How to Start An Art Journal

Whether you’re a first time art journaler or you’ve been doing it for years, knowing how to start an art journal can always feel intimidating. But not after today! I’m going to share with you five light and joyful ways to start your own art journal, because art journaling should never be intimidating or hard. 

I think, in some ways, I’ve always been an art journaler. As a little girl I collected stickers in an album (the puffy, and scratch and sniff varieties were my favorite!) I’d draw horses and unicorns and Pegasus constantly. And as a teen I was always filling up notebooks with drawings, doodles, poems, patterns (I looooved making patterns!) and more. 

Later, in art school, I always had a sketchbook on hand, but that was also when I started incorporating more collage elements. If I drew a professor’s face in the corner of my notes during a boring lecture, I’d tear it out and glue it into my sketchbook; along with test prints, art supply receipts, art show fliers, doodles, notes from classes, and yes, actual sketches.

Having said that, now that I art journal for fun (and share a lot of it here on this blog and Instagram and Pinterest), when I open a brand new journal, it can still feel intimidating! Which is why I came up with the first idea in this list… 

1. How to Start an Art Journal: Skip It

I can hear you asking… What do you mean, skip it, Jules? I mean skip just that: the first page. For many people, this is the most intimidating part of an art journal. It’s the page they want to be the most “successful” (that could mean pretty, no mistakes, colorful, etc.) and so they put WAY TOO MUCH PRESSURE on it. 

So rather than stress yourself out, just start on the second page. You can always go back and work on that first page when you’re ready.

In fact, I know one art journaler who doesn’t create anything on that first page until the rest of the journal is completely finished. That way she has an idea of the theme that journal took on, and can highlight that on the very first page. 

An Important Note:

One thing that I LOVE about art journaling is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. You can incorporate: mixed media, watercolor, words, collage, pencil, pens, drawing, doodles, sewing, illustrations, patterns, lyrics, washi tape, stencils, photographs, stickers, pastels, stamps, painting… the ideas are virtually endless!

But sometimes you’ll make a page in your art journal that you’ll just hate. I’m pretty sure it happens to everyone, at some point. (I know it’s happened to me!)

And that’s okay! 

Because we do have so many ways to art journal, even if you despise a page, you can always cover it up! My “go to” is creating a collage over anything I don’t love. But you could also paint the whole page a solid color and start over. Or glue another blank page right on top of the “unsuccessful” page you dislike. 

So even if you don’t skip the first page, and you end up hating what you make, there is always a way to do it over. So relax and enjoy the process! 

2. Another way to Start an Art Journal: With a Quote

I’m not a confident hand-letterer, but I still like to use the written word in my art journals. (I recently bought “Learn Brush Lettering” to improve my skills!)

But the thing is, you don’t have to use your own writing for the quote. You could cut a complete quote out of a magazine or greeting card, etc. You could paint all over a page, cut the letters out of that and then glue them to your page. You could cut different size/color/font letters out of magazines “kidnapper” style.

You could even use stickers: either individual letters, or a sticker with a quote already on it. (This collection of stickers has both. In fact, I blogged about how to use that set here, “Art Journal Ideas: Using Crate Paper Stickers and Die-Cuts in Your Journal“.) 

I think starting with a quote, no matter how you make it, is a fun way to not only start your art journal, but give it a theme (if that’s something you want to do.)

Either way, the quote could be something that you said, something that someone you admire said, a line from a song, a phrase you like to use, a poem, or something to do with the theme of that particular art journal. 

In this example, I simply use the word “begin”… so it can be as simple as that!

Wondering how to start an art journal? A simple quote, theme, poem, or lyrics are always a nice beginning. #joyfulartjournaling

3. An Easy Way to Start an Art Journal: Use a Prompt

Using a prompt is a great way to start your art journal! In fact, there are so many prompts out there on the Internet (and right here on my blog!), you’ll never really have to come up with your own art journal ideas if you don’t want to. 

In fact, I created an art journal prompt generator. With the click of a button it will give you a new art journal idea… keep clicking until you find one you like! 

