How to Start an Art Journal for Beginners

Last Updated on January 24, 2023 by Dee

Wondering how to start an art journal and what you actually need?

If you haven’t tried art journaling, now is the time to start! Creating an art journal is a wonderfully fun and creative activity and there are just so many benefits! If you want to know how to start an art journal look no further, I have included lots of tips and tricks to get you on your way.

If you aren’t too sure what an art journal actually is – basically it is a notebook, sketchbook or a visual diary that you use to record your thoughts, ideas, emotions and memories through pictures and your own visual art. It is also known as an art journal diary.

Art journaling is an incredibly therapeutic activity and promotes mindfulness and reflection in our daily lives.

What’s the difference between an art journal and a sketch book?

An art journal has quite a different purpose to a sketchbook.

A sketchbook is a book you can buy online or pick up from the store and is used for practicing your drawing, sketching or for sketching out ideas for a new artwork. 

Artists usually work in a sketchbook that is ready-made and has crisp, white pages on which to sketch using pencils, pens or markers.

An art journal, on the other hand, is a visual diary. You use images, drawings, and mixed media on the pages of your art journal to work through thoughts, feelings, ideas, and memories. You can draw, paint, stitch, stick, into your art journal and use a variety of mixed media in your art journaling process.

Why is it a good thing to do?

There are so many benefits to starting your own art journal!

Art journaling is an incredibly creative and exciting practice to get into. It promotes mindfulness and is a very therapeutic and calming activity.

It is hugely beneficial for dealing with anxiety and working through trauma.

There are no rules! You are free to use any medium or material to make art on your art journal pages.

[Related article: How to Draw Tree Roots]

Use pictures, drawings and images to explore our thoughts and emotions instead of words. This is very liberating and allows us to express ourselves in a visual form.

I find art journaling to be a wonderful stress reliever in my life and it really gives me a place to use images and words to process my daily life.

I also find it really interesting to go back and look at what you created on your art journal pages and this often helps me come up with new ideas for my art.

Just start working on your own art journal and you will reap the benefits.

What is the purpose of an art journal?

An art journal has many purposes and can be used for many things.

A daily journal

So how do you start a daily journal?

Reflect on your daily thoughts, emotions and events by spending at least 10 minutes every day drawing, painting, using collage or exploring other mixed media in your art journal.

You can also combine words and text with your images and visual art.

Working on your art journal every day can be a good barometer for your emotional health and mental wellbeing. This form of self-reflection helps you to process the events and narratives that happen in your daily life.

Daily art journaling is an excellent practice for dealing with and managing anxiety.

A Mindfulness Journal

This is similar to a daily journal in that you should set aside a small amount of time every day for your art journaling.

Set out a range of mediums and materials in front of you and choose to work with something that appeals to you in that moment. Instead of planning a specific thought, theme or event to art journal about, you are going to be creating something in the moment.

The focus of mindfulness art journaling is about being present and fully aware of the moment you are in. Listen to the sounds around you, breathe in the smell of your mediums and materials, observe how the colors, forms, shapes and patterns develop on your art journal pages.

An art journal planner

This is a creative and fun way to stay organized. You can use your art journal as a daily, weekly or monthly planner where you can stick in images, doodle, paint, write and plan.

Start a self-love art journal

This type of art journal is not about false self-love or boasting about your achievements, but rather it is about exploring the uniqueness of who you are.

Here are some art journal prompts for self-love art journal pages:
  • What do your family love about you?
  • Whose life do you make a positive impact on?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your dreams?
  • What do you need to forgive yourself for?
  • What would make you happy?
  • What event in your past still hurts you?
  • What are your strengths?

A self-love art journal is a great place to reflect on your life and start building your self-esteem and sense of worth.

[Picture Love | A Collection of 30 Touching, Sweet, and Romantic Images About Love]

A dream art journal

If you are one of the lucky people who remember their dreams, then this is a great place to interpret them!

Stick down pictures, draw images and use colors, shapes and textures to recreate your dream in your art journal.

Aim to create art that stirs the same emotions and feelings that you had in your dream. Don’t worry about getting your images to look exactly like the ones in your dream. Dreams are always symbolic, and so your dream art journal can be too!

A travel art journal

This is a great way to record memories and reflect on experiences while you are travelling. A travel art journal is usually smaller in size and can easily be slipped out of your bag, opened and sketched in.

Art Journal Prompts

Here is a list of art journal prompts you can use to get your creative journal ideas flowing!

  • “I hope for…”
  • A quote about joy
  • A happy moment in my day
  • Something that made me sad
  • Song lyrics that make me remember
  • A quote from a book I am reading
  • An event in the news
  • Something I am grateful for
  • “What color am I feeling today?”
  • My favorite food/ recipe
  • Someone that inspires me
  • My goal for the day/ week/ month
  • Something I can’t stop thinking about
  • Something that makes me anxious
  • “Why I wish I was a cat/ dog/ bird”

How to start an art journal for beginners

Ok, so you have decided its time to start your very own art journal!

But, how do you get started?

Decide on your size

You can work in a tiny sized art journal like an A6 journal, or you can work in a large A2 art journal.

You choose whichever size you prefer according to your art-making preference. I prefer working in an A5 format because it isn’t too big and I can usually finish a page in one session of art journaling.

**This page may contain affiliate links to products I have used or recommend. If you purchase something from this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.**

Choose a store-bought journal or make your own

You can buy a notebook or sketchbook to use as your base for your art journal or you can make your own art journal from scratch.

