If you’ve ever been inspired to get creative and start an art journal of your own but aren’t sure where to begin, this guide is for you!
It’s easy to start an art journal, even for beginners. All you need are a few basic supplies, easy art techniques, and a sprinkle of creative inspiration.
Included in this guide are simple ideas for upcycling free material to put in your journal. You’ll get a basic art supplies list, easy art journal techniques, art journal theme ideas, as well as a list of art journal prompts for creative inspiration. To make getting started easy, you will also find step-by-step art journal instructions to guide you and plenty of beautiful art journal examples for inspiration!
Find out why art journaling is so much fun, easy for beginner artists, and an endlessly creative hobby!
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First of all, why start an art journal?
Art journaling is an amazingly fun creative project. Here are a few reasons why art journaling is such a great hobby:
Art journaling can be a wonderful, relaxing, therapeutic activity. Focusing on art and design frees your brain from typical repetitive thoughts and everyday stressors, allowing you to flow into a peaceful and creative mental space. When you work (play!) in your art journal, you lose yourself in color, pattern, texture, proportion, and self-expression.
Manifest your goals
An art journal is also an incredible manifestation tool to help affirm your goals by making them visual. You’ve likely heard of creating a vision board to help with manifesting your dreams. An art journal works the same way. You can include inspirational images, places you’d like to travel to, pictures of your dream home, artfully penned wish-lists, and more! Think of it like a visual diary.
Get creative & have fun!
Art journaling is a fun, inexpensive, easy hobby to work on to relieve boredom. It’s also great for kids!
When your art journal is finished, you have a beautiful, personal memento that represents your dreams, aspirations, and aesthetics. You can look back on your journal years later to see how you’ve grown.
What you need to get started art journaling:
To create your own beautiful art journal you will need some of the following:
- A journal/notebook
- Matte Medium *This stuff ROCKS! More details below.
- Upcycled materials
- Some ideas and journal prompts (included in this article)
An art journal is usually quite inexpensive to start. You may already have some of the supplies around the house.
Related: 15 Inspirational Art Journal Pages
Best basic art supplies for beginners:
This artists sketchbook is a top Amazon seller and a great value. The thicker paper is perfect for mixed media, meaning you can use watercolor, pen, acrylic, and more on its strong and sturdy pages.
These brush pens are the best thing ever! They can be used as a marker OR as watercolor paint when you add water. They have an amazing feel on paper and deliver great line accuracy. What you are seeing is markers + watercolors in one. A great value and super FUN to play with!
So many colors are included in this set of fine tipped pens! A great value here and a great rating on quality.
Here is a nice acrylic paint set that comes with brushes, making it a great value! I also love the case for the brushes, making them easy to store.
Matte medium by Mod Podge. An all in one glue, sealer and finish with a clear matte finish. Invisible when dry.
This awesome stuff is what you use to paste papers or magazine clippings with no messy yucky-looking glue spots. It’s an art supply must-have and waaay above regular glue. Water-based, non-toxic, and easy to clean.
Using upcycled materials in your art journal:
Many common household materials can be upcycled and turned into art tools or materials. Take a look around your home for some cool ideas and find what inspires you! Here is a list of items I have repurposed and placed into my art journal using my mod podge matte medium:
- Tissue paper
- Cloth and string
- Cut up old cards such as holiday cards
- Old stamps or stickers
- Magazine images and text clippings
- Newspaper clippings
- Feathers, flower petals, leaves (dried)
- Playing cards & puzzle pieces
- Vintage papers collected from thrift shops, yard sales, and junk or antique stores
- Paper wrapping material from kids toys, food products such as pretty tea boxes, beauty product boxes, etc.
Simple, everyday materials work great. But it’s also fun to keep a little collection of things found at flea markets, thrift stores, and the like.
Gorgeous art journal pages below by Amanda Leigh. As you can see she uses magazine images and stamps, among other art elements. Check out her Instagram page @amandaleighplans. She also has a youtube channel Amanda Leigh Plans.
Art Journal Techniques:
Although you can do whatever you want in your art journal, it can be interesting to mix different materials and play with different mediums, (meaning paint, paper, marker, etc) on the same page. This is known as mixed media art and it is so much FUN!