I also have an entire Pinterest board filled with art journal prompts and ideas, so feel free to follow me there for new ideas, too.

I took this watercolor class where we had new painting prompts every day, and I used that to fill this page:

4. How to Start an Art Journal: Join In On An Art Journal Challenge

I love participating in art journal challenges! In fact, one that really helped me get back into my regular art journaling practice was the Daily Art Journal Challenge with Get Messy on CreativeBug. The “live” challenge is over, but you can still participate on your own time:

I have art journal challenges from time to time, too. So feel free to join my email newsletter, and I’ll let you know when the next one begins!

This is one of the pages I created from that challenge. It was my take on that day’s prompt: a self-portrait. (And yes, I have pink hair!) 

5. My Favorite Way to Start an Art Journal: Collage

If someone on the street asked me how to start an art journal if they are a true beginner, I would suggest collage. 

I love collage for beginners for many reasons:

  • you don’t even need to have a journal with a blank page, because you’ll be covering most, if not all of the page anyway
  • most people will have all they need to start collaging: scissors, old magazines or other ephemera, and glue/glue sticks
  • a lot of people say “I can’t even draw a straight line!” Well, there’s no drawing with collage (unless you want to add drawn elements) so there are no excuses
  • collage can be silly, serious, artsy, craftsy, minimal, over the top, colorful, monochromatic… just about anything you want it to be
  • And best of all: you don’t have to commit to what you’ve made until you’re sure you love, and THEN you can glue everything in place!

PROTIP: Take a photo of your collage before you glue it down. That way, if the different pieces get mixed up you can always have the photo as a reference. 

Of course, it might also be because collage is one of my personal favorite ways to fill my art journals (and make art in general). But it really is an easy and forgiving medium.

As I mentioned before, you can use old magazines and other ephemera, but I also like to keep bit of pretty wrapping paper, old artwork I don’t love (so I don;t mind cutting it up), as well as adding in other elements, like drawings, written words, paint, stamps, stickers and more. 

Here are some examples of my collages:

Collage is one of my favorite ways to start my art journal... it's forgiving because you can create your whole layout without gluing anything down, to see it you like it! #joyfulartjournaling
I cut out an old pencil drawing and added collage elements to it for this page.
I used collage, my own drawings, stickers, hand lettering and more in this example.

The Most Important Part about Starting your Art Journal

I do hope that the ideas above have helped you, and inspired you to start your art journal today! But I think I left out some important points about how to start your art journal…

One thing you’ll definitely need to start your art journal is a sense of playfulness and and willingness to explore. I was going to say confidence, but I think that will take time to grow for most new art journalers. 

The truth is, I don’t always feel confident in it myself! But I DO think of myself as a creative explorer, and so I’m willing to try new things, and even make “mistakes”. (I put that in quotes because, I think as long as you’re learning and growing, there are no mistakes in art journaling! Just chances to improve, improvise, or do over.) 

Besides, unless you want to share your work with others (either in person or on social media), you art journal is just for YOU. It should be a safe space. A judgement-(from-yourself-or-anyone-else)-free zone. 

Art journaling is supposed to make you feel good. Not only to try new creative ideas, but to get your feelings out (either with words, images, or even just the movement of media on paper.) So I’d say the most important part of art journaling is to:

enjoy the process! 

If you’re literally just starting out and have no supplies yet, check out this list of Recommended Art Journal Supplies. Of course, you won’t need to get everything on that list to get started. In fact, many people simply need to get a blank journal, and will have enough of what they need to simply get started (like scissors, glue, colored pens, pencils, maybe some craft paint and/or a watercolor pan set.) 

Of course, with time you’ll likely want to expand your supplies in order to try new things, and that’s great! If you’re looking for some new items to spark ideas and creativity, please check out my Amazon Influencer Shop. I share my very favorites there! But don’t feel like you have to have every single thing to get started.

The important thing is to simply start your art journal! 


Thanks my creative friend! 

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