Moleskin journals are a lovely book to work in. The paper is high quality and is cold-pressed which means you can paint on the paper.

You can also make your own art journal from scratch

You can make an altered book art journal by removing and adding pages and materials to old textbooks, novels, instructional manuals or encyclopedias that are no longer used.

This method is an easy way to start your own art journal because you don’t need to buy anything and the structure and cover of the book is already there. You just have to stick in materials and remove the pages you don’t want!

I also love this method because you are using a found book that already has meaning and memories attached to it. You won’t be starting your art making on blank white pages.

The art journal pages will already have pattern, text and textures! This definitely makes it a lot less scary to start an art journal entry and the paper itself may spark some creative ideas for your art making!

You can also make the entire art journal by scratch. There are several ways to do this, but I usually go about making an art journal using traditional book binding methods.

Here are basic bookbinding steps for making an Art Journal from scratch:

[For more in-depth instructions on making your own journal from scratch visit my article on Junk Journals 101]

Step 1

Collect a variety of paper, newspaper, and other materials to build the pages of the book.

Step 2

Fold the paper and cut it to size to create signatures (these are the collections of folded paper that will fit together to form the book pages)

Step 3

Make a cover out of cardboard.

Step 4

Bind the signatures to the cover of the book. I use the traditional kettle stitching method for binding my art journals because I like the finished effect of the sewing.

This video gives you a very clear idea of how to use kettle stitching to bind your art journal.

Once you have your basic art journal book ready you can begin!

So, what do you actually do on the pages?

  • Start off by reinforcing your page in your art journal. Sometimes the art journal pages can be too thin and then when you paint on them, they tear or buckle.
  • It’s a good idea to stick a piece of mixed media paper onto the page.
  • There is no set rule as to how you must begin your art journal entry, but an easy place to start is by doing your background first.
  • You can paint abstract watercolor shapes in the background.
  • Stick down magazine pictures or patterned paper and then paint gesso over them to create a primed surface.
  • You can stencil background patterns onto the page.
  • Use a candle to create smoke stains for the background.
  • Paint the page with coffee or tea to create a vintage, stained effect.
  • Once you have worked on a background you can build up your art journal page through layering images, drawings, paintings, and text.
  • You can stick in embellishments or trinkets that have a special meaning for you.

What do you need for art journaling?

There are just so many tools and materials you can use to start your art journaling process and for decorating your art journal.

Here is list of my top recommendations for beginners starting an art journal:

  • Art Journal Book
  • Stamps
  • Gesso
  • Acrylic paint
  • Gouache Paint
  • Sharpie Markers
  • Pitt Pens
  • Sakura Micron Pens
  • Gel Pens
  • Watercolor pan
  • Colored pencils
  • Watercolor pencils
  • Soft bristle Paint brushes
  • Needle & thread
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Stickers
  • Masking tape
  • Washi Tape
  • Magazine pictures/ photos

How do you seal your art journal?

This is a common question when it comes to art journaling because often the pages of an art journal tend to stick together. This is because the paint or materials you use may still be tacky and once the book is closed the surfaces tend to adhere to one another.

Its important to find a way to seal your pages so that they remain intact.

There are a few ways to seal your art journal:

Baby powder: Just a dusting of baby powder will stop your pages sticking together.

Use a white candle: gentle rub a white candle over the surface of your art journal pages.

A wax medium: If you want to use something that is slightly more professional you can use a wax medium. A wax medium is basically a type of wax and resin solution that you wipe over your page and then let it dry.

Hair spray: This is another great budget option. Hold the can approximately 30cm away from the surface of the page and spray over the surface. Not only does this prevent pages from sticking together, but it also fixes/ holds any pencil or charcoal drawing that you have done – so it prevents smudging!

Fixative spray: Spray this over your art journal pages to hold down pencil, oil pastel, chalk pastel, and charcoal drawing.

Americano Sealer: This is a great sealant that really works on all mediums.

What is a mixed media art journal?

This is an art journal where you focus on using mixed media to create your art journal pages.

Mixed media is the word we use to describe combining different mediums to create art.

For example, you may combine pen and watercolor in your sketches, or collage newspaper and paint over it.

Using mixed media in your art journal is an exciting process because you have so much freedom and there are so many different things you can create. It is also a lot of fun exploring how different mediums work together!

[Related article: Junk Journal for Beginners]

Here are some Mixed Media Art Journal Ideas…

Coffee staining, pencil, collage

A mixed media collage with an umbrella and a lady standing under it and a ship
a mixed media page with a drawing of paint brushes and people stuck down

Acrylic paint, collage, gel pens, tissue paper

MIxed media art journal page of lady in a dress

Colored pencil drawing beneath a stencil cut-out

mixed media cut out page for an art journal

Collage, gel pens, black marker

mixed media art journal woman's head

Collage, gel pens, black marker

mixed media room

Colored pencil, magazine images, wrapping paper

a person running on a clock mixed media art journal


Starting an art journal is an exciting and rewarding creative project and I know you will enjoy it as much as I do. I hope this article has guided you on how to start an art journal and what materials and mediums you need to begin the process!

Other articles you may enjoy…

[Looking For a Mixed Media Sketchbook? 16 Best Mixed Media Sketchbooks for Wet & Dry Media]

2 thoughts on “How to Start an Art Journal for Beginners”

  1. Thanks for the great idea, I am looking forward to getting back into drawing, painting, etc over the summer, and love the idea of an art journal. I’ve bookmarked this so it’ll be easy to find when I get started.

    Great post! ?


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