A few techniques for mixed media art that you can use in your art journal include:
- DIY paintbrushes
Let’s discuss these art techniques which are all easy for beginners to art journaling.
You can turn just about any household item into a stamp, provided it can be washed easily or you don’t care about ruining it. Ideas include:
- Quilted paper towels
- Bubble wrap
- Fruit or veggie slices
- Bottle caps
- Jar lids
- Toilet paper rolls
- Kids toys
- Garage tools
- Cookie cutters
- Plastic silverware
- DIY styrofoam stamps
Spray a fine mist of water from a spray bottle to purposefully cause paint to drip or run. Or spray paint itself.
A la Jackson Pollock, the famous artist who dripped and splattered paint to create his masterpieces. Splattering is an effective way to create an easy background or depict a starry night sky.
You can layer so many ways. Don’t be afraid to glue down an image or some fabric, then use acrylic paint over it. You can get such interesting textures this way. You can also layer pen or marker over watercolor paint. Or draw something in pen then define it with a marker.
Just keep in mind how the materials themselves function, (for example, you wouldn’t layer watercolor over acrylic because watercolor is much thinner.) You can really go to town layering!
Unusual DIY “paintbrushes”
Apply paint with a rag, an old expired credit card, your fingers, or natural materials such as twigs. You could turn so many objects into paintbrushes! And it really makes a difference how the paint looks depending on the brush used.
You can create your own stencils out of household materials using your imagination. Try using styrofoam, cardboard, or construction paper. Or use some pre-made stencils. I love these below from Amazon:
Beautiful art journal below by Lisa Goddard. I like her use of stencils here. Check out her Instagram page @lisagoddardart. She also has a website for art journal tutorials and courses. Perfect for beginners or experienced artists alike! lisagoddardart.wordpress.com
Art journal ideas to try
Once you have your supplies, it’s time to play!
My top tip is to start step-by-step, first with the background on your page/s, then adding the main focal points or main ideas as you desire. (We will get to specific step-by-step instructions in just a moment.)
There are different directions you could choose to take when creating your art journal.
- You could create an overarching theme for your entire journal, such as making your journal themed around travel or say, the 1960’s. (More theme ideas in a sec.)
- You could split your journal into sections for different themes. For example; trees, fairies, and magic.
- Or you could have no overall theme, and simply make each page its own subject.
No matter how you plan out or don’t plan out your creation, know that there is no right or wrong in creating an art journal. You can make each page as simple or complex in design as you desire.
*Tip: Don’t overthink the process. Express yourself freely. And don’t be afraid to make design decisions even if you feel like a beginner- just go for it!
Theme ideas for your art journal
- Nature- Ocean, tropical, forest, flowers, trees, animals, crystals.
- City- Architecture, maps, restaurants, people, attractions, landmarks.
- Love- Ideal partner, family, children, friends, pets, self-love, work that you love.
- Travel- Destinations, bucket lists, hotels, fabulous beaches, sight-seeing, cuisine.
- Health- Food, well-being, fitness, mental health, personal goals.
- Fashion- Hair, shoes, makeup, bags, nails.
- Food- Recipe development, inspiring chefs, beautiful food photos, food drawings, inspiring meal ideas.
- Goals- Work, relationship, travel, financial, mental, emotional, physical, spiritual.
- People- Inspiring people, celebrities, favorite artists, writers, spiritual leaders.
- Religious- Your religious beliefs, prayers, ideas, values, and more.
- Pick a color palette for each page.
- Pick an emotion for each page.
- A song for each page.
- Pick a time period for each page.
- Choose an inspirational quote for each page.
- Pick a texture for each page.
- Something mysterious that fascinates you for each page.
- Pick a flower or tree for each page.
- A mystical character for each page.
Gorgeous art journal pages by Pippi. I like the floral watercolor painting, the warm colors and the women here. Check out her Instagram page @pippikrumeluss. She also has a great youtube tutorial on a travel art journal she created.
Art journal prompts
- Write a haiku or other poetry.
- Write a letter to your younger self.
- Or future self.
- Write a letter to a loved one or to someone no longer with you.
- List your favorite _____. (foods, flowers, places, movies, etc.)
