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get started art journaling

Art journaling introduces some much-needed color into your everyday life. Here are the basics you'll need to start an art journal and build your journaling practice.

get started art journaling
Pens and cutouts and washi tape (oh my)

What is an art journal?

Wellness coaches and therapists recommend journaling all day long, but what if writing out your thoughts doesn’t pique your interest? You could slog it, sure, but there’s an easier way that’s more visually appealing (and fun, imo.)

If you’ve tried journaling in the past but could use something a bit more expressive than words, art journaling might be more your speed!

Why keep an art journal?

- A space to flex your creative muscles: An art journal is a personal, no-rules space where you can experiment with different art forms. There’s no external pressure to be perfect, allowing you to mess around and play, no matter how old you are.
- Stress relief: Creating art is therapeutic in nature. Art journaling helps empty your brain of the day’s worries, giving your nervous system a much-needed break.
- Track your development: Stick to your practice and before you know it, you’ll have an archive of journal entries, sketchbooks, and proof of your personal and creative growth! I’ve been keeping art journals since I was 9 years old; thumbing through my old books at the end of the year is a powerful feeling.
- Self-expression: When you can’t quite put your feelings into words, art can do the heavy lifting for you. Sometimes making art helps me realize what I really need to say.

Getting started

Find a space

You can write or draw anywhere — be it a desk, bed, kitchen table, or a cozy patch of sunlit grass. Find a corner that you can call your own, and if you have family or roommates around, ask them to grant you some time to create undisturbed for the next 30 or so minutes.

Gather your supplies

Careful; it's easy to get hooked on art supply shopping once you're fully in the art journaling groove. All you really need are the very basics to get started:

A journal: The most basic of basics! An art journal can be a sketchbook, a notebook, or a loose stack of paper — if you can take a pen or paintbrush to it, it’s an art journal. Any notebook will do! If you plan on experimenting with wet media like markers or watercolors, you’ll want to grab a sketchbook with nice thick pages.

I've experimented with dozens of journal brands, but the ones I've stuck to through the years are Etchr, Hobonichi Cousin, and my beloved Traveler's Notebooks!

A pen or pencil: The best pen to have is the one closest to you. Experiment with the pens or pencils you have on hand — but if you run out and grab some new hotness, I can’t blame you!

Paints: If you’re interested in watercolors or acrylics, experiment with them in your art journal and see what comes up!

Brushes: Art journals are relatively small, so you’ll get a lot of mileage from a couple of tinier brushes. (The super tiny ones can get pricy, so you might want to check for any sales in your area!)

From left to right: Robert Simmons white sable round #6; BLACK GOLD by Dynasty liner #4; Utrecht red sable round #1; and my trusty Copic multiliner in 0.25.

Adhesives: For mixed media and collaging, you might want a standard glue stick or double-sided tape.

Magazines and washi tape: Magazines are excellent for collaging. If you haven’t started collecting washi tapes yet, they’re a lot of fun for experimenting with different shapes on the page.

Scissors: For collaging, mixed media, or papercraft.

Start small and branch out

Art journals are just for you — resist the urge to make a ✨ masterpiece✨ and start with something simple and fun:

- Doodles: Zone out for a second and put shapes or sketches on paper; see what patterns you can make. By the way, did you know that doodling helps improve focus? If you’re prone to daydreaming, try doodling in meetings or class. Does your mind still wander?
- Color swatches: Explore color theory, different combinations and types of paint
- Poems and quotes: Write down bits of conversations, overheard moments
- Beautiful scenes: Take your art journal on a hike and thumbnail out the scenery

Make it a routine, but keep it playful

Journaling should be fun, but we can only improve with consistent practice! Set aside regular time for art journaling — once a week, every evening, or whenever you’re inspired.

I like to journal at the very end of my night — I get to drain my brain of the concerns of the day, and it’s built-in time away from screens, both of which help me sleep better.

If you’re struggling to journal nightly, mix it up: try every morning, or only on weekends; or go with a completely different technique or idea. You may need to try out different routines before one feels natural to your lifestyle.

A few ideas to get started art journaling

The first page is always the hardest, so here are a few ideas or techniques to explore.

  1. What color was your day? Pick a color that best represents your day, and fill up a page with only that color. Experiment with different textures or mixed media — drawing, painting, collage, stickers.
  2. Mandalas can be incredibly relaxing to create. Grab a compass or freehand a circle and embellish it out from there. Similar, if you have gridded paper, take inspiration from some tile patterns out of Portugal, Morocco, or Spain.
  3. Illustrate a poem or song that resonates with you.
  4. Draw your best friend, or if you’re not ready to draw people yet, an item that represents them
  5. Thumbnail your week. If you’re art journaling in a planner like the Hobonichi Cousin, you probably have space to plan your week or month. Play with that extra structure by doodling out notable moments from each day

I hope some of these tips can help you get started art journaling. Feel free to show me what you’re making over on Instagram! ♥

Aubrie Johnson profile image Aubrie Johnson
Aubrie is a neurodivergent artist, tarot reader and art therapy student. When not making stuff, she's birdwatching or out buying a book (knowing full well she has a tbr stack at home).