity this spring!
Starting from (almost) nothing
One of the reasons I like to make my own journals is because I can use up stuff I already have here at home, and I don’t have to go out and buy MORE STUFF to clutter up my house. Actually this is a good way to recycle some of the stuff that would either pile up and make a mess or get tossed in the trash or in the recycle bin. Here I have the back covers off of a couple of scrap book paper packs that I’ve had for a long time. I had used up almost all of the paper in these packs but the back cardboard was still hanging around and I really didn’t need them any more – in fact I decided to use up the few odds and ends of paper that I had left over from previous projects.
You can make your front and back covers from almost any kind of cardboard you have on hand. You can make them any size or shape you want, but for this journal I liked the square shape, so that’s what I’m going with this time around. You need one cardboard shape for the front and one for the back. I always lay my projects out on wax paper to keep the mess from getting all over my kitchen counter, but even if some paint or glue gets on the surface of my counter tops, it will wipe right off.
What’s Your Theme?
Sometimes I like to start with a theme or idea in mind . . . . but usually not. The last art journal I created, I had no clue what I was going to do. I just started out with colors and papers and embellishments that I like, then scrounged around until I found other stuff that would look good with what I already had. I did start that one with kind of a color theme of turquoise and red, but that did not find it’s way through the entire journal. The front and back covers were painted turquoise with red and white accents, ribbon, braid, buttons, etc. and then the inside pages were whatever I felt like gluing or stitching in to my journal that day.
This time, I happened to come across a bunch of tiny collages and tags that I made a couple of years ago. I can’t even remember what I made them for back then, but obviously that project never was finished. The color theme of these little treasures is light pink, black, and gold AND since there is already a music theme running through all of them AND since this is the first step in my journey to find my voice that was stolen from me through fear and unkindness, it seemed like the perfect start for this art journal. So here’s where I am going to begin: music, light pink, black, and gold. We’ll see what happens next!
Base Design for Covers
If you design and create your covers in the beginning, that will give you a really good starting point for everything else you will do with your art journal. Once the covers are ready, we’ll put them together with the pages inside and then you can start the fun of designing each new page to express your voice, your thoughts, your joys, your sorrows, your peaceful moments and your unhappy moments, and through that expression you will begin to tell your story.
I decided to use black as a base coat for my covers and use the pink and gold as accents . . . I chose to paint my covers with basic craft paint that you can buy at Walmart or Hobby Lobby. I like the gloss finish, but you can also find matte finish or even neon and glitter paints. If you don’t want to use paint, you can glue on a piece of scrap book paper in whatever color or design you like. It really looks good if you use different mediums to add texture and interest to your covers.
Just swirl some paint on both the front and back cover pieces you’ve chosen. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just squeeze some paint on the cardboard, and swoosh it around until the whole piece of cardboard is covered. Or, glue on a piece of scrap book paper to cover the entire surface of each piece of cardboard, and then trim the edges.
Then let them dry for a while . . . oh, about long enough to fix supper, or fold the laundry, or sweep the kitchen floor. You get the idea. Go do something else while the paint is drying. This is one of the reasons I love doing this project! I can work on it for short periods of time, and then while the paint or the glue is drying, I go do some of the other tasks that I have to do in life, and then it is so fun to come back and see your progress! Keeps me moving through my day with anticipation.
Add some pizzazz!
If you are using paint, one way to jazz it up a bit is to drizzle paint in coordinating colors all over the base coat. If you are using scrap book paper, you can move on to the steps where we layer papers and other embellishments for the covers and pages – OR you can add paint to your covers at this point in the process, too.
First I swirled strings of gold metallic paint around and around on the black painted base of my covers. If you have the wax paper down on your counter or work surface, you won’t mind just swirling and twirling that paint all around until you get a design that you like.
Then, once I let the gold swirls dry for a few minutes (picked up the trash, checked my email, put laundry in the dryer), I added some pink drips. Be careful that your drips / drops are not TOO big or it will take a really long time to dry. I always experiment on my wax paper first (see in photo above) to make sure I have the right amount of pressure on the paint bottle to get just a fairly small blob of paint. I got one of them too big and decided to let it go . . . it actually turned out pretty cool when the paints smooshed together!
When the gold and pink paint was dry, I decided I wanted a bit of a splash of white, so I drizzled some gloss white paint all around in scribbles and swirls, right on top of everything else.
Don’t move your covers off of the wax paper until they are completely dry. Leave them overnight or all afternoon, but when they are completely dry, you can peel them off of the wax paper and trim off the excess paint with scissors.
All trimmed and ready for the next step!
The fun part of the journey begins . . . .
Now it is time to begin the process of making the front and back covers represent whatever it is you want to express through your art journal. Again, since mine focuses on music, and finding my voice, I chose to use some left over paper that I had on had that has musical notes on it. It is vellum so it is translucent and the background paint design will show through behind the music on my paper.
I don’t have any idea how I am going to use all my pretty little pink, black, and gold collages and other stuff yet, so for now all I’m going to do is tear off a corner of the vellum paper and glue it on to the top left corner of my front cover and the bottom left of my back cover. When I’m using glue, I almost always will spread a thin layer of glue all around the back of whatever I’m gluing on to another piece of cardboard or paper, then using my finger or a Popsicle stick or even a small ruler, push the glue all the way out to the edges to make sure they are securely glued down.
Then, I cover each piece I’m working on with wax paper and weigh it down overnight with heavy books. This will keep everything flay while it is drying, and the wax paper will keep it from sticking to the books. This is a good stopping point, and tomorrow we will finish embellishing the covers, and put them together with the pages. For now, I hope you have found a reason to get started creating your own art journal. It is time to find your voice and tell your story. Hope you’ll come along on my journey!