- List your goals.
- Positive affirmations for yourself.
- Create a page that represents your ideal future life.
- Books to read.
- Movies to watch.
- List some self-care activities.
- List your favorite words.
- Journal what you’re grateful for.
- Journal some life lessons learned.
- Color palettes you love.
- Funny jokes or random thoughts.
- Draw a cartoon.
- Practice hand lettering some special quotes.
All of these ideas and many more can be a starting point for your art journal pages. Simply paint, draw, glue, sketch, and collage to complement your main idea.
Beautiful art journal pages by Pippi @pippikrumeluss. A great mix of materials, and love the simple color palette.
Start an art journal step by step
As you probably might guess I’d say- there are no rules or exact steps, so these suggestions are just for guidance. Sometimes, it’s easier to follow a recipe, so to speak.
You can create a beautiful art journal page without too many steps. Try paying more attention to color harmony, overall message/vibe, and proportions.
After gathering supplies and laying them out in my creative space, here is how I like to layout an art journal page, very simply:
Step 1- Create a background
There are many types of background you could create. Here are a two easy background ideas:
Start with a painted background. Any color, depending on your theme or page idea. Just paint the whole page. You could leave some white around the edges, or not. You could make that painted background solid, ombre, striped- anything you like! Chose watercolor or acrylic paint and make sure to let it dry.
Instead of a painted background, you could start with a large sheet of paper to cover the page. Maybe some old book pages, or music sheets. Or you could use multiple pieces of torn paper. Create an easy collage.
Step 2- Layer one or more collage elements
Find a collage element to layer over the background. This could be a magazine cut-out, some pretty vintage wallpaper, newspaper, or old postcard. Then add more collage elements if you like. Maybe a scrap of fabric and some buttons, for example.
Step 3- Layer paint, pen, or marker
Here is where I would add doodles, write a quote, outline around a shape from the collage element, or find another way to add emphasis or decoration with a pen, marker, or more paint. You could add multiple layers at this step if you’ de like. Go as simple or detailed as you want.
Step 4- Add your finishing touches
Finally, I would complete my art journal page with some final touches. Maybe a fine-tipped pen for some delicate doodles. Perhaps a light splatter, spray, or some stamping. Whatever feels right to you!
Beautiful art journal pages below by Amanda Leigh @amandaleighplans. I’m dreaming of my next trip to France!
Bonus art journal tip for aesthetics
Here’s a question for you to consider- would you rather ruin a page by “overworking it” or play it safe and “underwork it?” Think about this as you go. There is a fine line where things either look incomplete or can start looking too busy and then you feel like you messed it all up. The latter happens to me all the time. I always go a bit too far. So I have to remind myself not to get too carried away.
Maybe you’re the opposite- you don’t push your art far enough. Maybe you need to keep going with a page. Either way, you will be happier with your outcome if you know your own tendencies and consider the overall aesthetics and balance of your art journal page.
Have a positive artist mindset, even if you’re a beginner
One of the most important things about working in your art journal is to practice non-judgment of your work. Though you may be inspired by what you see other people doing, know that your art journal does not have to be perfect. It’s ok to mess up. Mistakes help you learn and grow. Messy and imperfect = beautiful and real.
Your art journal does not have to look like anyone else’s. It’s for you to explore your creativity and experiment with different art materials and art techniques.
A positive growth mindset is truly crucial for artists and creators. Even if you haven’t created much art in the past and feel like a total beginner, know that you’re being drawn to create art now for a reason. It’s time to explore your creative side!
So get into the groove, maybe put some music on, and get started with some art ideas. And give yourself props for exploring your own creativity! Your creativity can be one of your greatest joys if you give it some space and love to flourish within you.
Colorful and gorgeous art journal pages by Maria Zaidi @marudles.
Concluding thoughts on starting an art journal:
I hope you enjoyed this guide on how to start an art journal for beginners. The possibilities for what to include in your art journal are truly endless. What do you plan on putting in your art journal? What themes, art journal prompts, color palettes, quotes, or design elements inspire you? I personally haven’t worked on mine in a while but I’m going to get back into art journaling soon now that my kids are in school. Thank goodness! Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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